FutureLearn social network: Portus in the UoS MOOCosphere

I have been looking at the comments from across all University of Southampton FutureLearn courses in an attempt to understand the place that the Archaeology of Portus learners fit within the wider community of learners on other University of Southampton FutureLearn courses. As a first step I have aggregated the comments from all of the UoS courses that have run …

Author network - all UoS FutureLearn courses
Author network – all UoS FutureLearn courses

I have been looking at the comments from across all University of Southampton FutureLearn courses in an attempt to understand the place that the Archaeology of Portus learners fit within the wider community of learners on other University of Southampton FutureLearn courses.

As a first step I have aggregated the comments from all of the UoS courses that have run to date and then produced a simple network visualisation using the wonderfully easy to use NodeXL. The network diagram above shows connections between pairs of courses on the basis of a single learner having commented on both courses. I have excluded learner enrolement (i.e. learners who are enrolled on both courses but may not have commented on either) and concentrated on those learners who have posted comments. This will also allow me to look at the types of comments posted and the learner demographics in the hope that we can in turn improve courses better to reflect the needs of the UoS learner community. For example, what cross-references would it help to put in place (as we have with Hadrian’s Wall)? Should we provide specific advice or areas of further study based on potential previous courses?

The edge symbology in the network is based on a comparison between the number of unique authors posted on both courses in any pair, and the maximum possible unique authors who could have posted (in this case based on the lower of the two total numbers of learners who posted comments). I then scaled this percentage to match the symbology requirements of NodeXL with respect to line width and opacity.

The network shows a clear cluster of learners, not surprisingly, around the topics of maritime archaeology (Shipwrecks), the archaeology of ports (Portus, Rome, Ostia etc.) and Oceanography (Oceans). It is also interesting to note that the other courses are proportionally much less likely to share learners, including learners moving from one “run” of a course to another.

Drilling down into the statistics demonstrates that of those learners who have commented on more than one course, nearly a fifth had commented on at least three. Looking at the raw figures this is far more than one would expect were these members of the UoS teams. If you look at these learners in terms of the courses on which they are commenting Shipwrecks emerges again as the key bridging course. We will be using these simple analyses as part of the continuing design of the Archaeology of Portus course.

As ever it is wonderful to be able to thank so many learners who are contributing their thoughts, suggestions (and criticisms!) so generously. Now that I have nearly completed a second run of Portus the power of analytics to improve learning is, not surprisingly, obvious.

Sensing Portus

I have become fascinated with the ways in which we all imagine the site of Portus today and as it was in the past. When we have time we are going to undertake some rigorous formal analyses of the language uses on the Archaeology of Portus course – it provides an extraordinary insight into the prevailing understanding of the Roman …

Inside the Castellum Aquae
Inside the Castellum Aquae – a dark, damp, musty, resonant and chilly place

I have become fascinated with the ways in which we all imagine the site of Portus today and as it was in the past. When we have time we are going to undertake some rigorous formal analyses of the language uses on the Archaeology of Portus course – it provides an extraordinary insight into the prevailing understanding of the Roman past, at least as represented by our learners, and also of the impact of particular learning materials on this. We hope that such analyses will enable us to provide an ever-improving sense of the place to those people studying on the course.

So far though, I have undertaken a very simple analysis of references to different senses during the first run (May-July 2014). I started with smell!

The smell of fish (fresh and rotting) was the most commonly stated, equalling references to the smell of the sea (including its saltiness, freshness and the sea air) and to spices. Next most common were the smells of sweat or perspiration – carried by working people, rowers, the throng of the crowd, and so on. Food and cooking came next (with baked bread being quite common), and then less appetisingly, animals and sewage. Other wonderfully emotive smells such as sawdust, frankincense, grain, the smell of damp, herbs, tar, smoke and fruit along with dozens more provided a richly layered imagined and described impression of Portus.

