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Revisiting Santa Prisca: unlocking the legacy data of the first Dutch excavation in Italy

  • Lennart Kruijer
  • Laurien de Gelder
  • Jord Hilbrants
Tuesday 22 March 2016
Van Steenis
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden


From 1952-1966, Maarten Vermaseren and Carel van Essen conducted the first Dutch excavation on Italian soil, unearthing a spectacular Mithraeum underneath the church of Santa Prisca on the Aventine in Rome.

Together with the Italian Archaeological service, the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome decided to investigate the legacy data of this pioneering archaeological project, with the aim of reconstructing the social, cultural and intellectual contexts of the Dutch campaigns as well as restudying the archaeological data that these excavations brought forth.

Using a plethora of previously unstudied archival evidence, the Santa Prisca Project has been able to tackle many research questions concerning the archaeological practice of Vermaseren and Van Essen. How could the Dutch receive permission for their project in the first place? What were the intentions of the excavators and how was their relation with different Italian stakeholders?

In close connection to answering these questions, it furthermore proved possible to completely restudy many unpublished archaeological features which together add an important missing puzzle piece to the habitation history of the Aventine. In the context of recent interest in the study of archaeological legacy data, this presentation will focus on the value of restudying older excavation data, highlighting the importance of the history of archaeology as a means of better understanding the archaeological evidence.

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