Environmental profile of the Ostia Synagogue

A major goal of the 2013 study season was to begin an environmental analysis of the synagogue.  Environmental archaeologist Robyn Veal, an expert in the analysis of ancient charcoal, has joined the team as our environmental advisor.  Last week she came to the lab to oversee the construction of our first flotation tank, which allows us to extract tiny seeds, bones and other small finds from soil samples taken during the synagogue excavations.  Charlene Murphy, who specializes in the recovery, analysis, and categorization of ancient microfloral remains, oversaw the flotation of our soil samples and performed the preliminary processing of the recovered materials.

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Andrew Doherty assisted Robyn Veal and Charlene Murphy in the construction of our flotation tank, using materials from four different hardware and hydraulic stores in Rome

We floated samples from several different excavation contexts, including the soil from a drain, several samples from the sand fill underlying the synagogue complex, and soil from a large fill discovered to the east of the complex.  Dr Veal and Dr Murphy were very patient and effective instructors!

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Robyn Veal (back left) and Charlene Murphy (back right) oversee the flotation of soil samples

On the following day, Dr Veal set up her microscope to examine some small pieces of glass and fish bones recovered during flotation.  She also provided a digital microscope, which allowed us to view the finds on a computer screen and photograph them.  The demonstration drew quite a crowd–every member of our study season team came over to the computer to see the finds, and a couple of men from Ostia’s road-building crew stopped by for a quick science lesson!  We look forward to collaborating with Dr. Murphy and Dr. Veal in the future!

Examining and photographing small finds from flotation under a microscope