We have seen equal creativity in this run of the course. Perhaps surprisingly however there were only a couple of hundred references to smell in the comments from the whole of the first dataset. Sight, viewing and related words occur more than eight hundred times. If you include “see” it goes into the thousands, although it is rather harder to separate the different uses of this word automatically and hence will require rather more sophisticated analyses. Still, it seems that topics pertaining to vision outnumber the other senses combined by an order of magnitude. Hear and hearing are about as commonly referred to as smells. Touch literally in the sense of physical contact occurs barely ten times.

We will report back as these analyses progress a little further. We have also in this version of the course added in some suggested items that learners might bring together in order to provide a sense of the smell of the port. We have other plans in the pipeline, so watch, hear, smell, taste and touch this space.

Filming at Portus – The Wildlife and Environment

I’m Adam Warren, a learning designer at Southampton University’s Centre for Innovation in Technologies and Education, and over the past six months I’ve worked alongside Simon, Graeme, Dragana, Peter and the rest of the team to help them develop the course. In particular I’d like to highlight the work of my CITE colleagues Kerry Small and Mimi Lee, who visited …

Adam Warren at Portus on the Castellum Aquae
Adam Warren at Portus on the Castellum Aquae

I’m Adam Warren, a learning designer at Southampton University’s Centre for Innovation in Technologies and Education, and over the past six months I’ve worked alongside Simon, Graeme, Dragana, Peter and the rest of the team to help them develop the course. In particular I’d like to highlight the work of my CITE colleagues Kerry Small and Mimi Lee, who visited Portus last year and filmed and edited all the videos – as you can imagine they had to put in a heroic amount of effort to get nearly 70 videos completed to a very tight deadline!

I’ve just returned from two days filming at Portus, creating a set of short videos that aim to answer the questions that have frequently arisen in the course comments, such as ‘where did the people who worked at Portus live?’ and ‘can you show how photogrammetry works?’. For me, it was an long-awaited opportunity to visit Portus in person; I love visiting archaeological sites and have been to Rome several times and Ostia Antica twice. The site did not disappoint; it really is on a huge scale although it wasn’t until I walked from the Palazzo Imperiale to the Portico di Claudio that I truly grasped how enormous it is. Another surprise was how green the site is and the richness of the environment and wildlife – I hadn’t realised that it was also a nature reserve. You can see some of my photos on the Portus Flickr group.

We decided to shoot and edit these new videos using just an iPad – the plan was that I would travel light and upload them to YouTube while I was still in Italy. In the event, the uploading took so long that most of the videos had to wait until I got back to the UK, but overall I’m really impressed at both the quality of the video and the ease of editing – most of which I did at the airport and on the flight home! We used a professional microphone running through an iRig pre-amp to get decent sound, although there are a few videos where people spoke louder during recording than they did during set-up and so some clipping is noticeable – sorry! Some of the lighting conditions were also challenging – the contrast between full sunlight and shade is too much for the iPad’s camera sensor. I used Filmic to record, iMovie to edit, and VideoGrade to do some colour correction on indoor shots.

Portus’ dirty little secrets

  Working with Sue Alcock and Müge Durusu at Brown University on the Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets (ADLS) course on the Coursera platform, and chairing a recent session with the ADLS team at the Annual Meeting of Computer Applications in Archaeology in Paris this past April, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of institutions tackling the same issues we …

 

Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets Coursera Course image - used with permission
Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets Coursera Course image – used with permission

Working with Sue Alcock and Müge Durusu at Brown University on the Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets (ADLS) course on the Coursera platform, and chairing a recent session with the ADLS team at the Annual Meeting of Computer Applications in Archaeology in Paris this past April, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of institutions tackling the same issues we encountered during our MOOC adventure. At ADLS we were overwhelmed with the dynamic and exciting discussions emerging in our forums amongst a truly international student body. Connecting the ideas of the various archaeological MOOC offerings has the potential to maintain and expand this community of online learners across courses, and I’m happy to write briefly here on some of the ways the content and themes of ADLS and Portus are linked.

