Week One at Sant’ Omobono

MOLA team

Alison Telfer has arrived at Sant’ Omobono in the heart of Rome. She reveals what she has been up to in week one…

As I packed my bags for Rome my colleagues at MOLA couldn’t help but come down with a mild case of the green-eyed monster. They had a vision of me holidaying in Rome, a bit like Audrey Hepburn in the 1953 film Roman Holiday…except without the Lambretta. Although I am surrounded by fantastic ice-cream, delicious pizza and gorgeous sunshine there is some serious work to be done.  The team I am supervising is going to dig some 5 metres of stratigraphy, most of it waterlogged, in a 2 by 5 metre shaft, in just seven weeks!

The trench is called D10, located just in front of the Sant’ Omobono Church, itself an impressive 15th century building, the foundations of which rest on the volcanic tufa slabs of the extensive temple podium which survives across most of the site The slabs supported two separate temples, both dating to the early Republican period c. 5th century.

A small number of the core project team were on site last week to prepare ahead of the arrival of 25 students from the universities of Calabria and Michigan (four separate areas in total are being investigated this year). This included overseeing the installation of the box frame and metal sheets that will enable the excavation of D10. My first week on site has also involved basic setting up; removing the debris created by the frame’s installation and helping to fine-tune elements of the trench for speedy spoil removal.

The first task for team D10 (seven of us in total) is to excavate the dumps that lie immediately below the temple podium. These deposits are thought to extend to a depth of at least 3 metres and were placed there to act partly as a flood defence against the River Tiber and partly as a foundation for the temple podium. They are also believed to overlie the earlier Archaic temple, dating to the late 6thcentury BC; a trench excavated in the 1960s has already revealed an impressive element of this early building.

Team D10 will excavate and record the deposits associated with the Archaic temple and then continue further…fingers crossed the water pump will last the duration! The dumps we are currently excavating are a mix of clay and fragments of capellatio stone. It has already become progressively stickier the deeper we have gone; the water table can’t be far off. All of the deposits and archaeological features that we encounter will be recorded using an exciting new technique that combines global positioning technology with photography. More details on that to follow next week!

It is incredible to work amongst standing remains that date to such an age; by contrast, Roman London, about four metres below current pavement level, dates to roughly a thousand years later.  Work proper begins this week so be sure to look out for my next update.

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