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  4. The Aventinus Minor Project: An Educational and Community Archaeology Project

These are exciting times at St Stephen’s, especially for the Dr. Helen Pope Lyceum:we are about to embark on the third season of the Aventinus Minor Project, and we will finally ‘break ground’!

The Aventinus Minor Project is a research, educational, and community archaeological excavation on the grounds of Santa Balbina right behind our school. The project is directed by Professor Elizabeth Wueste of the American University of Rome (AUR) and is a collaboration between AUR, St Stephen's School, and the Istituto Santa Margherita (a home for the elderly), and the Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Roma. There is also an Advisory Council consisting of members connected to St Stephen’s School and AUR that supports the project by playing an active consultative role, utilizing its members' experience and involvement in the community to benefit the project.

The first two seasons of the project consisted of preparatory work involving bibliographical research, topographical studies, a non-invasive survey using remote sensing and drone photography that resulted in GPS mapping, the creation of a GIS database, archaeological field illustration, wall stratigraphy, and interviews with locals. The upcoming season which will run for six weeks from the middle of May till the end of June, will finally involve excavating. The location of the exact trenches has been identified by the AUR specialists and approved by the Soprintendenza based on the GPS mapping. If you are interested in finding out more about this, please take a look at the first Aventinus Minor Project publication that saw the light in February. It is an article outlining the details of the GPR results of last summer. The article was published in the peer-reviewed journal "Remote Sensing" (link to the article: www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/14/4/959/htm).

Besides being an archaeological excavation that is academically rigorous and scientific with a research plan that aims to answer specific academic research questions, there are two more components to the Aventinus Minor Project that are of equal importance: education and community.

Educational archaeology

Last year, St. Stephen’s students learned about archaeology and the Aventinus Minor (the “Smaller Aventine”), the hill our school is located on, from AUR intern Giuliana Trinchieri. Giuliana taught about the history of archaeology, archaeological methods, stratigraphy, and the topography of the Aventine and the Aventinus Minor Project. She took the City of Rome 1 and 2 students in their grade 9 and grade 10 history classes on field trips to explore the neighborhood. This spring, we are again fortunate to have an AUR intern, Ana Sofia Meneses, who is introducing our students to archaeology, cultural heritage, excavation and survey techniques, the history of the Aventine, and, of course, the Aventinus Minor Project. As a summative assessment for this unit, the students will create podcasts about the history and archaeology of the Smaller Aventine, the hill’s cultural heritage, and, more generally, about archaeology as a science and its myriad related fields. These podcasts will be published on the soon-to-be-launched Aventinus Minor Project website. Ana Sofia will also be our first contact during the field trips to the archaeological site with our students in May/June.

A second educational experience that we have added to the curriculum this year are workshops by Esmeralda Lundius. Esme is a St Stephen’s alumna (SSS 2010) and our Boarding Activities Coordinator. She is an archaeologist and Egyptologist by training. Elsewhere in this Cortile magazine, you can read an article from her hand about her workshops on scientific methods in archaeology, both the theory and the practice, in the Science 1 and 2 classes.

In addition to the freshmen and sophomores who take part in the Aventinus Minor Project through lessons and workshops in their history and science classes, three juniors will be involved in the project as well this year. Marko, Phoebe, and Thomas expressed an interest in staying involved because they understood what an incredible opportunity the Aventinus Minor Project offers to get to know the Aventine better– both the history and archaeology of the hill and the current community inhabiting it. They will also be able to further polish their research and writing skills and become more knowledgeable about proper excavation techniques and applied sciences in archaeology.

Community archaeology

In the UK, community archaeology is defined as ‘archaeology by the people, for the people, and about the people’, and it is quite common nowadays. This type of archaeology is not widespread yet in Italy, and that is why it is so important and exciting that it is one of the three pillars that the Aventinus Minor Project rests on. It is designed as a community archaeology project so that it will not only benefit scholars and academics but everyone who wants to learn about the history and archaeology of the Aventine and, through material culture, about past human societies: St Stephen’s students and their families, St Stephen’s alumni, AUR undergraduates in archaeology and classics, AUR alumni, people living on the Aventine (including the elderly at the Istituto Santa Margherita) and anyone who is interested and would like to be part of it.

The really interesting part of this is that in the most recent scholarship on community archaeology, there is a heavy focus on community identity. According to Sweeney, the concept of the community seems to be vital to the way we understand human societies, both past and present, and the way we might want to shape future human society. Giving our students the opportunity to reflect on this will be a powerful experience. Through public outreach, we can present the archaeological findings to non-archaeologists. This will happen at open days during which people can visit the archaeological site, by means of presentations or exhibitions in a public space, through visits to local schools, etc. In some cases, community archaeology projects are even offering fully-fledged outreach programs.

With the Aventinus Minor Project, the sky's the limit. Whether one looks at the scientific side of this urban archaeology project or at its educational or community components, it is a project brimming with potential. Over the past two years, it has grown so tremendously that it can be daunting at times to imagine where we will be a few years down the road (but daunting in a good way!). I can only say that on a personal level, for a classicist who all throughout high school hesitated between studying classics or archaeology, the Aventinus Minor Project is a dream come true. And as a teacher that is part of a group of invaluable colleagues, both at St Stephen’s and at AUR, that is stewarding the project; it was something that kept me going during the difficult moments of the pandemic. Let’s continue developing the Aventinus Minor Project for the benefit of all.

Inge Weustink
Director of the Dr. Helen Pope Lyceum
Classics Teacher


Before you turn the page, the Aventinus Minor Project is entirely donor-funded. Donors are affiliated with The American University of Rome and St Stephen's School. To support the Aventinus Minor Project, please contact our Director of Development, Allison Kemmis-Price (allison.kemmis-price@sssrome.it).

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