Monthly Archives: June 2021
Emlyn Dodd, Macquarie UniversityLocated about 50 kilometres north of Rome, the ancient city of Falerii Novi lies buried beneath agricultural fields and olive groves. City walls still stand in an almost complete circuit and visitors pass through the monumental western gate to enter the site.
The findings from detailed ground-penetrating radar mapping were published a year ago. Now the real business of digging has begun.
At the ancient site, our teams have already discovered remnants of daily life from more than 2,000 years ago. We hope excavation will yield rare insight into antiquity with its preserved urban layout, just like at the buried city of Pompeii.
A ‘new’ city
Ancient authors Polybius and Livy tell us the city was founded by Rome in 241 BCE, following the defeat of a revolt led by the inhabitants of nearby Falerii Veteres (now Civita Castellana). According to one source, 12th-century chronicler Zonaras, Rome forcibly resettled the defeated Faliscans to a less defensible location — Falerii Novi or “new Falerii”. Its construction, intimately associated with the Roman road Via Amerina, is a rare example of preserved Roman Republican urban planning.
The city was occupied through Roman antiquity and to the early medieval period (6th and 7th centuries CE). It was on a key strategic trading route leading north from Rome, perhaps from Ponte Milvio, through central Italy.
We know little of its later history, except that the still-standing church of Santa Maria di Falleri was founded by Benedictines in 1036, disbanded in 1392 and the building was in ruins by 1571. It is now largely restored with excavated Roman roads visible beneath the floor.
When and how Falerii Novi became buried remains a mystery. How did such a large walled city become covered in so much soil? And what happened in late antiquity to cause its abandonment? The current dig may answer those questions too.
Old digs, new tricks
Three scattered attempts at excavation have been made previously. From 1821–30 a Polish team explored around the theatre area and in a (now lost) residential and commercial street-side strip. Towards the end of the 19th century work was attempted at a number of locations near city gates. And local Soprintendenza archaeologists looked at an area on the western flank of the suspected forum from 1969-75.
The site’s historical importance and immense potential, alongside developing technology, led to renewed archaeological attempts.
From 1997–8, topographic survey and surface collection were combined with magnetometry to get a broader sense of the city’s urban layout, chronology and neighbourhoods. This revealed structures including theatres, bathhouses, villas, temples and a forum a few feet under the ground.
Later, this was extended outside the city walls, revealing tombs, buildings and roads leading towards an amphitheatre.
Recently a survey of the entire city using cutting-edge ground-penetrating radar produced sharper images and created a three-dimensional rendering of sub-surface features. Completely new structures were revealed, including a colossal structure, over 100 metres long, thought to be a colonnaded temple against the north city wall.
The detailed map produced by these efforts is now being used to pin-point excavation areas.
Breaking new ground
I’m one of the people working on the first season of systematic excavation (started in June) by a collaborative team from the Universities of Harvard and Toronto, the British School at Rome and under the concession of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per la Provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria Meridionale.
We have opened a series of over 120 small test pits across the site. These will provide an initial understanding of various neighbourhoods — domestic, productive, religious, civic — along with chronological and spatial densities of habitation and material.
We start digging at 8am, stopping for breaks through the heat of the day, and finishing around 4pm. The work is sweaty and dirty in the hot Italian summer, but the promise of this site excites and energises everyone.
Work so far has revealed clues to the early occupancy of the site soon after founding in 241 BCE. What archaeologists call “black gloss ware” — a typical type of Roman Republican pottery — has been pulled out of test pits. Small pieces of Roman glass, metal slag and other ceramics are also present. Pieces of shimmering, iridescent green-glazed medieval pottery were also found, highlighting continued, post-Roman occupancy.
Next, larger-scale trenches will be opened at areas of interest. Perhaps around domestic structures and insulae (groups of buildings). Revealing the macellum marketplace, might tell us what was bought and sold, what commercial structures looked like and who was engaged in these activities. A taberna (typically a one-room shop) on the edge of the central forum may tell us about the goods and services on offer.
Testing the soil
A team from Ghent University is following up previous work on site with Cambridge University. This year they are taking core samples (called augering) up to 5 metres below the current ground level. This gives archaeologists a snapshot of the site across time: human impacts on the landscape, environmental data, habitation and material changes.
Early results are starting to show the very real and profound effect of Roman settlement in the area. Pottery from cores also indicates occupancy over a long time, perhaps even earlier than told to us by Polybius and Livy.
Work will continue in 2022 when the first large trenches are opened and a new view of life at Roman Falerii Novi is illuminated.
