University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Bathing and Warring Romans – Emily French

September 5, 2017

As a PhD student in the Art & Archaeology of the Mediterranean World (AAMW) program at Penn, I have the good fortune of getting to travel to the Mediterranean every summer to undertake fieldwork. This year I was lucky to be supported by the Penn Museum while I spent two months doing fieldwork in Italy and in Israel – it was a fascinating experience working in two very different countries and on two very different excavations! I first spent a month in Italy working with the Cosa Excavations. Cosa is about two hours north of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea, on a picturesque hill overlooking the water. This project is investigating the bath complex at the site, which was founded as a Latin colony in 273 BCE. There have been excavations on various areas of the site for decades, but this is the first to intensively study the bath complex. This was the fifth season of excavations at the bath (and my second!) and this year we made some great progress in answering questions about how the baths functioned.

Collapse poking through the dirt in the early days on site.

I worked in an area between the eastern outer wall of the complex and the laconicum, one of the hot rooms. We hoped to better understand how the different rooms of the bath relate to one another, particularly because the bath is built on a slope. What we actually encountered was nothing like anything else I had dug before! Within a couple of days we were coming down on collapsed building materials. This continued for the entire 4+ week season! We were able to remove some of the pieces of wall or vaulting debris, after careful documentation, but some were just too massive to move. Soon we were gently climbing in and out of the trench with only a few specific places we could step. We ended up finding more of the external wall as well as two other walls. We also found several large pieces of collapsed vaulting that will hopefully help the architects that work with us reconstruct the architecture of the baths. They are working on laser scanning the fallen vaulting, and a couple of the pieces we found may help in this digital reconstruction effort.

The trench at the end of the season – it was a little crazy.
When the end of June rolled around, I said farewell to Italy (and daily, delicious pasta) and traveled to Israel. There I joined the Jezreel Valley Regional Project’s (JVRP) excavations at Legio, the camp of the Sixth Legion (nicknamed Ferrata, or “Ironclad”) near Megiddo. This camp was founded in the 2nd century CE after uprisings in the area, and is an amazing site that is helping us better understand military outposts in the eastern Roman Empire. I had actually dug with the JVRP in college (4-5 years ago!!), but at that time they were investigating a much earlier site in a different part of the Jezreel Valley. It was great to be back in Israel and reunite with many old friends! As a military camp, this excavation was a distinct change from the baths at Cosa. It was a fun challenge to adapt to a totally different context, as well as some different terminology and a different system of record keeping! (And we started work at 5 am instead of 8 am – that took a few days to get used to!) This was also the first time in several years that I have dug with undergrads on their first excavation, so I got some experience in teaching archaeological methods and helping first-time diggers learn the ropes.
The view from inside the trench – architectural collapse as far as the eye can see!
Who doesn’t love tile with puppy paw prints??

My square at Legio proved quite different from Cosa – for a while we weren’t finding much, until suddenly we had some really awesome stuff. We came down on an interesting column and base, which may have been used in the worship of Apollo. The column base was inlaid with basalt and was quite beautiful.

The column base and the broken-off, tipped-over column. The darker diamonds on the base are inlaid basalt.

After much careful excavation around the column and base, we carefully removed them and sent them away for conservation.

The author preparing the column to be removed for conservation. To the right, the stone block with the square cut is a doorpost block. Photo: Kate Cescon.

Under the column base we then found a sturdy floor, which also appeared in several adjacent squares.

The floor in our square after excavations finished. The shadow from the sun shade is giving it a wavy appearance, but it was perfectly smooth and level!

We just barely finished cleaning the floor on the last day of excavations! I also excavated a small niche cut into rock – it ended up having awesome plaster, but sadly we didn’t find any statues in it!

The small rock-cut niche. It is partly outside of our excavation area, so we didn’t excavate the entire niche. It has quite a bit of plaster lining the sides!

Off site, I also helped with other tasks for the excavations. The excavations at Legio began in 2013, but the database system has changed since then. After we got back from site and had lunch, I helped enter the finds from 2013 in the new database. It was a great chance to get some experience working with the database, and I got to go through cool finds from 2013!

Overall, this summer was productive and exciting. Working in two different countries was awesome – I saw many different landscapes and ate a wide variety of great food, on top of excavating at two fascinating sites.

Learn more about the Cosa Excavations and the Jezreel Valley Regional Project:

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