From Kidney Stones to Roman Urns

I am posting this blog from the 22 acre site of an Australian ‘dig’ at one of Italy's most important archaeological sites; Carsulae, near beautiful San Gemini in the lush hills and mountains of Umbria, north of Rome.

Carsulae was established as a rest stop on the famous Roman road, the via Flaminia, several centuries before the birth of Christ. By the time of the Emperor Augustus, it had become a flourishing municipality and trading centre, with its forum, amphitheatre, temples, theatres, and thermal mineral baths, monumental tombs and the Arch of Trajan. It even became an early destination for prosperous "tourists" from Rome, no doubt drawn by the supposed healing properties of the baths.

Mystery however surrounds Carsulae's demise. Why was this wealthy, bustling town, rich in infrastructure and surrounded by fertile agricultural lands, left deserted? Various theories abound with majority opinion opting for a Pompeii-like solution, however instead of a volcanic eruption and lava flow, it is believed that a devastating earthquake caused Carsulae to be abandoned. As the centuries passed, it became a quarry for building material for nearby towns such as Spoleto.

Carsulae is not a new ‘find’. There were excavations in the 16th century under the direction of a local duke and in the following century on the orders of Pope Pius the Sixth. However it wasn't until 1951 that methodical archaeological excavation and documentation began. Today one of the lead universities working on the project is Sydney's Macquarie University, under the leadership of Dr Jaye McKenzie-Clark. Her 2014 team of students have just arrived and will gain enormous practical experience finding and documenting artefacts and analysing the site, much of which has not been properly explored and uncovered. They couldn't have a better tutor. McKenzie -Clark has 15 years experience working at Pompeii. She is an expert on ceramics, and pottery is an important key to understanding Carsulae's history. McKenzie -Clark says that while coins and swords can be recycled, pottery, like plastic today, remains to give us clues about the lives of Carsulae's citizens.

In an important breakthrough the Australian team, under the guidance of Professor of Radiology, John Magnussen, is using the latest medical imaging equipment to fast track composition analysis of the ancient pottery. It permits the scientific detective work to occur without destroying the artefacts. The dual energy CT equipment is usually used when dealing with kidney stones and gout.

The Australian team, working alongside Italian archaeologists, has decades of work and publishing ahead of them. In doing so, they are building enormous goodwill for Australia in Italy, giving Macquarie students a unique learning experience and introducing the latest developments in science to help the world understand its past.