An energetic group of nine students from Montclair State University traveled to Italy in July, 2010 to participate in a four-week archeological exploration of the Roman villa site known as the Villa degli Antonini.
The summer project was led by Dr. Deborah Chatr Aryamontri and Prof. Timothy Renner of MSU’s Center for Heritage & Archeological Studies and Department of Classics & General Humanities.
Dr. Chatr Aryamontri is a native of Rome who has had extensive training in Roman archaeology. Prof. Renner is an ancient historian and director of the Center with a special interest in Roman culture and experience in archaeology.
The villa dates back to the 2nd C. CE and is located along the ancient Appian Way within the modern town of Genzano di Roma, about 20 miles from the city of Rome.
The project was organized as an archeological field school which introduced students to all major aspects of archeological work, including historical background, surveying, drawing, artifact classification, and excavation proper.
Eight of the
nine students were undergraduates whose majors ranged from Biology to
Anthropology to Art History to Classics, while one was a graduate student
studying Museum Management.
The group included visiting students from Stevens Institute of Technology, Rutgers University and Tulane University. MSU’s Global Education Center assisted with the administration and recruitment of students in this study abroad Program
Although the massive concrete remains of the villa’s ancient bathing structures still stand out against the sky, most of the complex had never been explored.
The team’s efforts focused on uncovering the remains of what may have been an amphitheater on the villa’s grounds. Numerous pieces of decorative marble originating from around the Mediterranean, many tiny fragments of mosaics in dazzling colors, and brick stamps, which are especially important for dating, were found.
These artifacts are indicative of the elite wealth and taste of the villa’s owners. In view of the time period and the kind of artifacts unearthed, the likelihood is that the villa belonged to members of the Antonine imperial family.
“The proximity of this structure to the baths suggests an interesting parallel with an elliptical building at the famous Villa of the Quintilii at the outskirts of Rome, thought to have been built initially as an amphitheater under Commodus,” said Prof. Renner.
“The late second-century Antonine emperor is known to have been fond of gladiatorial games, and indeed an ancient source refers to him as fighting in the arena of Lanuvium.”
The project, which began to take shape more than a year ago, is envisioned as the start of a multi-year investigation.
During the fall and winter of 2009, the official application to excavate to Italian authorities was prepared, intensive research concerning the site was begun and a team of Italian geophysicists from the Universita’ di Roma “La Sapienza” was recruited to collaborate in the study.
Italian scholars gave guest lectures on photogrammetry and on the study of Latin inscriptions during the project. Geophysicists conducting an exploration of the site via the Ground Penetrating Radar and magnetometry did so in the form of a workshop in which students assisted with the data collection.
Each student received six academic credits through MSU’s Classics and General Humanities Department.
The aim of the project over the next several years is to involve students in thoroughly exploring the parts of the villa that have not yet been destroyed by modern development and vandalism, and to continue the study of its artifacts and layout.