Utica, Tunisia

Project outline

The Utica project is run jointly by the Tunisian Institut National du Patromonie and the University of Oxford in collaboration with the British School at Rome as a participant in the BSR’s Ports Project, and is co-directed by Nabil Kallala, Elizabeth Fentress, Josephine Quinn and Andrew Wilson. The aim of the project is to investigate the city’s urban development and economy through a combination of topographic survey, geophysical survey, coring, excavation, pottery studies and structural survey.

Utica view of excavations

Utica view of excavations


March-April 2010

The overall aim of the initial season of archaeological geophysical survey at Utica in 2010 was to test the potential of magnetometry and four distinct areas, spread across the site, were targeted. The preliminary results of the magnetometer survey have already begun to reveal a clear depiction of the layout of the ancient city plan.

Utica geophysics results 2010

Utica geophysics results 2010


Area 1, located in the southeast of the city, covers about four hectares and instantly recognisable in the results are the insulae blocks delimited by an orthogonal road system. The NNE-SSW alignment of the city layout seen in the results, clearly corroborates both Lézine’s proposed orientation and grid pattern of theurban topography in this area,

The roads are occasionally represented by strong positive (black) anomalies, in particular the crossroads in the far west of the survey. A possible interpretation for this could be that the roads are paved in these areas. The individual insula blocks appear to measure about 80m by 40m and in some instances, predominantly in the extreme south and north of the survey area, internal divisions can be seen. In some areas, those that flank the street frontage could represent individual shop units. It is evident from the results in this area that the magnetometer survey should be expanded in order to detect the possible limits of the city and the relationship of the grid city plan to the theatre and circus in the vicinity.

Area 2 was located in the north of the city on a promontory of land overlooking the large bath complex. Although Lézine’s plan clearly denotes the course of the ramparts crossing this area, the magnetometer survey results do not confirm this hypothesis. However, clearly visible in the results, are a series of rectilinear structures with internal divisions, with a possible road to the east, conforming to the NNE-SSW alignment observed in Area 1.  If indeed it is a road, then it does comfortably conform to the layout of the plot divisions outlined by Lézine in this area.  One notable feature is the circular dipolar (very strongly magnetic) anomaly located on the western edge of the survey that most likely signifies the presence of a kiln or large oven.

Two small, localised survey areas comprise Area 4 along the northern limit of the site and the work conducted here was principally carried out to aid the present archaeological excavations.  The northernmost area covered a small headland adjacent to standing structures. The highly disturbed nature of the results from this area conclusively proved that this area was a spoil dump, most probably from excavations in the 1950s, and the only feature was a shallow gully running east to west across the survey area.  Similarly, the area to the east was also heavily disturbed by modern material and although some linear alignments can be seen they do not align with the general orientation of the ancient city and have been identified as modern dwellings.

Overall, the magnetometer survey allows us to understand the broader context of the urban topography, linking the known standing structures together, identifying areas covered by spoil from large-scale early excavations, and broadly confirming Lézine’s general reconstruction of the street grid but adjusting its positioning and revealing further internal detail.

Utica boat mosaic


Further reading

Alexander, M. A., Ennaïfer, M., Gretzinger, J., Métraux, G. P. R., Soren, D. and Spiro, M.(1973), Corpus des Mosaïques de Tunisie, Vol. I.1., Utique, Insulae I-II-III. (Tunis)

Cintas, P. (1951), “Deux campagnes de fouilles à Utique,” Karthago 2: 5-88.

Chelbi, F., Paskoff, R. and Trousset, P. (1995), “La baie d’Utique et son évolution depuis l’Antiquité: une réévaluation géoarchéologique,”  Antiquités africaines 31: 7-52.

Hay, S., Fentress, E., Kallala, N., Quinn, J., and Wilson, A. 2010. Utica. In Papers of the British School at Rome 78 : 325-29.

Lézine, A. (1968), Carthage. Utique. Études d’architecture et d’urbanisme (Paris).

Lézine, A. (1970), Utique. (Paris).

Moulard, J.  (1926) “Fouilles à Utique, en 1925, ” BCTH: 225-235.

Paskoff, R. and Trousset, P. (1992), “L’ancienne baie d’Utique : du témoinage des textes à celui des images satellitaires”, Mappemonde 1: 30-48.