The QT

Friday 19 July 2024

Tyne travel unearths ancient secrets

When in Rome — uncover the secrets of centuries and North East experts did just that as Tony Henderson discovers, with some of their work now on show at the Great North Museum: Hancock
Rome Transformed at the Great North Museum: Hancock

A Tyneside-led project has investigated how 170 acres of Rome “jam packed” with archaeology repeatedly changed across eight centuries. 

An international team of archaeologists, led by Newcastle University and working with a mix of experts from different disciplines, has meticulously studied the transformation of an area in southeast Rome, near the Coliseum.

Newcastle University professor of archaeology Ian Haynes, principal investigator of the Rome Transformed project, was awarded European Research Council funding to launch the five-year venture which is now nearing its end. 

Professor Ian Haynes from Newcastle University has led the project

In a project involving survey work of an unprecedented scale and intricacy, the team has explored changes from the time of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, to the year 800, when a very different ruler, Charlemagne, arrived in Rome for his coronation by the Pope as Holy Roman Emperor.

The project employed cutting-edge technologies, including lightweight drone imaging, laser scanning, exploration of underground spaces and the biggest use of geophysical surveying ever carried out in Rome.

It has probed into how the area moved from being luxury gardens for the rich to military bases to the site of the first cathedral in the world, from the houses of elite families, through successive imperial palaces to the seat of papal rule.

It has plotted how history has been driven by major shifts in politics, armies, and religion, exploring how Rome grew and presenting ways of investigating ancient cities.

The project has also resulted in the creation of 3D visualisations of how buildings and the landscape in the survey area looked as the centuries passed.

Now these have gone on show at an exhibition in the Great North Museum:Hancock in Newcastle. Rome Transformed runs until September 1 and entry is free.

Visualisation of one of the grand buildings which once stood on the survey site

Prof Haynes, who also holds the chair of archaeology at the British School in Rome – the UK’s largest overseas research institution – said: “It is a real pleasure to be able to present our team’s research at the Great North Museum: Hancock. We hope visitors will find the combination of technology and adventure enjoyable.

“Team members worked on many extraordinary sites, sometimes deep beneath the ground, and sometimes drone-aided far above the modern streets. Taken together, we aim to offer a unique new perspective on an amazing city.

“The survey area starts with the luxury gardens and ends up as being one of the most important places in the Western world.  

“This was a crucial time when the Western world was in some ways being formed. It was a time of massive transformation and shaped ideas that have applications with today. 

“It has been an amazing project to make sense of this well preserved, big puzzle.”

Dave Heslop and Ian Haynes explore the remains of Roman barracks beneath the Basilica – The Pope’s Cathedral. Credit: Denise Heslop

In voids deep underground, features such as painted walls and mosaics survive but are closed to the public and to the air.  

“It is the pulling together of a detailed examination of what is above and below ground, of how buildings and the landscape looked at times of repeated transformation.”

Malavika Anderson, Great North Museum: Hancock manager, said: We are delighted to be presenting this innovative experience at the Great North Museum: Hancock in collaboration with archaeologists at Newcastle University. 

“The visual history of Rome has always been a captivating topic and the insights that new technology and research can offer us are truly exceptional. We hope audiences enjoy themselves in this hidden world of ancient Rome and learn more about the transformations of this extraordinary city.” 

For more information about the Rome Transformed exhibition, visit the Great North Museum: Hancock website.


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