Very few people know that within the grounds of the Middle and Secondary School (St Thomas More College) in Zejtun lie the remains of a Roman villa. This year the archaeologists are concentrating their efforts in two areas: an area where the decantation vats stood and a large wall that marks the limits of the villa complex. A sponsorship from GSD Marketing Ltd is ensuring that a steady supply of mineral water keeps the team going in the summer heat.
“We are proud to support the Department of Archeology in this endeavor. Cultural heritage can provide an automatic sense of unity and belonging within a group and allows us to better understand previous generations and the history of our ancestors. Therefore it is our honor to help in making this possible’’ said Maria Micallef, COO of General Soft Drinks Ltd.
The site was discovered in the 1960s when work was underway to build the school. A systematic excavation campaign was carried out between 1972 and 1976. A Roman villa was essentially a large farming estate that combined an area intended for residence and a working area. The set-up at Zejtun catered for the extraction of oil from olives. The machinery, consisting of stone blocks and a number of decantation vats for oil, were discovered in the 1970s together with a series of rooms, carefully paved with terracotta lozenge-shaped tiles. Some of the walls were found to contain traces of the original plaster, decorated with simple line paintings in red, yellow and green.
The site was abandoned until 2006 when a team from the Department of Classics and Archaeology of the University of Malta was invited to re-investigate the area. Four-week excavation campaigns have taken place every year since. For a month, students reading for a degree in Archaeology, work side-by-side with professional archaeologists to unravel the history of the villa complex. Bits of pottery, shell, worked stone fragments and coins are all parts of the puzzle. Students are trained to dig systematically and to document their discoveries.
A startling discovery was made a few years ago when it was revealed that the villa complex was built over an abandoned vineyard sometime after the first century BC. Traces of the long rock-cut trenches where vines were planted have been found. It is possible that the vineyard was laid out and used before the Roman occupation of the islands. The site was certainly occupied during Punic times when a large cistern was built to store rainwater.
The team will be opening the site to visitors on Friday, 21 July. Site tours will be given every half hour between 9 and 12.
To reach the site visitors should turn left on Triq Dun Lawrenz Degabriele from the Zejtun bypass, skirt the school and turn left again on Triq Luqa Briffa. Further information about the activities of the Department of Classics and Archaeology can be found on the website: http://www.um.edu.mt/arts/classics-archaeo.