Graeme and I are both really excited about the possibilities of courses that interlink, whether at the level of course content, via shared publications, or linking research data and we are going to explore these more in the future. We also think that the two courses work well together, with Portus providing an archaeological overview and also detailed examples relating to Roman archaeology and one site in particular, complementing the broader approach taken in ADSL. I know that Graeme is hoping to develop these links further with other courses including Newcastle University and FutureLearn’s Hadrian’s Wall, and there have also been links made on the Portus course to the Yale and Coursera Roman Architecture course. Graeme also told me that the Classical elements from the Warwick University and FutureLearn Shakespeare and his World Course are being compared to the Roman material on the Portus course and the nature of different kinds of evidence analysed. This really sums up the kinds of connections MOOCs are making across areas of study.

In terms of specific links, there are a number of direct relationships between methods discussed in ADLS and the Portus MOOC. The first Units of ADLS introduce some of the basics of archaeological practice – what is archaeology, what is not archaeology, how do archaeologists work in the field – and many of the same concepts and techniques emerge in the first weeks of Portus. For example, Unit 3 of ADLS (How do you find things?) introduces site prospection practices such as geophysical survey, aerial photography, remote sensing, and fieldwalking. The Portus MOOC also covers these topics, through direct application at the site of Portus itself, particularly in the Week 3 activities on geophysical survey, the palaeoenvironment, and finds in the landscape. Excavation techniques and stratigraphic analysis we covered in Unit 4 (How do you get a date?) of ADLS are also included in Portus Week 4 activities on Documenting the Excavation, and Objects in Context.

The importance of objects to archaeologists is also central to both courses. In ADLS, different object types were explored in a series of ‘Demonstrations’, particularly in Unit 5 (What do you do with what you find?)  – ceramics, metals, human remains, animal remains. We see some of the same object types appearing at Portus, and effectively applied to the specific historic questions of the site, for example in the discussion of the Portus burials. Moving from the more general introductions of ADLS to the specifics of a single site is a great way to apply and expand on the archaeological knowledge of participants of both courses. I was excited to see how ADLS’ broad questions – “What can we ask of pottery?” or “How do we use finds to date things?” – were applied and narrowed within the context of Portus, such as in the Week 2 questions “Why are brickstamps so useful? What do the brickstamps of Portus tell us?”

There are also a number of related themes across the two courses, moving beyond particular content to the overarching questions of archaeologists everywhere. In ADLS, these questions often emerged in discussions between Sue and archaeologists working at other Brown University projects. The later Units of ADLS in particular focussed on some larger archaeological debates: What is involved in the archaeology of people (Unit 6)? Where does archaeology happen (Unit 7)? Who owns the past (Unit 8)? The team working at Portus is dealing with these issues on the ground, and activities such as ‘The People of Portus‘ (Week 5) show some of the practical implications of ethical questions. These same issues are at the forefront of independent archaeological projects, and have also emerged as central questions to two independently developed MOOC offerings. The insights of the students of both ADLS and the Portus MOOC can help us as archaeologists understand these issues, and the ADLS team is excited for ongoing collaboration and connections between the growing number of archaeological MOOCs as we move toward an open and engaged online archaeological community.

You can find me on the Archaeology of Portus course via my FutureLearn profile and on ADLS via my Coursera profile. You can find Graeme on Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets via his Coursera profile.

(Note from Graeme: As with the other Archaeology of Portus links on this blog the above links will cross-reference to the first version of the course i.e. May 2014. If you were enrolled on this course you should continue to be able to follow these links indefinitely after the course officially finished on 29 June 2014. You can still enrol on the course until this date. If you were enrolled on the first version of ADLS the links above will work. If you were enrolled on the second iteration change “secrets-001″ in the URL to “secrets-002″. As the Portus course re-runs we will provide updated cross-references between the various MOOCs in a more consistent format.)

Portus’ dirty little secrets

  Working with Sue Alcock and Müge Durusu at Brown University on the Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets (ADLS) course on the Coursera platform, and chairing a recent session with the ADLS team at the Annual Meeting of Computer Applications in Archaeology in Paris this past April, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of institutions tackling the same issues we …

 

Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets Coursera Course image - used with permission
Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets Coursera Course image – used with permission

Working with Sue Alcock and Müge Durusu at Brown University on the Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets (ADLS) course on the Coursera platform, and chairing a recent session with the ADLS team at the Annual Meeting of Computer Applications in Archaeology in Paris this past April, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of institutions tackling the same issues we encountered during our MOOC adventure. At ADLS we were overwhelmed with the dynamic and exciting discussions emerging in our forums amongst a truly international student body. Connecting the ideas of the various archaeological MOOC offerings has the potential to maintain and expand this community of online learners across courses, and I’m happy to write briefly here on some of the ways the content and themes of ADLS and Portus are linked.

