Yesterday, I spent the day at the Burlington House (home of the Royal Academy of Art and several other societies) for a conference for Visualizing the Late Antique City, a three year research project at University of Kent (http://visualisinglateantiquity.wordpress.com). The project is, in many ways, right up my alley; the director being one of my supervisors to start with. The conference was an opportunity for the researchers to share their work from the last three years, as many of them will be finishing this year and only limited aspects of the project will continue. The project, itself, looks at urban life from the 4th – 6th centuries drawing together various sources of evidence to visually display the rhythms and patterns of everyday living around the Mediterranean.
The broad division of the day was into short sessions on specific architectural topics, like public space, houses, shops, etc. There was a paper on the physical structures, either the decoration or aspects of reconstruction or both. This was followed by a paper on the material culture and objects found connected with the activities held in the spaces. Of note, Jo Stonner drew attention to household objects and the possible meanings to individual owners, especially items associated with wedding gifts and heirlooms. While Joe Williams used the objects associated with trades to narrate the various lives of shopkeepers who worked along a porticoed street. The interaction between spaces and activities was, therefore, brought to the forefront. Faith Morgan, who looked at late antique garments, had made reconstructions of several of the textiles she studied and had members of the research project display them in a late antique fashion show. The illustrators, as well as a 3-d modeler working on Constantinople, also shared the challenges and opportunities available to academics based on the process of designing and illustrating scenes and cities. The conference ended with a walk through Ostia in AD 387 based on St Augustine’s Confessions, book 9. This was particularly interesting to think about the ways research can be used to share the technical work of archaeology to wider audiences. My own research in Ostia parallels much of the work done by the VLAC project and it was helpful to see the illustrations and hear some of the work that went into this project.
Its worth looking at the VLAC website to see some of the illustrations and read more about the individual researchers and their contributions. The project is continuing to produce illustrations and are working on several buildings in Ostia, including the Caseggiato del Termopolio (http://www.ostia-antica.org/regio1/2/2-5.htm) a bar with counters and outdoor seating… my kind of place!