Dig finds Kent coastline in Roman times was ‘2 miles inland’

Kent News

An
archaeological dig at a Roman fort in Sandwich has uncovered evidence
of the Roman coastline – two miles inland from where it is today.
 
Experts
from English Heritage have been carefully examining the fort as part of
a month-long excavation project that is nearing its conclusion.
 
They
have also discovered the remains of a 90-metre long stretch of
collapsed wall as well as Roman coins and fragments of Italian marble
dating back to the first century AD.

Article on Ostia Antica

Published: September 30, 2008

OSTIA ANTICA, Italy —The ruins of Ostia, an
ancient Roman port, have never captured the public imagination in the
same way as those of Pompeii, perhaps because Ostia met with a less
cataclysmic fate.

Yet past archaeological digs here have yielded evidence of majestic
public halls and even multistory apartment buildings that challenge
Pompeii’s primacy. Now officials hope that the decade-long restoration
of four dwellings lavishly decorated with frescoes will focus new
attention on this once-bustling port about 15 miles west of Rome.

Last
week the second-century insulae, or housing complexes, were presented
to the public through the European Heritage Days program, in which each
member country of the Council of Europe promotes new cultural assets
and sites that have mainly been closed to the public.

“Over all,
this is the most important ensemble of second- and third-century
frescoes in the world,” Angelo Pellegrino, the director of excavations
at the site, now called Ostia Antica, said in an interview.

At
its peak in the second century, Ostia sat at the mouth of the Tiber and
served as the main shipping point for goods traveling to and from Rome.
(Over the centuries deposited sediment has caused the ancient town to
recede several miles inland.) Prosperous Ostians liked to embellish
their homes, and traces of art have emerged on crumbling walls around
the site. But the frescoes in the insulae are among the best preserved,
officials say.

Ethereal floating figures dance against a red
backdrop in the House of Lucceia Primitiva. (A graffito with that
woman’s name was recently uncovered in the dwelling.) The nine Muses
hold court in a house that bears their names; a small, erotic panel
decorates what experts say was probably a bedroom in the House of the
Painted Vaults.

“They’re exceptional indicators of the emerging
merchant class and the economic and political well-being of the city in
the second century,” said Flora Panariti, an archaeologist who
participated in the restoration.

Stella Falzone, an expert in
mural painting at Sapienza University in Rome, described the dwellings
and their decorations as “a reliable mirror of Rome” during that
period, especially precious for archaeologists and art historians
because so little from that era survives in Rome.

Popular colors
of the time, red and yellow, dominate the House of the Yellow Walls,
for example. “It’s no coincidence that these are the colors of the Roma
soccer team,” Ms. Panariti said.

Unlike Rome, which cannibalized
much of its heritage over the centuries, or Pompeii, which was buried
in volcanic ash in A.D. 79 and was not systematically excavated until
the 18th century, Ostia remained mostly untouched until the early 20th
century.

The multistory dwellings were first excavated in the
1960s, but work stopped when the archaeologist leading the dig left for
another job. They remained largely unknown to the public and to many
scholars until archaeological administrators at Ostia Antica resolved
to recover them.

The buildings, in the western part of the
ancient city, were built around A.D. 128 in a housing boom during
Emperor Hadrian’s reign. With demand for accommodations growing, new
multilevel homes resolved issues of space and expansion. Although only
the ground floors remain, evidence that buildings stood taller than one
story has emerged from the rubble.

If it weren’t for Ostia Antica
and its multistory houses and apartments, “it would be difficult for
people to imagine how people lived in that era,” said Norbert
Zimmermann, president of an international association for ancient mural
painting.

Like Pompeii, Ostia Antica faces problems common to
many of the sprawling archaeological sites in Italy. Money is scarce,
the site is understaffed, and surveillance is spotty. But the biggest
challenge here is high humidity resulting from the high groundwater
level.

“We try to dig as little as possible nowadays, because
we can barely deal with caring for what’s emerged,” said Mr.
Pellegrino, the excavations director. It took nine years to restore the
four buildings, he noted, in an effort that was possible only because
of a private donation of about $150,000.

In the House of the
Painted Vaults Ms. Panariti pointed to a delicately painted human form
high on a wall. “These figures are disappearing again even though they
were only restored two years ago,” she said sadly.

Humidity has
forced conservators to detach many frescoes from walls and transfer
them onto panels before returning them to their original locations.
“It’s necessary, but it causes immense sorrow whenever we have to do
that,” Mr. Pellegrino said.

Only a limited number of visitors
will be allowed to tour the four dwellings, and reservations are
required. (Officials have not worked out the details.)

Ostia
Antica has not given up all its secrets. On Friday, in a different
section of the ancient city, students were cleaning colorful frescoes
in the House of Jupiter and Ganymede, named for the chief Roman god and
the Trojan prince he anointed as cup bearer.

“We’re constantly restoring the site,” Mr. Pellegrino said, “as long as we can afford to.”

Video of balista which is now on e-Bay

See the advertisement on e-Bay

Roman settlement uncovered near York during work on new pipeline

By Mike Laycock »

The Press

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed the remains of a Roman settlement near
York during the construction of a new £6 million pipeline.

Evidence of an ancient bridgehead settlement has been discovered on the banks of the River Nidd at Kirk Hammerton.

