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Australian Ambassador turns spotlight onto joint Australian-Italian archaeological site

Page last published: 29 Sep 2014

Carsulae, Italy - photo by John Magnussen 

Recently the Australian Ambassador to Italy, the Right Honourable Mike Rann, visited an international collaboration between Italian and Australian archaeologists in Carsulae, Italy, which is allowing Australian students to discover first-hand the mysteries of life in Roman times. The Australian Carsulae Archaeological Project (ACAP), directed by Dr Jaye McKenzie-Clark, is Macquarie University's new research program excavating in the ancient Roman city of Carsulae, one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Italy.

The Ambassador met with key members of the team, including the Australian team leader, Dr Jaye McKenzie-Clark, as well as those from the Italian side, Dr Massimiliano Gasperini and Dr Luca Donnini. McKenzie-Clark says "the students are gaining invaluable practical experience, analysing the site and its artefacts – something impossible to do in Australia".

Very little is known about the culture and society of Carsulae, and McKenzie-Clark notes that "…this is a unique opportunity to bring Italian and Australian expertise and resources together to explore a part of ancient Roman history that has lain hidden for centuries".

Mr Rann was able to tour the extensive site and see firsthand the great collaborative work being done, as well as having a chance to pick up a trowel and search the past.

"Just as our modern society leaves plastic in its wake, so too the Romans left pottery as markers of their passage through time," says McKenzie-Clark, an archaeologist and ceramic expert with fifteen years experience working in Pompeii and Greece. "Unlike coins and swords, pottery couldn't be recycled, so it is left behind for us to discover, giving valuable clues about lives long past."

He also had the chance to meet with Professor of Radiology, John Magnussen, who together with Dr McKenzie-Clark have pioneered a new, non-destructive technique for analysing these new-found clues. "Traditionally we would have to partially or totally destroy our samples, therefore losing precious and irreplaceable parts of the ancient world".

Using dual-energy CT (DECT), a technique designed for medical problems like kidney stones and gout, the team is providing a no-touch, fast and accessible way to help analyse the composition of ancient pottery. Magnussen states that "DECT can be used to analyse many ancient materials and might just revolutionise how we look at these ancient objects, instead of having to destroy them."

"We would never have gained permission of the Soprintendenza per i Beni archeologici dell'Umbria and the Italian Ministry of Culture to bring 360 samples back to Australia if we had to destroy them," says McKenzie-Clark of her work with Magnussen.

"This is just the beginning for us in Carsulae," says Dr Mckenzie-Clark. "There is a lifetime worth of opportunity here, with Australian and Italian teams working side-by-side to uncover parts of our common history."

"It is amazing to see the work being done here in Italy, bringing our two countries closer together today by looking so far back into our history," said Mr Rann. "It gave me great pleasure to see the two country's archaeological teams working side-by-side at such a wonderful site. From what I have seen today, there is a great future to this collaboration."

ACAP is developing strong ties between Italy and Australia, with plans to publish collaborative findings. "The project is providing vital archaeological experience and training for students," says McKenzie-Clark, "together with breakthroughs in how we understand the ancient world."

(Story from MQ Newsroom)

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