Tempio di Roma e Augusto (TRA)























3D Archaeological Field Recording in Ostia

Structure-from-Motion (SfM) and LiDAR have led to a revolution within recording archaeological sites as well as objects. SfM is essentially digital photogrammetry, which we have applied to the Forum of Ostia since 2010.

An important aspect of both the excavation- and post-excavation work is the 3D modelling of not only objects, but also large excavated areas. On site, it is therefore important to take the adequate number of photographs. If an object has finely carved ornamental decoration, detailed photos of these carvings are very important. Especially since these carvings often are the defining hints towards a date. Some examples are presented beneath. Here the detailed ornamental decoration can be seen.

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Objects consist of everything from large architectural elements in marble to the smallest terra sigillata objects. Since we often conduct our work outside, the lighting is very important – shadows from the sun are a disturbing factor regarding the quality of the 3D model. Using a DSLR camera, such as a Canon with a standard lens, it usually takes no more than 5 to 10 minutes to record an object. How it is done can be seen on the three pictures below. The two first photos show the documentation of architectural elements in marble with detailed carvings. The third photo shows the documentation of an oil lamp.

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It is essential that the camera settings are the same throughout the process, which makes it easier for the SfM technique to identify the corresponding points in the attempt to generate a dense point cloud.

Besides the Canon, a Sony Mark I and Mark III were also utilised in the documentation of rooms and their surfaces. An example can be seen underneath, where the room TFR_2 has been photographed with the Sony Mark I and III documenting the status quo of the excavation as well as the walls.


The documentation of the walls were done from on the top of walls.

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For the aerial views and documentation of walls as well, our colleagues from Budapest used a Phantom III drone with great success, as can be seen on the picure below. The first picture shows one of our Hungarian colleagues with the Phantom III. The second picture shows the Temple of Roma and Augustus located in the southern half of the Forum after it has been processed.



In the post-excavation work we use programs such as PhotoScan and MetaShape. MeshLab has also been used. When analysing the individual architectural fragments as well as the overall views of groundplans, Sketch-Up is a program, which we sometimes use to gather all the information and create a 3D model of for example the Temple of Roma and Augustus and its interior. We do this to visualise our theories and thus to analyse whether it makes sense with the amount of columns or aediculae on the inside. Some examples of this can be seen below.

Fig. 2b. Overview of the skylight tiles Fig. 3a. Morning sun_western wall

The different methods developed for the requirements of our project are promising in their flexibility and cost efficiency. The method furtermore allows one to re-work an object or a plan and to create a newer 3D model in the future. The method is also efficient in cultural heritage, since the photos are stored and saved for future research.

The work is still in progress. However, some results and more detailed descriptions can be found in the following article:

A. Gering, L. Pecchioli, M. Dehner & B. Takàts. ‘3D archaeological field recording in Ostia’In L. Pecchioli – A. Galeazzi (eds.), Kermes. Restauro, Conservazione e Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale Anno XXX, Luglio – Settembre 2017, vol. 107 (2018), 26-32.

Doctoral Scholarship: The deadline has been extended

The application-deadline for Theme 3 (Coins in Context) is extended

The Ostia-Forum-Project (OFP) – thanks to Stiftung-Humboldt-University (SHU) – offers a maximum three-year funding for a PhD-thesis focussed on the working-up of all coin-finds from former and coming OFP-campaigns in the centre of Ostia antica (Italy). It is funded by 1500€ monthly, per year you can additionally get up to 1000€ for travel expenses and after finishing your PhD, you could apply for up to 6000€ covering the printing-expenses of the PhD-thesis in the OFP series.

