Digging Up the Past

Dr. Rosa Motta arrived at CNU four years ago in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, where she teaches a variety of courses on ancient Greek and Roman material culture. Her work focuses primarily on coin iconography and how ancient societies used imagery to construct their identities and symbolize their outlook on life. Last summer she journeyed to an archaeological dig in Binchester, England to examine coins excavated at the ancient fortress of Vinovium, an outpost on the northern fringe of the Roman empire. Some of these coins are found only in England, where they were minted in the third and fourth centuries.

Rosa Motta

A native of Sicily, Motta earned her PhD from the University of Virginia and joined CNU, because, as she says, “CNU is a relatively young university that gives faculty a great opportunity to make an impact. I feel that I am at an institution with a great vision, and the excitement is powerful. I enjoy the students, the small classes, the camaraderie and the beautiful buildings. 

Three CNU students accompanied Motta on her trip to Binchester, where they learned coin conservation under her direction and that of British researchers at the site. The trip was funded in part by a CNU faculty development grant Motta was awarded in spring 2012. “The students benefited immensely from exposure to such an international academic environment, working in the field and labs with scholars from around the U.K.,” says Motta. The students participated in the Binchester Field School, where they undertook a host of field and research activities with Motta as well as scholars from Durham University, a prestigious school near Binchester.

One participant, senior Chelsea Blake, had a memorable experience on the trip, during which she took part in the conservation process, which starts when a coin, appearing to be little more than a clod of dirt, is found. The coin is carefully cleaned and catalogued, examined to learn its origins, then studied for historical context. “I was one of the archaeologists who actively sought artifacts and participated in the cataloguing and recording that takes place at a dig site,” Blake says. She spent three days in the conservation lab at Durham University, where she labored to remove years of soil and corrosion on coins to reveal the images hidden by time. “Dr. Motta taught me to identify and understand the amazing amount of information included in a coin, the depth of which ranged from Roman emperors listing their political resumes, to the messages behind the imagery,” says Blake.

Motta and her students recently hosted the inaugural Archaeology Day at CNU where they discussed the Binchester dig – and demonstrated excavation and conservation methods.

Her plans for the future include continuing to visit the Binchester site, as well as pursuing her research elsewhere in the world. She will publish findings of her work examining coins from the site of an ancient Phoenician port city in what is now Israel in a forthcoming book titled Greek and Roman Coins of Dora: A Study of Cultural Identity. She will also continue to advise students who wish to travel to archaeological digs around the world. --Brian McGuire  



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