Graeme and I are both really excited about the possibilities of courses that interlink, whether at the level of course content, via shared publications, or linking research data and we are going to explore these more in the future. We also think that the two courses work well together, with Portus providing an archaeological overview and also detailed examples relating to Roman archaeology and one site in particular, complementing the broader approach taken in ADSL. I know that Graeme is hoping to develop these links further with other courses including Newcastle University and FutureLearn’s Hadrian’s Wall, and there have also been links made on the Portus course to the Yale and Coursera Roman Architecture course. Graeme also told me that the Classical elements from the Warwick University and FutureLearn Shakespeare and his World Course are being compared to the Roman material on the Portus course and the nature of different kinds of evidence analysed. This really sums up the kinds of connections MOOCs are making across areas of study.

In terms of specific links, there are a number of direct relationships between methods discussed in ADLS and the Portus MOOC. The first Units of ADLS introduce some of the basics of archaeological practice – what is archaeology, what is not archaeology, how do archaeologists work in the field – and many of the same concepts and techniques emerge in the first weeks of Portus. For example, Unit 3 of ADLS (How do you find things?) introduces site prospection practices such as geophysical survey, aerial photography, remote sensing, and fieldwalking. The Portus MOOC also covers these topics, through direct application at the site of Portus itself, particularly in the Week 3 activities on geophysical survey, the palaeoenvironment, and finds in the landscape. Excavation techniques and stratigraphic analysis we covered in Unit 4 (How do you get a date?) of ADLS are also included in Portus Week 4 activities on Documenting the Excavation, and Objects in Context.

The importance of objects to archaeologists is also central to both courses. In ADLS, different object types were explored in a series of ‘Demonstrations’, particularly in Unit 5 (What do you do with what you find?)  – ceramics, metals, human remains, animal remains. We see some of the same object types appearing at Portus, and effectively applied to the specific historic questions of the site, for example in the discussion of the Portus burials. Moving from the more general introductions of ADLS to the specifics of a single site is a great way to apply and expand on the archaeological knowledge of participants of both courses. I was excited to see how ADLS’ broad questions – “What can we ask of pottery?” or “How do we use finds to date things?” – were applied and narrowed within the context of Portus, such as in the Week 2 questions “Why are brickstamps so useful? What do the brickstamps of Portus tell us?”

There are also a number of related themes across the two courses, moving beyond particular content to the overarching questions of archaeologists everywhere. In ADLS, these questions often emerged in discussions between Sue and archaeologists working at other Brown University projects. The later Units of ADLS in particular focussed on some larger archaeological debates: What is involved in the archaeology of people (Unit 6)? Where does archaeology happen (Unit 7)? Who owns the past (Unit 8)? The team working at Portus is dealing with these issues on the ground, and activities such as ‘The People of Portus‘ (Week 5) show some of the practical implications of ethical questions. These same issues are at the forefront of independent archaeological projects, and have also emerged as central questions to two independently developed MOOC offerings. The insights of the students of both ADLS and the Portus MOOC can help us as archaeologists understand these issues, and the ADLS team is excited for ongoing collaboration and connections between the growing number of archaeological MOOCs as we move toward an open and engaged online archaeological community.

You can find me on the Archaeology of Portus course via my FutureLearn profile and on ADLS via my Coursera profile. You can find Graeme on Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets via his Coursera profile.

(Note from Graeme: As with the other Archaeology of Portus links on this blog the above links will cross-reference to the first version of the course i.e. May 2014. If you were enrolled on this course you should continue to be able to follow these links indefinitely after the course officially finished on 29 June 2014. You can still enrol on the course until this date. If you were enrolled on the first version of ADLS the links above will work. If you were enrolled on the second iteration change “secrets-001″ in the URL to “secrets-002″. As the Portus course re-runs we will provide updated cross-references between the various MOOCs in a more consistent format.)

