Last week with our Holy Cross spring semester students we kicked off what hopefully will be an enduring campaign of improvement for Ostia Antica’s large-scale preservation. Many rooms in Ostia have never been documented; we oftentimes have no archaeological records (i.e. drawings, context sheets) of the walls or the floors, if the floors were ever even excavated. The goal is to eventually have a record and assessment of every structure in Ostia, thus making conservation efforts much more strategic and effective. It’s a daunting task but the end result is both attainable and extremely necessary if we don’t want Ostia to crumble away.
So last week for our week-long archaeological practicum we were in division “III” of Ostia to uncover a room’s floor. At times it was snuffly work due to the appalling amount of pollen in the air right now, but it was also a lot of fun. I find it is really difficult to hate one’s job when the job is to work at Ostia every day!
SIDETRACK: Ostia smells delicious…the breeze blows, buffeting the wild mint with the aroma reminding you of a wonderful mojito from Freni e Frizioni, and other times you smell all the tall grasses in the warm air and feel like you’re in some sort of outdoor bakery. Mmm. By our “finds area” in the summertime you can eat wild blackberries that are the sweetest I’ve ever tasted.
But I digress. In our happy little room, we got through the layer of grass and roots (the tedious first step when one is breaking new ground) and then poked around a bit to find a partially intact floor. Basically all that survived was the cocciopesto, i.e. the layer of hydraulic cement that would have been the preparation layer below the “proper” floor (of marble slabs, for example). We had some fun finds and there were some interesting questions raised by the layer we uncovered. We don’t know what the room’s function(s) might have been…We’re going to do more work there when the dig starts in June. It may be surprising, but even a broken-up cement floor can be really intellectually stimulating!