The material consists of more than 900 coins, found between 2010 and 2019 at the Forum in superficial cleaning-areas and excavation-trenches from mid Republican times to the end of Antiquity. A certain part of these coins has already been cleaned, conserved and analysed, but this is an ongoing process. The main part of these coins comes from stratified contexts in recent excavation-trenches. The unusual high number of more than 600 late-antique coins (3rd until 5th century AD) can be explained by their deposition, due to a common collapse-catastrophe in Ostia’s city-centre, which externally can be dated around the mid 5th century AD. The applicant should be interested and involved in the whole archaeological process from the finds-documentation consisting of a database, measuring, weighing, the manual cleaning and conservation until the final analysis and interpretation. The Ostian material is extraordinary in at least four regards:

a.) such a high number of late-antique coins has so far never been documented in the city-centre of Ostia,

b.) it could be paralleled with other recent coin-hoards from the periphery of Ostia, maybe underlining the theory of a major collapse catastrophe of the whole city,

c.) the latest coins could show which archaeological contexts and buildings were repaired even after this hypothetically widespread collapse of the 5th century AD, an extremely interesting approach to late antique urbanism through numismatic analysis,

d.) especially the nummi and the divided coins could give a unique insight into the circulation-process and the monetary-system of the widely unknown 5th century AD. Thus, this research can be fundamental for the history of economy of the 5th century AD, because the collapse-catastrophe has preserved the status quo of all coins being circulated at this time.

If you already have experience and/or a strong research interest in Roman coins with a focus on late antique coins of the 4th and 5th century AD and their impact on the local evolution of Ostia and the economic history in general, you are most welcome to apply for Theme 3 at OFP!

The application-deadline is extended until the 10th of November 2019.

On specific requests, it is also possible to get a personal deadline later for the full-application, if needed. Before you apply in any way, please contact the following mail axel.gering@web.de for further details.

For information about the doctoral process, see following link: Doctoral positions

The Ostia Forum Project is anchored in the Stiftung Humboldt-Universität. For more information about the Stiftung Humboldt-University, click here.

The selected candidates will be enrolled into the Winckelmann-Institut at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. For more information about the Winckelmann-Institut, click here.

Campaign 2018

The Ostia Forum Project will start excavations Thursday the 16th of August and continue until Friday the 28th of September. We will not be on site in the weekends.

If you are in Ostia Antica in this period, feel free to come by. We will be excavating in the same room as the last two years – that is on your right hand side just before you enter the Forum’s plaza, when you come from the entrance (Porta Romana). You can’t miss us. We are the only one excavating in that area (the Forum area). To get an idea, you can check last year’s campaign photo-gallery here!

We will be glad to answer your questions.

Project Publications 2018

– Axel Gering. Ostias vergessene Spätantike. Eine urbanistische Deutung zur Bewältigung von Verfall. Ortwin Dally – Nobert Zimmermann (eds.) Palilia vol. 31, 2018.
(A recension has been made by Prof. Dr. Massimiliano David. To read it, click here)

– A. Gering, ‘Marble recycling-workshops nearby the Temple of Roma and Augustus: An interim report of the Ostia-Forum-Project’s working campaigns in 2013 and 2014‘. In C. de Ruyt – T. Morard – F. van Haeperen (editors). Ostia Antica. Nouvelles études et recherches sur les quartiers occidentaux de la cité. Actes du colloque international. Roma-Ostia Antica 22-24 settembre 2014. Pp. 23-30.

– D. Damgaard, ‘Ostian Marble Roof Tiles – Aspects of Chronology, Typology and Function’. In Römische Mitteilungen
vol. 124, 2018, 177-203.

– A. Gering, L. Pecchioli, M. Dehner & B. Takàts. ‘3D archaeological field recording in Ostia’In L. Pecchioli – A. Galeazzi (eds.), Kermes. Restauro, Conservazione e Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale Anno XXX, Luglio – Settembre 2017, vol. 107 (2018), 26-32.

– D. Damgaard, Analysis of Skylight Illumination Using 3D: An Experimental Case of the Roma and Augustus Temple in Ostia‘. In L. Pecchioli – A. Galeazzi (eds.), Kermes. Restauro, Conservazione e Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale Anno XXX, Luglio – Settembre 2017, vol. 107 (2018), 55-59.