Research data and MOOCosystems

I’ve spoken at a number of events recently about what I see as the potential for joining up MOOCs in order to create shared curricula. I have for example cross-referenced material in the Archaeology of Portus course to Coursera and Brown’s Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets course, and to the Coursera and Yale Roman Architecture course. In the coming weeks we …

GPR data from Portus - Jessica Ogden

GPR data from Portus – Jessica Ogden

I’ve spoken at a number of events recently about what I see as the potential for joining up MOOCs in order to create shared curricula. I have for example cross-referenced material in the Archaeology of Portus course to Coursera and Brown’s Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets course, and to the Coursera and Yale Roman Architecture course.

In the coming weeks we are going to be encouraging more reconstruction of Portus by learners, and wouldn’t it be amazing if some of the learners on the FutureLearn and Monash Creative Coding course (that started just now and looks fab) began making creative responses to our Portus material as the two courses ran? You’ll see in week five of our course how we use procedural modelling (related to the generative programming described on Creative Coding) to visualise alternative versions of the shipsheds at Portus.

Learners on our course have also cross-referenced to these and to other courses, including discussions of Shakespeare’s references to the Roman world and Roman Emperors in the FutureLearn and Warwick Shakespeare and his world course. This kind of cross-referencing is currently a little limited by the technology – whilst we can provide deep links to specific pages the authentication on the platforms means that mashing-up (to be very old fashioned) of the content is not easy. But it won’t be long. I can certainly envisage the markdown text that lies behind our course being curated into another hybrid course. Whilst I can imagine some resistance to this on the basis that we have all put a lot of effort into structuring coherent courses with a clear progression (of course the reason for the linear structure employed on many MOOC platforms) I can also see the potential in anyone else producing such a linear narrative but blending content from a variety of original courses. Similarly I can imagine courses growing organically, and interlinking in far more creative ways, as other OERs have been for many years.

One way I think such a MOOCosystem (insert sickened air quotes at will) could flourish is by shared or linked research data. An emphasis on open scholarship and in particular open publication and open research data is never far from the MOOC. In preparing our own course we had to consider the publication environment within which our research had been disseminated previously, and also the possibilities for innovation in the future. What excites me most about the next year is the chance for us to share much more of our research data from Portus and feed this back directly into the course. The Archaeology Data Service will be key to this as we deposit our final archive with them, and we have been in discussions for a while about how best to cross-reference our research data to conventional as well as on-line publications.

We just started week three and Kristian Strutt has created an [Advanced] step that allows learners to process a small sample of our geophysics data. By the time the course runs again we anticipate that learners could use this same approach to process, interpret, share their interpretations and comment on others’, but with access to all of the geophysics data from the project. In turn learners will be able to read more of the existing published material (we are working towards more open publication, using both green and gold models in the future and with respect to some of our previous publications), itself linked to the research data behind it. In the next iterations of the course one can envisage the data that are being shared deriving from other related research projects and associated with many courses, each with cohorts of learners enriching the data through their activities.

Of course none of this is revolutionary but as a first time MOOC-educator I am only now starting to realise the immense power of this interconnection of data, publications and open learning. And I still think, as I stated in My Archaeologist is an App, that such an interconnected learning system requires more able, research-led educators rather than less. Glueing all this together, tearing it apart through critique, and taking learners on a journey through heterogeneous resources will always be a challenging and creative task for which academics are well qualified. Putting data at the heart of these courses alongside open methods is going to turn everything upside down.

I really hope you enjoy week three.

