Diversity of the Past: Classical Archaeology

Students in the Department of Classis began reconstructing the rural agricultural economy in the Loukkos river valley thanks to a new collaborative archaeological project with researchers in Morocco.

Students in the Department of Classis began reconstructing the rural agricultural economy in the Loukkos river valley thanks to a new collaborative archaeological project with researchers in Morocco.
From left to right: Alex Grimm, Stephen Collins-Elliott, David Guffey, Emily Gregg, and Nate Cordle.

Stephen Collins-Elliott spent the 2015-16 academic year as a fellow at the UT Humanities Center, which not only allowed him to work on his book manuscript, but also gave him the time to dig into the possibility of a new archaeological project.

“I’ve been really interested in the ancient economy and the way in which the rise of the Roman Empire was affected by or was in turn shaped by ongoing economic patterns in the ancient Mediterranean,” says Collins-Elliott, assistant professor in the Department of Classics.

After a conversation with a colleague about North Africa, Collins-Elliott decided to take his research interest from Italy and apply it to Morocco.

“I thought I could make a much bigger contribution over there than I ever could in Italy because of how little we know about the area,” says Collins-Elliott, who immediately got to work diving into the bibliography, booking some flights, and creating relationships with people who could help him navigate the administrative landscape of starting work in Morocco.

In July 2016, Collins-Elliott and five of his students took their first steps on Moroccan soil to start fieldwork on a new archaeological project titled “Gardens of the Hesperides: The Rural Archaeology of the Loukkos Valley.” The project is a joint Moroccan-American collaboration between the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP) and UT. The goal is to understand the role the rural agricultural economy in the river valley around the ancient city of Lixus.

“According to tradition, Lixus is the oldest city in northwestern Africa and has traditionally been viewed as a port city,” Collins-Elliott says. “It is known for producing a fish sauce called garum, essentially the ketchup of the Roman Empire, which was shipped all over the Roman world, but the economy of the countryside around the city needs to be explored in order to ground its urban development in its Moroccan context.”

[pullquote]Emily GreggEmily Gregg
Ancient Culture in Situ
For a classics major, the opportunity to feel and examine ancient materials from which we glean so much knowledge is incomparable. Participating in the pilot season of the Loukkos valley dig allowed me to learn about an ancient culture in situ, recognizing how the material found reflected the needs and values of these people in an intimate way. It was a beautiful and inspiring experience.[/pullquote]Collins-Elliott and his team are interested in understanding the degree to which the regional economy of the Loukkos river valley was integrated with the city of Lixus and whether these connections changed during the period of Roman occupation. They are interested in the long-term rhythms of economic and social changes and seek to discover if these changes had any bearing on the way the society organized itself.

Students involved in the dig received hands-on experience in survey methods, using GIS, and the identification and processing of archaeological finds. They learned about cutting-edge tools used in digital archaeology and experienced Moroccan history, heritage, and culture while working alongside their Moroccan colleagues.

“Archaeology has the ability to bring people together from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences to investigate a shared past,” Collins-Elliott says, who was a Fulbright Fellow in Italy. “I took to heart the mission of the Fulbright program, which was exposing Americans to the world and getting us to reflect on our society by virtue of our reflections abroad.”

As an assistant professor co-directing a project in northern Morocco, Collins-Elliott has the opportunity to provide his students with the experience of working on a project overseas.

“My students are engaged with practical skills necessary to conduct an archaeological survey,” Collins-Elliott says. “It requires a lot of creativity and a lot of adaptability. The main virtue of this experience, especially to the College of Arts and Sciences, is showing how a liberal arts education prepares a student with fundamental skills for a global environment.”