Prof. dr. Axel Gering

Project- and field-directorSAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Axel is director of the project. He was born in Munich, Germany, which is also where he undertook his academic studies. He currently teaches at the Humboldt University in Berlin (HU), a post he took up around 12 years ago. Since 2007 he is Privat Dozent at the HU. His main interest regards the study of urbanism from the ancient Near East to the Roman West. This initially focused on the early imperial Roman period, but he has now moved on to specialise in the late antique period. His favourite archaeological find was the discovery of the street blockings at Ostia, and more recently the discovery of the previously untouched late antique Forum pavement.

Ph.d. project: Unknown Forum Structures: The Synthesis of Stratigraphy and Geophysical Excavation Data regarding the Development of the Forum’s Area in Ostia from the Republic to the early 2nd Century CE

Ostia was founded at the mouth of the river Tiber as a walled military fort, a castrum, in the 4th century BC. The castrum area is now the city centre of Ostia, in which the forum is located. From here, the city and street-grid emanated through the centuries. However, one street already existed in the area before the foundation of the castrum, and that is the street running from the south-east to the north-west towards the Tiber mouth. This street was divided in two by the south-west corner of the castrum walls, and the two streets are  today known as the southern Cardo (the south-east street) and the Via della Foce (the north-west street).

The main area of this study is the city centre with a focal point on the forum’s area. Until now, it has not been possible to study the forum as a coherent unit put in a diachronic perspective. Recent research conducted by the Berlin-Kent-Ostia Excavations, Humboldt-Ostia-Forum Project and Ostia-Forum-Project in the period between 2008 and 2016 have provided evidence of the development of the forum. The research has been conducted through excavations, photogrammetry and geophysical analyses. Before these comprehensive analyses, excavations have never been conducted in the forum’s area since the rigorous excavations in the first half of the 20th century. It is therefore, for the first time, possible to analyse, contextualise and trace several different orientation and planning symmetries of different building layouts in the attempt to interpret the genesis of the different forum-layouts. The Roman city was not achieved overnight, but is a result of earlier accumulation and production. It is therefore even more important to analyse the hitherto unknown forum phases, due to the fact that they can provide evidence of the development of Ostia from late Republican times until Late Antiquity. Urban space and layout often reflect the society, which thus inform us about social structure, monumental access, urban economy, traffic-flow and -intensity etc.

In this project, I propose the idea of tracing more than seven centuries of urban evolution from Republican to late antique times in Ostia’s city centre by analysing the orientation and planning symmetries of different building-layouts based on the newest 3D-measuring techniques and geophysics applied to Ostia by the Ostia-Forum-Project (OFP) and its predecessors in 2010-2022.  The aim of this project is to interpret the genesis of the layouts and visualize their function and sequence as a “Harris Matrix”. The results will be used to analyse the urban space and urban society using the latest theories from Roman urbanism. By studying the urban space of the forum, we come to understand the social structure of the forum – also in a period previously thought to be a shortfall compared to Pompeii. The forum was the centre of activity, and all the major through-routes led to this area.


A focus on individual building histories has hindered a more complete picture of the forum and its surroundings. In the second half of the 20th century, the focal point has been on the remaining city with topics such as burials, art and architecture. This is not an isolated Ostian phenomenon. Archaeologists and historians have for decades focused on building activities as evidence for an interpretation of certain political and economic trends, rather than focusing on its built environment. However, in recent times, a shift in perception of the urban space has been inaugurated – also in Ostia. The approach of this study is to perceive the forum as an inhabited space rather than a collection of different individual buildings.

The ph.d. project is conducted by Daniel Damgaard.

2016 Chapter 2. Temple votives and kitchen equipment – an inventory of the Capitolium-Cult (and its predecessors)?

The beginning of the third week on excavation was dedicated to our Egyptian find (compare chapter 1). First step was to document our little greenish-black stone-fragment with hieroglyphs, an offering plate for sacrifices by hand-drawing and digital 3-D-modelling (see picture below).


The back-side showed an interesting detail for the interpretation: our sacrificial plate could have been part of a statue, which is proved by a partly broken fingertip from the statue-hand holding the plate (see picture below: located in the same position as our fotographer’s fingers).