Topographical survey at Portus

Hi, my name is Stephen Kay and I’m responsible for the topographical survey on the Portus Project. I am currently the Molly Cotton Fellow at the British School at Rome (www.bsr.ac.uk), one of the partner institutions for the field school. My research interests are focused on landscape archaeology, in particular on Roman urbanism in central Italy. Away from the Portus Project my work at …

Teaching students how to use a total station next to the Terrazza di Traiano

Teaching students how to use a total station next to the Terrazza di Traiano. Photo: Hembo Pagi

Hi, my name is Stephen Kay and I’m responsible for the topographical survey on the Portus Project. I am currently the Molly Cotton Fellow at the British School at Rome (www.bsr.ac.uk), one of the partner institutions for the field school. My research interests are focused on landscape archaeology, in particular on Roman urbanism in central Italy. Away from the Portus Project my work at the British School at Rome involves geophysical survey and working on the Segni Project, a 3 year research project looking at the changing urbanistic plan of the ancient Latin town of Signia, using techniques such as geophysics, laser scanning, topographical survey and excavation. The project is jointly run by the Museo Archeologico Comunale di Segni (www.museosegni.it) and the BSR (http://www.bsr.ac.uk/research/archaeology/ongoing-projects/segni-project).

I have been involved with the research at Portus since it began in 1997 with the first geophysical (magnetometry) survey. Over the course of the following 8 years an area of c.178ha was surveyed, which was subsequently published in Portus. An Archaeological Survey of the Port of Imperial Rome (2005).

Topographical suurvey

Topographical survey

My current work at Portus involves topographical surveying and aerial photographs through the use of UAV’s, more commonly known as drones. In order to fully understand the complex stratigraphy and standing walls, the project draws upon techniques such as topographical and building survey (using Total Stations and Global Positioning Systems), photogrammetry, laser scanning and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). The combination of these technologies allows us to examine, record and present the surface layers of the site and its artifacts in extraordinary detail.

Topographical survey provides the framework for all the work undertaken on site, ensuring the data is accurately and precisely located within the same coordinate system. Over the course of the preceding geophysical survey, a local coordinate control network was established for the work at Portus, which was subsequently globally located using a GPS from 5 fixed control points around the site. The survey is also tied into features shown on digital maps of the survey area. These features act as further control stations and enable cross-checking using triangulation and are further strengthened by the surveying of a closed loop traverse. https://twitter.com/stephenjohnkay/status/450971545801089024

In practice on site this means that all standing structures, collapsed masonry, stratigraphical layers, levels, small finds and environmental samples discovered by the excavation are recorded using a Total Station. A Total Station (the Portus Project uses a Leica TCR307 and TS02) is an electronic theodolite integrated with an electronic distance meter (EDM) to read distances from the instrument to a particular point. Coordinates of an unknown point relative to a known coordinate can be determined using the Total Station as long as a direct line of sight can be established between the two points. Angles and distances are measured from the total station to points under survey, and the coordinates (easting, northing and elevation) of surveyed points relative to the total station position are calculated using trigonometry and triangulation.

Recording targets for photogrammetry

Recording targets for photogrammetry

During the course I will be discussing all aspects of the topographical work and how we fit all the pieces of the jigsaw together, in order to produce the excavation plans and elevations. In particular I will be doing general day-to-day recording supporting the excavation whilst also using other techniques such as photogrammetry https://twitter.com/stephenjohnkay/status/464711536398049281 This data then forms the basis for other work, such as the 3D modelling, in order that all data is accurately positioned and sized.

Planning

Recent discoveries at Ostia

  The Archaeology of Portus MOOC will include some of our very latest findings, recently showcased in international media e.g. on BBC News in the UK. The recent discovery of the walled area of warehouses on the north side of the Tiber at by the Portus Project and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma represents another major …

 

Newly discovered features at Ostia - Satellite imagery courtesy of Digital Globe Inc

Newly discovered features at Ostia – Satellite imagery courtesy of Digital Globe Inc

The Archaeology of Portus MOOC will include some of our very latest findings, recently showcased in international media e.g. on BBC News in the UK. The recent discovery of the walled area of warehouses on the north side of the Tiber at Ostia by the Portus Project and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma represents another major advance in our understanding of the relationship between Portus and Ostia. Both ports were separated by from each other by the Isola Sacra, an island that was bounded by the Tyrrhenian sea to the west, the Tiber to the east and south, and one of the Portus canals to the north, and which is well known for its early Imperial cemetery. Back in 2009, the Portus Project discovered a major canal that ran from Portus in the north to Ostia in the south. In addition the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma recently found and excavated two Roman boats near to the point where the canal flowed into the Tyrrhenian sea. Clearly, therefore, there is a growing body of evidence that the Isola Sacra was a key focus of communication between the two ports and helps us to understand the function of both.

