Another Roman site, north of Kenitra and not so very far from Volubilis, is Thamusida, and this was also on the INSAP programme.
This is the last of a series of five articles based on an exhibition on recent archaeological research in Morocco. The exhibition was held in Rabat at the end of December 2004.
This site, mainly Roman but with a long earlier history, was excavated in the 1930s, 1950s and again in 1959-62. It has recently been the object of a five-year Morocco-Italian project, involving archaeologists from INSAP and Sienna University.
The programme envisaged excavation but also the application and experimentation of non-destructive methods – an excavation inevitably destroying layers as it goes down. The project aimed to reconstruct the history of the town from the first human establishment up to the Islamic period. Magnetometric prospection has in fact revealed a large part of the site's monuments still underground and, consequently, not visible.
The sequence of events at Thamusida was complex. Stone tools, dating from 59,000, 10,000 and 6,000 BC, showed that the hill of the Sidi Ali ben Ahmed marabout in the centre of the site was inhabited in prehistoric times. Then there seems to have been a gap in occupation, since the first recognised village dates to the second half of the 3rd century BC. Bowls and a great many amphora indicated that the inhabitants of Thamusida traded with other centres of the western Mediterranean, especially with Spain and Italy.
In 40 AD, when the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana was created, the village was destroyed by military operations. An army camp was then built, followed by a small new town. The new settlement had all the usual Roman requirements: houses, baths and temples. However, the Forum, an important monument in any Roman town, has not yet been found.
For Rome, Thamusida served to control the Empire's frontiers and to manage the agricultural and productive activities of the Gharb. This region was important since it regularly sent great quantities of wheat to Rome (about 1,000 tons a year).
In the second half of the 2nd century AD, the built-up area was surrounded by ramparts. But in the 3rd century AD, the Roman army withdrew, as part of their general policy of retiring from outlying areas. However, the town continued to be occupied. The old walls, which had remained standing until the 18th century, collapsed as a result of the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.
Excavations started here as early as 1915 and have been continued almost every year ever since. The site is often used as part of the training of young archaeologists from the Rabat archaeological institute.
INSAP and University College London's Institute of Archaeology have recently taken up work in the south-west corner of the town. However, the research is not now concerned with Roman times - it concentrates on the post-Roman occupation of the town, evacuated by the Romans at the end of the 3rd century AD. Around 284-285, Rome was forced to abandon its province of Mauretania Tingitana, due to endless pressure from the surrounding tribes. But the end of the Roman occupation did not mean the end of Volubilis, since the town continued to be inhabited for many centuries.
In this perspective, the current work aims to collect information on the Islamic occupation layers, and to define the Islamic urban characteristics and extent of the medieval town.
The state of conservation of the buildings and the mosaics is also being studied, in order to integrate them in a general site management plan.
Magnetic surveying was carried out on the western part of the site, not far from the ramparts and in the immediate neighbourhood of the Islamic thermal baths. This prospection showed structures oriented differently from the Roman ones, giving rise to reflexions on the urbanisation and occupation of the site during the Islamic period.
Current research also aims at revealing the northern remains of the site, to the north-west of the Triomphal Arch of Caracalla, which show the extent of the town during the Idrissid period, which then occupied the whole of the western zone.
Post-Roman research also revealed an Almoravid occupation in part of the site (D section): a small door was unearthed which gave a clue to this period. The team continued work here, and also on another nearby section (B). More detailed information on this part of the research is awaited.
This might have been part I ...