The complete sacrificial tablet could have looked like one of the comparisons Gunnar showed us (see picture below left). The whole statue may have been similar to the typus of an offering person, well-fitting to a sacral context – at least in Egypt itself (see picture below right). Its find-spot in a cleared-up material-dump from a temple in Ostia (most probably the Capitolium because of its equally fragmented architectural decoration nearby the find spot) remained however open to suggestions – maybe it had been a gift from one of the rich Egyptian merchants or some kind of ambassador to the main gods of the city?

figure-18-sacrificial-plate-jpg                             figure-19-offering-statue-jpg

In the old excavations of 1861-72 – under the aegis of Pope Pius IX – the fundament of the Capitolium was freed from earth (Paschetto 1912). After the excavation back home in Berlin, Axel read the report of Paschetto regarding these previous finds from the Capitolium and suddenly realized a convenient coincidence, which of course still has to be verified or falsified based on detailed study of the early finds themselves. Does the fragment really fit to the find in 1864 of “una figura in basalto verde con geroglifici egiziani” or other Egyptian sculptures of the same find-context? In this case, we would have a safe dating-clue for the depositing-process of the complete upper part of our marble-deposit TFR 2: It could have originated latest at the same time as the deposit in the podium of the Capitolium nearby (see picture below: temple in background). This would be a terminus ante quem for both surely before 1861, the time of these excavations.


In the upper part of TFR 2, consisting only of marble-pieces, no earth or stratigraphy with dating-evidence was preserved in situ (see pictures below), so any hint can help us further to track it down in history. The first hint was already Daniel’s observation that the only complete marble roof-tiles were found on top of the marble-deposit, but none inside or underneath the pile (if at all, they were only small fragments). This suggests that the first excavators of 1801-1805, which were reported to have found big and complete parts of the Capitolium’s marble-roof, had found those and deposited them on top of an already existing marble-pile. In contrast to that, our pile itself consists of already cut fragments, which underwent deliberate fragmentation with the purpose of fitting the pieces into a lime-kiln. A simple rule was verified by that: If we find (almost) complete pieces of architectural decoration, they either come from areas, which were already covered in Late Antiquity or these pieces were re-used in late antique building-contexts (where they were needed and therefore not removed with the purpose of burning them to lime). If we find smaller fragments (mostly with clear chisel marks of destruction-processes), they come from the marble-deposits of lime-kilns, either late antique examples or medieval ones (mostly 5th to 7th centuries AD, with a smaller peak of distribution in the 10th-12th centuries AD).
Detective-work now seems to connect our new evidence with the old excavations directly. On one hand we can work up old finds scientifically even after more than 150 years, write the former excavation-history in detail and thus understand the old excavations better. On the other hand, the old diaries allow us to re-locate and understand our new finds in their original depositing-context: the temples and marble-buildings of the Forum!

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Surprises form a nice part of field-archaeological business. This can be stated as a title for the ongoing excavations in early September 2016. What we were prepared for, was to analyse a marble deposit (see pictures below top: measuring, drawing & fotographing all single fragments in 2-D and 3-D, which was done by Lydia, Johannes, Laura, Marco, Felix, Christin, Rocco, Fabian, Iannis, Helge and many others. See picture below bottom: Next step is to group the fragments according to stylistic, typological and functional categories, a job well-done by Daniel of course and to create a catalogue via QR-codes used on smartphones, a new system initiated by Laura into our excavation-workflow).

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What we did not expect were the massive amounts of non-marble finds in the context of an originally late antique/medieval and/or 19th century-marble-deposit. It started with “Andi’s corner” (see picture below with Andi standing to the right in ‘his’ corner).


First we have documented the room by a 3-D-model which was georeferenciated by our Hungarian colleagues (see pictures below).




In the southwest corner of the room we found an exceptional concentration of travertine blocks, well sorted as a fundament – but underneath without an own fundament (see picture below top: lower left corner, see picture below bottom: detail turned 90 degrees left).



A large fragment of a “patera”, a Graeco-Roman sacrificial plate of a specific type often depicted on altars (see picture below top), was found there (see following pictures below bottom).


