What is the context of this research?
The site of Cosa is situated about 140 kilometers north of Rome and overlooks the Tyrrhenian sea. Beginning in the 1940s with the seminal exploration of the town by Frank Brown, a series of important excavations have taken place at the site. Although Cosa has been well studied, there are still sections of the town that have yet to be excavated and explored. One of these unexamined zones includes a small bath complex near to the forum, which is now the focus of an archaeological excavation led by Dr. Andrea U. De Giorgi of Florida State University and Dr. Russell T. Scott of Bryn Mawr College. Although the project has only completed its first season (2013), more excavation is necessary in order to investigate the implications of this small bathing complex.
Last summer, the first excavations were undertaken in the area of the baths during the month of June. Several areas of the bath were of particular interest for the inaugural season: excavation of the laconicum (the sweat room that utilized dry heat - you can see an interactive model of the laconicum here.); the discovery of the southern façade and its relationship to the street; exploration of a potential terminal wall at the eastern line of the building. Many of these goals were accomplished during the first season, or at least the team began to investigate those areas. Some hindrances still remain, however. For example, in the laconicum several large pieces of vaulting had collapsed into the circular area, which restricted excavation of the feature until they could be removed with a mechanical crane. Although several of these fragments were successfully extracted from the area, a few were unable to be removed due to time restraints and difficulty with the mechanical crane. The incomplete removal of all vaulting fragments resulted in the halting of progress, as excavation at the time was too hazardous to continue.
At the southern end of the complex, several rooms were uncovered, which, at this time, appear to have included the entry way (as a threshold block was discovered in the final week of excavation) and a potential apodyterium (changing room). In order to concretely identify the purpose of the bench, the purpose of the room as a whole, and its relationship with the surrounding rooms of the complex, further excavation is necessary.
One of the most interesting architectural remains associated with the complex is a large reservoir or cistern located to the south of the building's façade. Given that the site was not fed by an aqueduct, the capacity of the reservoir is strikingly large, as is the main conduit that fed water to the bathhouse proper. Further investigation, which could result in a potential dissertation topic for myself, would indicate how the water tank was supplied, how it fed the baths, and how often would have needed to be refilled.
What is the significance of this project?
The site of Cosa is extremely important for Roman Archaeology, as it presents one of the best examples of Republican architecture and urban planning. As the bath complex is situated so close to the forum (the political center of the town), perhaps the bath complex is contemporary with these early forms of Roman urbanization. If this is the case, then the example at Cosa would present one of the earliest examples of a public bathing structure on the Italian peninsula.
The city, however, appears to have had limited access to water, as the water table is too low for wells and no aqueducts are connected with the area. Therefore, an exploration of the water supply and hydraulics of the bath complex is necessary to understand the workings of the bath.
Although the Romans were very well known for their use and implementation of aqueducts throughout the empire, by no means did every town or city have access to this form of water transportation and supply. By exploring the bath complex at Cosa, a site that is known to have no access to water through aqueducts, we may present to the field of archaeology and architecture a new understanding of how, two thousand years ago, one engineered such a structure that depends so highly on water flow in an area of limited water access.
Another facet of the project is to promote visitation to the site and to spread awareness of cultural preservation and its importance in central Italy and beyond. In recent years it appears that interest in maintaining and visitation of the site has dwindled. As a result, the structures that illustrate practically every textbook on Roman archaeology and architecture have been almost entirely covered over with vegetal growth.
By systematically uncovering once more the ruins that were exposed in the last century and studied by archaeologists, we would not only save the archaeology from further destruction, but also bring in more visitors to the site, that, in turn, would help the local economy.
Another method of cultural preservation which our project has begun to implement is the creation of accurate 3D reconstructions of the buildings on site. One method of manipulating the information found during an excavation is to create accurate 3-D models of the archaeology and its environs. Digitalizing the archaeology also makes the material much more easily accessible to the public, a facet of archaeology that has long been criticized.
What are the goals of the project?
There are several goals that the project would like to accomplish in the coming seasons at Cosa. The current, shorter term goals of this project are:
1.) to complete excavation of the bath complex at Cosa, as well as the water supply systems that are situated in the area. This includes completing excavation on the different areas that were both undertaken in the previous, inaugural season, and also those that we intend to excavate in the coming months.
2.) the complete excavation, recording, and publishing of the laconicum (a model of which you can see here). In order to perform this task, however, a large piece of vaulting, which sits precariously on the edge of the feature and threatens collapse into the structure (and potentially those within), needs to be removed with a mechanical mover. In order to hire such a device, as well as people who are trained in using it, more money needs to be raised (approximately $600 for one mechanical mover for one day). Once the laconicum has been thoroughly excavated, material will be published in the year immediately after its completion.
3.) to make public up-to-date information about our ongoing excavations on several websites, including the official site of the Cosa Excavations. Information from this area will no doubt also aid graduate students in writing their dissertations.
4.) to excavate the cistern to the south of the bath complex. Again, just as with the laconicum, the data from excavations in this area would result in not only publications, but also, for this area in particular, one or more dissertations could be written.
5.) to establish a chronology of the bath complex should be established in order to state whether or not the structure had its foundations in the Roman Republic or the Empire. The difference could bring Cosa, once again, into the forefront of Roman and Classical Archaeology. This is one of the overarching goals that would be easily accomplished, so long as excavations are able to continue in the future.
There are also several other goals, which are certainly actionable, although they involve a longer term involvement in the site. The ultimate goal of the project, extending beyond the excavation of the baths, is to bring focus back to the archaeological site of Cosa. There exists a nice, albeit outdated, museum at the site that can be explored by the public for a small fee. It is our intention to aid in the refurbishment of this museum to include updated information, more visitor-friendly displays and information, and more technological advances, such as the potential creation of a mobile app, implemented in the building.
Additionally, the entire site is open to the public, including the area around the current excavations run through FSU and Bryn Mawr Therefore, the site is extremely accessible and important for those who wish to learn about Roman architecture and urbanization. Unfortunately, the current popularity of the site is minimal. Few people visit the museum, let alone the archaeological park, and the state of the forum, a highlight of every textbook on Roman Republican architecture and archaeology, is now covered with trees and weeds. A full scale cleaning of the forum area would be necessary, but by no means is it unfathomable or inconceivable. Only future excavation seasons are necessary for its completion, something that can be fostered with outside funding.
There also exists a large house (domus) near the forum and baths at Cosa which features spectacular mosaics. As of last year, the project is beginning to conserve these works of art, which have been sorely neglected and left to the elements. In the coming seasons, we hope to continue to conserve these mosaics and others found around the site.
Again, a very realistic, and feasible, goal for the project is to aid in the education and training of graduate students in excavation, conservation, and the implementation of practical museological skills. The different spheres of the project also would allow a great resource for numerous dissertations and publications that would be vital for the research and furthering of our knowledge of ancient Cosa and other similar sites on the Italian peninsula and beyond its borders.