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Read, Watch and Listen

(Photo: Simon Keay/ Portus Project)

Research Theme 1: We have traced the structural history of Portus, from its establishment under Claudius, to its enlargement under Trajan and subsequent emperors down into the 4th c AD. Five key buildings at the centre of the port played distinctive roles in respect to the Claudian and Trajanic harbour basins and a related canal. From the early 2nd c, the three-storey Building 3 (Palazzo Imperiale) was its administrative hub and the adjacent Building 5 was the focus of ship-building or repair; the Grandi Magazzini di Settimio Severo was built at a date in the later 2nd c AD, probably for storage.

(Photo: Simon Keay/Portus Project)

Research Theme 2: The later 5th and the 6th c AD witnessed the gradual siltation of the outer Claudian basin, a contraction in the extent of the port, a transformation of the function of its buildings and in the volume and range of its traffic and cargo. In the 470s, the five buildings under study were enclosed within a defensive wall designed to protect the inner Trajanic basin from seaborne attack, possibly from Vandal pirates. Buildings 5 and 3 were systematically demolished in the mid to later 6th c, probably by the Byzantine authorities, and burials began to proliferate amongst the ruins.

(Photo: Simon Keay/Portus Project)

Research Theme 3: The large scale and complexity of the port infrastructure at Portus is best appreciated by remembering that by the early 2nd c AD it was the central node in what might term as a "port-system". Communication between Portus and Ostia and the commercial district of Rome, was articulated by a network of canals and the river Tiber itself. Our work has greatly increased understanding of a key part of this, the Isola Sacra, that lies between Portus and Ostia. It has revealed a massive new canal running south from the Fossa Traiana and parallel to the cemetery, field divisions, and warehouse complexes.

(Photo: Penny Copeland/ Portus Project)

Research Theme 5: Portus' primary role was to supply the 800,000 inhabitants of Rome with foodstuffs and the other materials. It was also a hub for re-distributing imports from other Mediterranean ports and, to a lesser extent, exporting construction material and other products from the Tiber valley. Analyses of amphorae, table and cooking wares, bricks, decorative stone and carbonized seeds from our excavations has enabled us to trace changing commercial connections to known sources across the whole Mediterranean basin, underlining the particular importance of north Africa (ceramics) and the east Mediterranean (decorative stone).  Our work has also reveal the presence of Italian products ceramics, either for use in the port or for export.

(Photo: Hembo Pagi/Portus Project)

Methodological Innovation: The challenge of tracing the history of this extensive port within the short time-frame of our projects was met by combining non-destructive survey of the area of our five buildings followed by excavation. The former approach was intended to extract the maximum information about buildings that were still buried. Topographical survey of the ground surface provided some clues, to which was added laser-scans of standing walls; the layout of structures below the surface was then picked-out using a combination of geophysical techniques. Open area excavation was then targeted upon areas most likely to answer our research questions. All of this information was captured digitally.

(Photo: Simon Keay/Portus Project)

Interdisciplinary Research Environment: The complexity and richness of this site qualify it well for the use of scientific techniques as well as those more traditionally associated with the Humanities, thereby promoting an inter-disciplinary approach to studying the past. Analyses of sedimentary deposits and micro-fauna from deep cores drilled into the Claudian basin, quays and canals have taught us much about the use of water-spaces at Portus. Its environment, by contrast, is being studied by means of carbonized seeds and ancient pollen, while ceramics have been tracked to their widely differing places of origin across the Mediterranean by analysing the petrology of the minerals found within their clay matrix. Other scientific approaches include marine and terrestrial geophysical survey, computer visualization of project results and biological profiling of ancient skeletons.

(Photo: Hembo Pagi/Portus Project)

Student Involvement: The huge cost of large-scale excavations at Classical sites means that they are much rarer today than they used to be. However, the inter-disciplinary and ethical challenges inherent to these, and the range of techniques to which they are suited, means that they are ideal for training the next generation of Classical archaeologists in field and analytical techniques, as well giving them familiarity with the material culture of the Classical world. An AHRC project studentship in Roman ceramics, for example, has addressed one of our research questions and generated deep knowledge of one class of material, while excavation data have provided dissertation topics for MSc Computing students. Furthermore, countless undergraduate students from Southampton, Cambridge, Oxford, Aix-Marseille, Ghent, Roma Tre, Roma La Sapienza, Seville and Tarragona have had their first taste of Roman Mediterranean archaeology in this unique context.

(Image: James Miles/ Portus Project)

Data Capture: The Portus Project has worked with technology consultants and researchers to develop and evaluate various methods for capturing archaeological data. These include methods for recording buildings such as laser scanning and gigapixel imaging, and objects, including photogrammetry and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). We have also experimented with novel capture tools such as Microsoft Kinect and wearable cameras like Looxcie and GoPro as a way of enhancing information exchange and student involvement in the research process.