Conservation & New Discoveries

While the central aim of the project is to conserve and enhance the already-excavated heritage, advancing our knowledge of the past is a vital component in this process. The minute attention to the fabric of the site by a multidisciplinary team means that the project is constantly generating new knowledge about the ancient city.
Work in progress on the ancient shoreline where an ancient wooden roof was discovered.

The first step was to recover knowledge that was lost to sight. From the documentary and photographic archives much unpublished information has emerged about the original excavations, and the process of restoration that often happened simultaneously, especially under the Superintendent Amedeo Maiuri during the twentieth century. A major part of the project has been the creation of a database, eventually accessible on the web, of all such information and documentation. At frequent points, consolidating and protecting the remains has also involved revealing material which has only been partially excavated. One conspicuous example is the latrine found on the second floor of the apartment block at Insula Orientalis II; this is the first time a well-preserved Roman latrine has been found at this height above ground level, and it attests the sophistication of Roman waste-disposal systems.

In many cases, major new discoveries have flowed from projects designed to preserve the site. Clearing and stabilizing the collapsing embankment above the north-west corner of the site not only revealed the layout of the buried Basilica Noniana, but exposed the marble head of an Amazon. The exceptional preservation of the paintwork on this statue head, including eyes and eyelashes, would not have been possible without the presence of a skilled team of conservators. Secondly, the need to provide for the effective drainage of the whole site has led to two major discoveries:

  • the reopening of a major sewer beneath the Insula Orientalis II, which functioned as a cesspit for the entire block of flats and shops, the extensive preservation of waste material, including human refuse, gives an unparalleled opportunity to analyse Roman diet and health
  • drainage works on the ancient shoreline to pump water out of site led to the discovery of the wooden roof from the house above, these waterlogged wooden elements allow us to reconstruct the entire structure including the unique painted ceiling.

There’s more about these finds here