The recent archaeological survey work has uncovered evidence that shows that Roman Ostia was much larger than previous suspected. The missing town wall of Roman Ostia is now revealed together with large towers, warehouses and other structures. Since 2007, an Italian and British team has been undertaking geophysical survey work in land lying between the ancient ports of Portus and Ostia, a few kilometers to the south of the Rome’s International airport of Leonardo da Vinci.

Local archaeological authorities, represented by Angelo Pellegrino and Paola Germoni (Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma) were committed bringing to fruition the scientific and technical objectives of this research alongside Professors Simon Keay (University of Southampton/British School at Rome) and Martin Millett (University of Cambridge) who, as part of the Portus Project (www.portusproject.org), led a team of archaeologists and geophysicists in conjunction with colleagues at the British School at Rome.

They have been using an established technique known as magnetometry. This consists of systematically and rapidly scanning the landscape with small handheld instruments in order to identify localized magnetic anomalies relating to buried ancient walls, roads and other structures. These are subsequently mapped out with specialized computer software, providing images not dissimilar to aerial photographs that can then be interpreted by archaeologists.

In antiquity, the landscape under study was known as the Isola Sacra, and was bounded by a major canal associated with Portus to the north, the river Tiber to the east and the south, and the Tyrrhenian sea to the west. At the southernmost side of the Isola Sacra to the north of the Tiber, the geophysical survey revealed very clear evidence for the town wall of Roman Ostia running for some 540m from east to west, and then turning southwards in the direction of the Tiber; the wall was interspersed by large towers that measured 6x8m. Between the wall and the river Tiber, an area known to archaeologists as the Trastevere Ostiense, the team found very clear evidence for at least four major buildings. Three of these seem to have been warehouses that are similar in layout to those that have been excavated at Ostia itself, on the south side of the Tiber. However they seem to be much bigger, with the largest measuring c. 83x75m; this is a scale that invites comparison with some of the major monuments at Ostia itself, notably the Piazzale delle Corporazione (110m x 80m), the forum (c. 135m x 30m) and the Grandi Horrea (85m x 125m). These complement the discovery of the remains of a warehouse discovered by the Italian archaeologist Fausto Zevi in this general area during the late 1960s and published in 1971. In addition to this there is a massive (c. 142m x 110m) fourth building composed of rows of columns running from north to south, but whose function is unknown.

These results are of major importance for our understanding of Roman Ostia because they show first of all that the last 1st BC walls that are known to have surrounded Ostia to the south of the Tiber, continued to the north of the Tiber as well. Not only does this increase the known area of the ancient city, but it also shows that the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than defining on its northern side. Furthermore the presence of the warehouses along the northern side of the Tiber provides us with new evidence for immense scale of the commercial activities that took place on the banks of the river in the first two centuries, increasing the known extent of warehousing at Ostia by about 50% to c. 70,000 square metres. All of these discoveries will lead to a major re-think of the topography of one of the most iconic Roman cities in the Mediterranean.

The physical identification of part of the urban fabric of Ostia in the south of the Isola Sacra has been possible thanks to those Italian laws and rules for the protection of the archaeological heritage that have been enforced by the Soprintendenza speciale per i beni archeologici of Rome since 1960, with the work of Anton Luigi Pietrogrande. Protective legislation and on-site management has preserved and protected an extent of land that is now recognized as an area of early settlement intimately connected to Ostia.

Designing the Course

Hello all, my name is Peter Wheeler and I’m one of the designers on #UosFLPortus. I have the great job of helping to put the entire MOOC together. Whilst you won’t see me on camera – although I do have two cameos – I have been behind the scenes putting together each video, text and other additional content in preparation …

Peter Wheeler

Me Excavating at Portus. Photo: Hembo Pagi

Hello all, my name is Peter Wheeler and I’m one of the designers on #UosFLPortus. I have the great job of helping to put the entire MOOC together. Whilst you won’t see me on camera – although I do have two cameos – I have been behind the scenes putting together each video, text and other additional content in preparation for the launch. We think it is important that you know about all the people involved in the Portus MOOC and their experiences of working at this fantastic site.