Emlyn Dodd, Assistant Director of Archaeology, British School at Rome; Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow, Macquarie University; Research Affiliate, Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, Macquarie University
Sayan Dey, University of the WitwatersrandWhen I was a child growing up in Kolkata, I would hear stories about the European colonisation of Bengal – the precolonial name of India’s West Bengal. These were selective narratives from a particularly male perspective, and presented colonisers as transforming social benefactors installed to provide a civilising influence. The rich histories of Indian philosophy that were once associated with religion, education and health were replaced by the colonial philosophy of conversion, modernising and improvement.
But it was not just European men; women too played a pivotal role in normalising colonisation in Bengal in the 19th century. The wives and daughters of merchants, engineers, ministers, doctors and architects came to India and not only supported their husbands and families, but took on what they saw as humanitarian roles where they felt they could be useful in the community.
But you wouldn’t know this from reading any European colonial histories of Bengal, because the stories of these women have largely been ignored. The majority of existing narratives about the Scottish influence on the colonisation of Bengal reduces women to just “partners”, or those who came to India “because they wanted to find husbands”.
My research rediscovers the stories of such women interred at the Scottish Cemetery in Kolkata, the West Bengal city that was once the administrative HQ of British India (previously called Calcutta). I wanted to highlight and explore these forgotten social histories through a “hauntological” perspective. Rather like a ghost, these unearthed stories were a returning of the past to “haunt” the present.
By uncovering the complicating histories of colonial women, I wanted to highlight the challenges of the decolonial gaze, which seeks to counter traditional historical narratives created by colonisers. In other words, the untold stories of the Scottish women in Calcutta revealed in my documentary (below), returned to the present to disrupt the accepted interpretations of European colonial history in West Bengal. This now invites people to engage with a different and overlooked perspective of the period.
While their husbands were building, buying, managing and administrating British India, wives and daughters were working in hospitals, teaching in schools and helping to provide community services. But their efforts and contributions went unacknowledged in the historical unfolding of empire.
A documentary approach
In 2019, I collaborated with academics from Bridgewater State University in the US in making my documentary to unpack these issues. The documentary argues that the physical death and decay of the human body does not necessarily erase the social and historical narratives that have shaped a person’s existence.
Through their discovery and circulation, the cemetery stories of the Scottish women endure beyond graveyards that decline with time, and now exist in the present and the future. The women’s stories make an effort to “honour and resurrect the future inside the past” because they have laid bare another dimension to European colonisation that previous interpretations had overlooked.
The documentary engages with the narratives of 11 Scottish women, selected from the available list of names in the cemetery records. Initially, 24 women were identified for documentation, but less than half could be used as the carvings on so many of the gravestones were too faded or degraded to use. The film shows that these stories have not come from existing written or oral accounts. Instead, these tales of real and often difficult lives have been resurrected from the information chiselled onto gravestones.
Here we find stories of Scotswomen like Jane Elliott, who worked as a missionary and looked after homeless children in Calcutta; or Christina Rodger Wighton who worked with people suffering from cholera, malaria and dysentery and died herself of cholera aged just 27; or Caroline Leach who arrived in India in 1850 just as epidemics broke out and worked as an apothecary in a leper colony; or Anne Baynes Evans who worked with the poor through the Baptist Missionary Society and was committed to educating young Indian women. Apart from their gravestones and cemetery records, no account of these women’s lives and achievements exist.
Many other colonial women’s lives in India follow the same pattern. Here were Scotswomen who saw their role as benevolent colonisers, contributing towards the “growth” and “development” of Calcutta by establishing schools for girls, health centres, nature parks and places of worship. But the ultimate goal of their high-minded and no doubt well-meaning contributions was to justify why colonisation was necessary.
Voices from stone
But these women played an important role as doctors, teachers, apothecaries, nurses, missionaries and even piano tuners. The gravestone stories reveal the various ways Scottish women independently played an active role towards shaping the European colonial administration in Bengal, and particularly in Calcutta.
But their stories have remained mostly undiscussed due to lack of documentation – their lives not seen as even deserving a note for posterity. The stories that remain on their gravestones function as what anthropologist Fiona Murphy calls “unpacified ghosts”. Their stories call out to be heard, and to challenge the practice of “conditional inclusion” which preserves historical colonial power structures, by unearthing untold stories of women’s lives and contributions.
This research not only makes an effort to document the historical narratives of these Scottish women, but also illustrates how cemetery gravestones literally remind us of the past, revealing stories that show once again how history is so often written from a singular – and male – perspective. But now the lives of these woman have at last been illuminated. Even in their silence, the dead have a story to tell.