A New View on the Roman City of Gabii

by Briana Johnson on November 15, 2021

This is a guest post from Laura M. Banducci and Anna Gallone, editors of “A Cemetery and Quarry from Imperial Gabii” from the University of Michigan Press. The open access volume can be found here. 

A Layered Approach to Publishing in Archaeology

Located 12 miles east of Rome, Gabii was a major Latin city during the first millennium BCE, developing in step with its peers in central Italy. This new publication, A Cemetery and Quarry from Imperial Gabii, presents the final results of the excavation of two areas of the Gabii Project, at the Archeological Park of Gabii. The Gabii Project is a long-running excavation project launched by the University of Michigan in 2009, which has so far investigated multiple sectors of the ancient city  (https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/gabiiproject/ and www.gabiiproject.org). This is the second open-access volume in our Gabii Reports Series, following A Mid-Republican House from Gabii (Opitz, Mogetta, and Terrenato eds. 2016). We continue a distinct feature of the Gabii Project’s publication style: using “layered text” that allows us to share the excavation results with a variety of different audiences. The “layered” structure of the volumes means that the results of the excavations and their interpretation are presented three times. The first, titled “The Story,” provides a narrative of the site aimed at a general, non-academic audience. The second layer, “More,” is intended for the academic non-specialist, e.g., the ancient historian, and explains the phasing and the features of the site and their interpretation. The third layer, “The Details,” is intended for an archaeologist audience and contains stratigraphic descriptions and technical reports on specialist materials. 

What’s in the Book?

The Gabii Project’s Areas A and B cover one large city block and give us the opportunity to see nearly 1,000 years of habitation of the city. The features uncovered include a small cluster of Iron Age huts and associated rich infant burials, followed by an archaic building, which was replaced by a small Republican house. This sector of the city was then partially abandoned, and a stone quarry was opened up for the extraction of the famous lapis Gabinus, stone used in the monumentalization of Rome, especially under the Emperor Augustus. Then, the same area became a small necropolis, or ancient cemetery, where 30 human burials were deposited over the course of about two centuries. The location of this cemetery is particularly meaningful to Roman archaeologists since this is a formerly residential block within the limits of the city; typically, scholars consider burying people within the city limits to have been taboo in the Roman period because of the laws of the time. We suggest that the cemetery at Gabii reflects both the locals’ changing understanding of the city’s boundaries (what was considered “in” and “out” of the city) and that this is reflective of the blurring of urban zoning beginning to happen in the landscape around the city of Rome in this period.

The book’s specialist reports include descriptions of the ceramic and non-ceramic artifacts and the environmental record, i.e., the animal bones and botanical remains. An osteological report by Dr. Kristina Killgrove details the human remains recovered in the cemetery: these individuals’ sex and age-at-death, as well as their skeletal and dental pathology.

The chapters throughout the book which cover the different phases and features of the site together with the specialist reports are all hyperlinked so that a reader can follow their interests through the volume – starting, for example, with the exploration of the ancient context of three unusual individuals buried with lead sheets, clicking through to the story of the challenges of excavating and conserving these lead burials, clicking through to the osteological details of the skeletal remains.

Accessing and Interacting With the Archaeological Data

The publication’s layered narrative is supported by an interactive 3D representation of the excavated area created with the game engine Unity3D. The interactive content is displayed directly alongside the narrative text in the publication viewer, providing a dynamic and responsive reference point to the story being told. It contains 3D representations of the site’s various archaeological features alongside additional descriptions, photos, and other information with direct links to entries in the project’s online open-access database. As audiences explore our text, hyperlinks allow them to display and interact with 3D content related to what they are reading. In addition, readers can explore the 3D content itself freely at any time. Multiple modes of moving around the 3D scene – including an “orbit view,” a view from above, and a first-person view – provide different avenues toward this exploration and interaction.

A feature of the 3D model which has been specially developed to visualize the cemetery remains of Area A and B is “Tomb View.” By selecting the icon floating over each tomb in the 3D scene, readers can open a viewer which displays the various stratigraphic features of the tomb in layered succession. This helps convey the complexity of the cemetery’s stratigraphy, including various styles of tomb cappings, soil fills, skeletal positions, and cuts (see video below). In this way, each tomb can be digitally re-excavated.

 

This second publication of the Gabii Project represents one more step forward in the dissemination of modern archaeological data. Open access to the book, containing our synthesis and interpretation of the data together with high-quality visualizations, provides the opportunity to reach the largest possible audience. This is paired with the open accessibility of the Gabii database, the complete data collected during the excavations. This allows scholars direct access to an extremely rich and interesting archaeological context.

Find the project here. 

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