Yorkshire Water said the discoveries were made following its
decision to build a new pipeline linking its water treatment works at
Acomb Landing with the mains network which feeds villages to the west.

A spokeswoman said: “Archaeologists working along the line of the
new trunk main discovered that the line of the Roman road – which was
always thought to run along the A59 corridor between York and Green
Hammerton – may actually have diverged further north.”

Oliver Cooper, of Northern Archaeological Associates, said: “It was
common knowledge before we started that the A59 from York to Green
Hammerton follows the line of an old Roman road, so there was always a
good chance the pipeline would identify further evidence and reveal
some interesting finds.

“Surveys suggested the fields adjacent to the main road on the
banks of the Nidd would be a good place to focus our work and, although
the weather has been a real challenge, we haven’t been disappointed.

“We were finding Roman pottery from the beginning as well as some
smaller artefacts which suggest there was a Roman settlement here
around 200AD.

“However, perhaps most interestingly, the dig shows the Roman road
crossed the Nidd on the line of the old A59 county bridge before
diverging from the line we thought it took, to skirt the north east of
Green Hammerton.

“The evidence we have also shows there was a settlement bordering the road on the west bank of the river.

“Our finds were not limited to the Roman era.

“There were one or two which suggested the bridgehead was established before the occupation, dating back to the Iron Age.”

He said there was evidence of ditch systems, which suggested there
were once fields there linked to a village which was there before the
Roman occupation.

Yorkshire Water said that once the pipeline project had been
completed and the supply was switched over next spring, softer water
from the River Ouse would be pumped from Acomb and then into the
distribution network feeding Marton, Whixley, Upper Dunsforth, Little
Ouseburn, Great Ouseburn, Thorpe Underwood, Cattal, Hunsingore,
Walshford, Kirk Deighton, Green Hammerton, Nun Monkton, Moor Monkton,
Rufforth and Hessay.

Spokesman John Bond said the pipeline remained on schedule despite the finds.

“We always knew there was a possibility of some significant
archaeological work along the route so that was built into the
programme before we started,” he said.

It’s All Greek To Me

The Guardian

Charlotte Higgins writes about her new book.

It’s a very exciting week for me: my latest book, It’s All Greek To Me, is published tomorrow, and today the Guardian has printed an extract.

The book is a product of a long love affair with the literature of
ancient Greece. Writing it was one of the most joyous and enriching
projects I have ever had the good fortune to undertake.

What underpins the book is my profound belief that the great writers of
Greece – such as Homer and Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle, Sophocles
and Sappho – are not worthy-but-dull, forbidding authors of dusty,
unreadable tomes. These authors have left us vivid, exciting,
provocative, often devastating, often hilarious reads. They should be
as widely enjoyed as Jane Austen or Charles Dickens – and it saddens me
that they are not.

The storytelling of Homer – whose humanity,
whose deep understanding of love and loss is utterly unmistakable – is
unmatched, for my money, in later literature. Plato’s Republic (more
often discussed than read cover-to-cover) is one of the most
terrifying, challenging and bold thought experiments ever to have been
dreamed up – and you certainly don’t need to be a professional
philosopher to be gripped by it. The dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles and
Euripides still lay down a ridiculously high standard for playwrights
today – which is why directors and actors keep returning to them. Oedipus the King
opens at the National Theatre in a couple of weeks – aside from being
an almost perfect play in terms of the relentless logic of its
structure, it is also the world’s first detective story, one in which
the detective and the perpetrator, horrifyingly, turn out to be the
same person.

I was just now reading our Books site‘s excellent poem of the week,
and I was thinking about which poem of Sappho I would put in that slot,
and why. Well, I’ll finish this post with another little chunk of the
book: a few words about Sappho’s fragment two.

“… Of her wonderful poems of love and longing, many are unambiguously homoerotic;
some are wedding songs. Part of their appeal is their very fragmentary
quality: these beautiful lines and half-lines are like finely decorated
potsherds, separated for ever from their fellows – they act as a
poignant metaphor, perhaps, of the study of the ancient world itself,
the way we try to make a world from beautiful scraps and bits. In fact
there is a (part) poem of hers which was actually discovered written on
a potsherd; fragment two, as it is known:

down from the mountain top
and out of Crete,
come to me here
in your sacred precinct, to your grove
of apple trees,
and your altars
smoking with incense,

where cold water flows babbling
through the branches,
the whole place
shadowed with roses,
sleep adrift down
from silvery leaves
an enchantment

horses grazing in a meadow
abloom with spring flowers
and where the breezes blow sweetly,

here, Cypris,
delicately in golden cups
pour nectar
mixed for our festivities.

[Translation: Stanley Lombardo]

It is an invocation, a summoning of the goddess Aphrodite, named here for
Cyprus, the island off which she was born from the foam of the sea.
It’s astonishingly powerful, this evocation of place, this apple grove
in which the love-goddess’s sanctuary lies. It’s synaesthesic, almost,
every sense is stimulated: there’s the heady scent of the incense; the
sight of the stream (in the background) with the shading apple trees in
front; the icy coldness to the touch of the water; the drowsy sound of
the breeze through the leaves; beyond, the glimpse of the horses
grazing in the flower-filled meadows. To read this poem is to be there,
lying in the deep grass of the grove, gently heading for sleep …”