My first involvement at Portus came in 2009 when I was a first year undergraduate student at the University of Southampton. I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the students to go to Portus as part of my field work experience. Having already been fascinated by Roman history at school, being able to come to this site and work alongside experts in the field was a truly amazing experience. Ever since those first five weeks it has been a great privilege to not only be involved in the project but also to research and contribute to it as well. It is something that I have done with great passion and commitment and has been a part of most of my academic career so far.
For my undergraduate dissertation I researched into the use of 3D models in archaeology and continued on the tradition of using computer graphics to help understand the complex buildings at Portus. I focussed on one area of the site, the Castellum Aquae, for my project and produced an interpretative visual reconstruction of the building with help from Simon and Graeme.

Castellum Aquae

Computer Graphic Model of Castellum Aquae

I then moved on to study the MSc in Archaeological Computing, again at the University of Southampton. During this time I studied the use of computational approaches and techniques in archaeology. I also learned about laser scanning, RTI, database management and additional surveying techniques.

However, the main focus of my research over the past two years has been in the use of web technologies in educating others about the site of Portus. This culminated in my recent masters dissertation, entitled “The use of Web Technologies in providing a fundamental experience of archaeological fieldwork at Portus”. This project used a series of HTML5 and WebGL technologies to create innovative educational material. Here I attempted to visualise different types of 3D data collected on site in order to give a fundamental experience of what the site looks like today and what we currently know about the archaeology. During the course of the MOOC you will get to see many of the 3D data sets that I used during my dissertation.

My role on the Archaeology of Portus MOOC began nearly a year ago with the initial designing of the course’s structure in preparation for filming on site during the 2013 field school. Through this process each video was recorded with specific learning goals in mind. This was a very enjoyable experience for me. Planning each video while walking around the excavation really highlighted how much the site has changed over the 5 years that I have visited. The amount of knowledge and understanding that I have gained in that time has been astonishing and something that I really value.

Checking the Shot List

Checking the Shot List

Over the past few months I have been reviewing the footage that was shot in July in order to make it even better. With the help of many volunteers we collected both archaeologists’ and non-archaeologists’ suggestions about what additional content would make each video more informative and accessible. Having created this long list we have set about finding or creating appropriate materials. I think it is really important to say that we have always tried to use content that was created by the Portus project in order to make everything we present to you as true to life as possible. I really think that the content produced – especially the videos – gives a true sense of the multi-national and the collaborative atmosphere that occurs each day on site at Portus, as well as the quality of the research work that the project achieves. I hope when the time comes that you also agree.

Once the MOOC begins you will hopefully see me online quite a bit, both on this blog and the FutureLearn forum. My main role then will be to help as many as possible enjoy the course and make it both enjoyable and worthwhile. You can find my forum comments via my FutureLearn profile.

Italian language on the MOOC

The FutureLearn platform that is hosting the Archaeology of Portus MOOC currently does not support multiple languages, although we understand that this is being considered as the platform continues to develop. However, the Portus Project is at its heart a long term collaboration between Italian and UK institutions and individuals and so it is important to us that both languages …

The FutureLearn platform that is hosting the Archaeology of Portus MOOC currently does not support multiple languages, although we understand that this is being considered as the platform continues to develop. However, the Portus Project is at its heart a long term collaboration between Italian and UK institutions and individuals and so it is important to us that both languages are supported. In this first running of the MOOC we will be translating key portions of the MOOC as possible, with Italian native speakers from the Portus Project engaged via social media. We also very much hope that Italian MOOC students will choose to engage in the Forum in Italian as much as English, and to develop their own open learning resources in Italian to share with the community. We are about to launch an Italian language tour of the site that will be accessible to MOOC students. Many thanks to Eleonora Gandolfi for the initial round of translations.