Researchers uncover 2,000-year-old Roman house in Malta excavation

Researchers and students from the University of South Florida unveil a preserved Roman Domus from over 2000 years ago.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Archaeological site
Representational image of an archaeological site


A team of researchers and six students unearthed a 2,000-year-old Roman house in Malta, a Mediterranean gem steeped in history. The discovery offers a captivating glimpse into the past, shedding light on life when Romans ruled Malta, and the island served as a hub for military endeavors and maritime trade.

Under the guidance of Professor Davide Tanasi, director of USF's Institute for Digital Exploration (IDEx), the team joined forces with international scientists on the Melite Civitas Romana Project. Their mission was to delve into the rich archaeological heritage of Malta, a region often overlooked despite its immense potential for historical revelations.

Angela Costello, a USF doctoral student specializing in public history and digital humanities, expressed her enthusiasm, "Not only do we have the chance to uncover amazing Roman structures, but Malta is critically understudied despite being a wealth of fantastic archaeology and history from antiquity. So, by revisiting these old excavations and furthering the work with new digital methods, we are learning more and more about Roman Malta every day."

Discovery in the ancient city of Melite

Buried beneath centuries of soil, the team uncovered a lavishly adorned mansion, commonly known as a Roman Domus. The Domus, which thrived between the 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE, showcased mosaic floors, wall frescoes, and intricate marble decorations, hinting at its occupation by an individual with close ties to the imperial court or the emperor himself.

After a summer of dedicated excavation work, the team stumbled upon a previously unknown house adjacent to the Domus. With its towering 10-foot walls, this newfound structure is a rarity in the Mediterranean area, challenging conventional notions of Roman residential architecture.

Professor Tanasi asserted that this discovery offers valuable insights into the urban fabric of ancient Melite and the spatial configuration of the region, providing a deeper understanding of human experiences and behaviors within their structural environment.

The team is now fervently seeking clues about the inhabitants of this adjacent house and their lifestyle, sifting through remnants that tell the story of daily life. Among their findings are terracotta floor tiles, frescoed plasters, and a treasure trove of artifacts in an ancient waste disposal system. The discarded pottery, glass vessels, animal bones, and charcoal provide fascinating insights into the lives of the house's past occupants.

"It was literally the garbage disposed of by whoever lived in the house," said Professor Tanasi. "By studying this deposit, we will learn a lot about the life of who lived in the house. It is surprising how much you can learn about people from their garbage."

For Sarah Hassam, a USF ancient history graduate student, a seemingly unremarkable pottery fragment proved to be a moment of excitement and wonder. Scrubbing away at the pottery during the third week of the dig, she uncovered engraved letters: D-A-O-I, hinting at the possibility of someone's name.

The entire team was ecstatic and eagerly shared theories about the significance of the engraving – a thrilling find that brought them closer to the individuals who once inhabited the ancient dwelling.

The Melite Civitas Romana Project involves excavation and prioritizes the preservation of cultural heritage through digital means. IDEx utilizes cutting-edge techniques like digital photogrammetry and terrestrial laser scanning to create 3D models of the site, enabling researchers to revisit and analyze the findings in greater detail even when not physically present at the excavation site.

Thanks to the project's success, previous excavations' findings now grace the Museum of the Roman Domus, showcasing Malta's rich heritage. Professor Tanasi's agreement with IDEx and Heritage Malta marks a significant step forward in securing funding for the comprehensive 3D digitization of Maltese archaeological and cultural treasures.

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