My work examines the extent to which the Roman Empire can be defined archaeologically. This involves investigating the ways the imperial system helped generate new regional cultures and, in turn, the way in which these cultures helped define the face of the imperial system. I examine these dynamics through the archaeology of cult, the army and systems of communication and exchange. I am also very interested in the development and application of advanced prospection and excavation techniques.
My current fieldwork includes serving as the Project Director, alongside Tony Wilmott (Field Director), leading excavations at Maryport, in Cumbria. Maryport was home to a major fort and extra-mural settlement in the Roman period. It served as a key centre in the frontier system established under Hadrian alongside Hadrian's Wall. In 2011 we began investigating the site where Antiquarian diggings in the 1870s revealed the largest single concentration of Roman altars ever to be found in Britain. The altar group is of considerable importance to the study of religion in Rome's armies and has been much debated ever since its discovery. We returned to the site to excavate further in 2012. Our excavations have revealed that the pits in which the altars were discovered were not ritual deposits, as was widely believed, but rather part of pile foundations for a group of timber structures. Fieldwork in 2012 showed that these structures lay adjacent to a group of long cist graves, some of which white quarz pebbles, an indication of early Christian rites. The excavations were generously funded by the Senhouse Museum Trust and Newcastle University. Access to the site was granted by Hadrian's Wall Heritage.
I also have the privilege of co-leading a major research project under the basilica of St John Lateran in Rome. with Professor Paolo Liverani of the University of Florence. The Lateran basilica is an extraordinarily important complex, known as the Caput et Mater of all churches of Western Christendom. It was founded by Constantine on the site of one of two forts previously used to house the Imperial Horseguard (the equites singulares). Beneath the basilica that today's visitors see lies an extensive labyrinth of excavated spaces (scavi), opened up from the C18 onwards. These contain parts not only of the earliest phases of the basilica and baptistery, and several important Late Antique Christian buildings but also substantial parts of the Castra Nova of the equites singulares,,a bath complex, market and shop buildings. Beneath all this lies the remains of a substantial palatial dwelling which preserves many of its frescoes intact. I am very fortunate to be working with Paolo and also with Giandomenico Spinola of the Vatican Museums on this exciting project. Our suvey of the Lateran scavi will have important implications for students of Church architecture, soldiers in Rome under the high empire, and more generally of Roman topography. The project is supported by the British School at Rome. Members of the Lateran Project team presented recent developments in research on the scavi at a British School at Rome colloquium in 2012 (British School at Rome, 8th June 2012).
In addition to the Maryport and Lateran research programmes, I should note several other major projects which continue to inform my current research. In 2009, I was fortunate to work with Tony Wilmott on another project related to the military communties of the Roman Empire, in a joint English Heritage/Newcastle University excavation of the cemetery associated with Birdoswald fort on Hadrian’s Wall. Severe erosion meant that the cemetery site was threatened with destruction. The mitigation imperative allowed us the opportunity to conduct the first large scale research excavation of a Hadrian’s Wall cemetery ever undertaken. The project yielded important insights into the diversity of funerary ritual in military contexts, the extent of a previously unidentified category of what Tony usefully refers to as ‘commemorative deposits’ and, fascinatingly, a dramatic shift in the rites practices at the cemetery in or imediately following the late fourth century AD.
While each of these projects is illuminating in its own right, and has engaged with a range of different themes, all of them have also proved extremely helpful in the development of my broader research on the auxilia of Rome’s armies. My book on this subject, Blood of the Provinces: The Roman Auxilia and the Making of Provincial Society from Augustus to the Severans is currently in press. It will be available from Oxford University Press in 2013.
My military interests also provided part of the motivation for launching the Salsovia Project (Mahmudia, Romania), with Doru Bogdan and Florin Topoleanu, but here I was interested in another theme too, one that had fascinated me since I first began research in Romania (with the Apulum Project: see below), namely the flucuating patterns of communication and exchange on the Lower Danube. The archaeological site of Mahmudia, only a short distance from the Black Sea, provides evidence for human settlement from the Neoithic through to the late Roman period. Our research showed the extent of destruction that accompanied the end of the Roman citadel’s use, but it also illuminated much earlier periods of activity in this important region, including exchange activity between the Iron Age settlement’s occupants and Greek Black Sea colonists.
The AHRC funded work on communication and exchange on the Lower Danube which triggered the Salsovia Project, was itself an outgrowth of the tri-national Apulum Project, which I co-directed with Alexandru Diaconescu of the University of Cluj, and Alfred Schaefer, then of Humboldt University. The Apulum Project focussed primarily on the excavation of a sanctuary of Liber Pater within the Roman city of colonia Aurelia Apulensis, but it opened up a remarkable set of opportunities. In particular the cult pits that were discovered offered a powerful glimpse of nature of rituals practiced at the site. This in turn led to a longer term interest of mine in votive deposition and to the AHRC funded favissa project, a study of votive deposition in the Roman Empire. The Apulum sanctuary was built over a major pottery production site (and indeed, pottery production continued after the sanctuary was founded). Our work on these tightly grouped pottery finds allowed us to develop typologies of pottery in use Roman Dacia, a major resource tool Leading this part of the work were colleagues Mihaela Ciausescu, Constanze Höpken, Manuel Fiedler and Robin Symonds. The pottery data was to prove of considerable importance when a second phase of Apulum research, this time with Doru Bogdan and Iuli Paul, examined the patterns of settlement in the vicinity of the city.
I particularly appreciate the opportunity to facilitate interdisciplinary project teams. I have led projects with complex geomatics and geophysics components in five countries to date. In addition to the research projects noted above, I was fortunate to be able to work Lyudmil Vagalinski and with geomaticians from UCL to establish an ITRF for Debelt Archaeological Reserve in Bulgaria.