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It was situated at a level where stratigraphy started to be significant, that means: not being disturbed top-soil consisting of differently designed Coca-Cola-bottles or computer advertisements from the past 30 years (see picture below top). Later it became clear that an original depositing-level was reached, when the stones laid in the room were stored on plane ground at the same level as a ceramic floor of antique origin, which filled a corridor-like space between the stone-piles (see pictures below bottom). Some objects could be dated immediately, even without being removed. The majority consisted of fragments of cooking pots, plates, lits and kitchen equipment. Therefore, our deposit, originally believed to be modern, had become older and older – obviously even as old as a still-antique period after the end of the kitchen-use. The kitchen obviously underwent a complete functional change, which had occurred maybe in the later 5th and 6th centuries AD!



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Notwithstanding, the history of the room did by far not end with that! The random-ceramic-floor underneath the marble-deposit presented several further surprises. Today, we see the ‘Hadrianic’ walls (of the 2nd century AD: see pictures below).



What remains completely missing however is the Hadrianic floor, probably of opus spiccatum as in the adjoining rooms to the south and to the east where probably once was the lime-kiln (until its complete excavation in 1913). What we had found instead, is on the one hand the infrastructure of a kitchen with a half-buried type of dolium (oil or wine container, see picture below), which respected the room-layout of the 2nd century AD, characterized by the fundament visible left in the picture.


On the other hand, several layers of a similar type of random-ceramic floor or filling went further back into history (Augustean times and earlier) and did not respect the layout of the Hadrianic room. So far, – without further excavation – we have documented a destruction-layer immediately before the building of the Hadrianic room (fire 117 AD?) at the same level of the room’s late antique re-use as a temple’s marble deposit (later 5th/ 6th century AD onwards).

It could be a coincidence again – but the kitchen’s last use seems to have taken place when the old Forum’s temples of Ostia were demolished and cleared up after a fire in 117 AD (?). When the temple ruins were removed and cleaned away, the oldest material from these temples could have entered our deposit. This destruction-event had sealed a well, which by construction technique can be dated to late Republican times (1st century BC). The oldest cultic deposits, which we found inside this well go back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.

We developed the working-hypothesis that we had found a cultic kitchen connected with the Capitolium’s pagan practices, public feasts on the Forum. One clear evidence seems to be the large amounts of lits (see pictures below top), which we documented on the surface in their original context by 3-D-models (see picture below bottom).

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As frequently found in temple-contexts of the whole Graeco-Roman world, these lits once covered little ceramic bowls in which the meat of the sacrificed animals was served to the spectators. So, it is hardly another coincidence that we have found in one room-corner a surface of a bone-deposit, which seems to have consisted of several big bones of bulls, maybe even with cutting-marks on the bones themselves (see pictures below, which show a 3-D-model of this corner. Due to reasons of conservation after fotographing we left the bones covered in their original context waiting for further specialized analysis).





The area of our room thus may have served for the preparation and cooking of the meat (an ancient ceramic-grill once fired with charcoal was found too, see the following chapters). The hot meat probably was served in ceramic-bowls to the Forum, where the guests would have been seated. These bowls are now completely missing in contrary to their lits, which obviously had been thrown away to the corner with the bones before serving and which were later found by us there in situ.


So, this kitchen was found in a state of preservation almost as in Pompeii: this exceptional fact is due to the circumstance that it was covered immediately after the fire of 117AD(?) with the 70cm higher fundament of the Hadrianic room. Later in Antiquity – after the removal of the Hadrianic floor – it again was sealed by heavy stones, which had been an equally appropriate cover for almost two millennia!

This kitchen originally had predecessors directly connected to the historical setting of Ostia’s early (and maybe even earliest) temples of the 3rd to 1st centuries BC, buried underneath the Capitolium and its surrounding porticoes. The team (see picture below) is ready for new tasks!


However, step per step: all these observations were based on the archaeological fine-cleaning of the ground-floor immediately underneath a marble-deposit once thought to have been entirely modern. Only excavation can bring further light into the complex, but most interesting building-history, which, on more or less the same walking-level, seems to represent all periods of Ostia in its most important focal point of cultic development…

Our next chapters follow soon!