The E-News site has been inactive since February 2011 and may contain outdated information and/or broken links. For current and up-to-date Tufts news and information, please visit Tufts Now at
Tufts University e-news

Search  GO >

this site people
Tufts University Logo Bottom Search Bottom  
left side photo

Uncovering The Past

Uncovering The PastTufts' Bruce Hitchner and a multi-national team of students and archeologists spent a month this summer excavating the ruins of a Roman villa in the French Alps.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.24.07] When Ben Moskowitz enrolled in Professor Bruce Hitchner's History of Ancient Rome class this spring, little did the Tufts junior know that a few months later he would be elbow-deep in that very history. Working with Hitchner and others this summer to excavate a Roman villa in the French Alps, he says, proved to be a fun and enriching complement to his classroom studies.

"This dig was a great starting point for me," says Moskowitz. "As a classics major, it never hurts to see some of the first-hand evidence of what I'm studying."

Hitchner and Moskowitz spent a month this summer with a multi-national team of students and archeologists excavating the villa, located near the former Roman settlement of Embrun in the Provence region of France, and conducting a geophysical survey of the area to determine what else lay beneath the ground.

With the support of a combination of faculty research grants and funding from National Geographic and the French Ministry of Culture, the team hopes to learn about life in the Alps, including the environment, land use, economy and habitation, during the period of the Roman Empire (circa 1st century B.C. to 5th century A.D.).

Four students from University of Oxford in England and the University of California, Berkeley, joined Hitchner and Moskovitz for the summer, along with French archeologist Dr. Maxence Segard, who will study at Tufts this fall as a Mellon Fellow, and archeologist Alan Graham of Somerset, England. The team also spent a week collaborating with archeologists from the University of Leicester in England, who helped conduct the geophysical survey of the site.

Through their work, Hitchner-chair of the classics department and director of the archeology program at Tufts-and his team have concluded that the site was once an elaborate private villa. The location, which boasts a view of the nearby Roman provincial capital of Embrun and the Montgenèvre mountain pass, once overlooked the main Roman road that connected Italy and Spain, placing it in a key strategic location. A magnetomic image of the ground below the surface showed at least three other buildings nearby that may be connected to the site currently being excavated.

As the dig continues, Hitchner hopes to learn more about the environment and daily life of the area during antiquity. The excavation of the villa has provided some early clues through its heated floors-an indication of a very cold climate during at least part of the year, and a feature not typical of all such Roman villas.




 "It's very interesting to see that they built these structures for themselves and included all the amenities we would like today," notes Moskowitz.

Hitchner notes that the Tufts dig was the only excavation of its type taking place in the region this summer, which he says reflects the lack of sustained archeological work there. He hopes to expand the Tufts operation to explore some of these sites in the future.

"The local authorities were extremely enthusiastic," he says. "We have a lot of genuine, strong support from the local community to continue the work."

Hitchner is an expert in the study of Roman antiquity who has worked on several digs in France and Northern Africa;he also served as an editor of the American Journal of Archaeology for ten years until 2005. One of his objectives since arriving at Tufts in 2004 has been the promotion of archeology projects in the classics department.

"It is something that I think makes sense for Tufts to be involved in, given the strengths it has in students and in this area," he explains, noting that such digs present an interdisciplinary opportunity for students to do work not only in archeology and history but also civil engineering, geology, environmental science, anthropology and other fields.

BenMoskowitz"For [the faculty] to be able to take that out of the classroom and give us hands-on experience dealing with the actual course material in a very active way is something that I think is a great, great feature for Tufts," says Moskowitz (pictured at left).

As the excavation in the Alps continues, Hitchner hopes to establish closer ties with a next-door neighbor-the Tufts in Talloires program, just 90 minutes away. He hopes that opportunities will arise for the students who spend six weeks in Talloires each summer to participate in the dig.

"It makes good sense to see these things as being part of a fabric," says Hitchner.

Hitchner hopes to bring a full Tufts team, complete with undergraduate and graduate students, to the Alps site next year, and to establish more collaborations with other institutions. Given the nature of the work and the locale, he doesn't anticipate trouble finding any takers.

"It's an extremely attractive site and location," he says. "It's probably one of the most idyllic ways you can actually conduct an excavation."

Profile by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

Photos courtesy of Bruce Hitchner 

Related Stories
Related Links
Featured Profile


For More Information

Web Communications
T: 617.627.4282
F: 617.627.3549

Media Inquiries

Kim Thurler
T: 617.627.3175
F: 617.627.4907

Alexander Reid
T: 617.627.4173
F: 617.627.4907

Suzanne McInroy
T: 617.627.4703
F: 617.627.4907