Archaeologists Bring Roman Villa Back to Life in Malta

Using 3D modeling technology, archaeologists and researchers have created a virtual replica of the ancient Roman villa and its oil press. Digital tourists can now explore the site and witness millennia-old olive oil production from home.
Photo courtesy of Wirt iż-Żejtun.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Aug. 12, 2020 11:33 UTC

An olive oil-pro­duc­ing Roman villa in south­east­ern Malta, which dates back to the fourth cen­tury BCE, could soon be admired in all of its ancient glory thanks to a pio­neer­ing dig­i­ti­za­tion project.

Located near some of the island’s his­toric ports, the Roman villa boasted sophis­ti­cated milling tech­nolo­gies. As its pro­duc­tion and rel­e­vance grew over time, so did its impact on the local econ­omy and soci­ety.

The Maltese Wirt iż-Żejtun NGO has super­vised the archae­o­log­i­cal exca­va­tions, which in recent years have shed light on the villa and its impor­tant role in the region. For arche­ol­o­gists, the time has now come to let peo­ple access the site as a result of 3D mod­el­ing.

See Also:Scientists Find Earliest Evidence of Olive Oil in Central Europe

We chose the Roman villa because few are aware of it enough to appre­ci­ate its value and close ties to the local con­text,” Wirt iż-Żejtun pres­i­dent Ruben Attard told Times of Malta.

People tend to imag­ine a built struc­ture but, really, the site is mostly a ruin with some unique vis­i­ble fea­tures, like the oil press­ing block,” he added. We will take what we learned from the long years of stud­ies and digs and use it to vir­tu­ally con­struct a 3D model that will visu­al­ize not only what the struc­ture once looked like but how the day-to-day oper­a­tion of olive oil pro­duc­tion func­tioned.”

Digital tourists to the site will then be able to see how locals used to pro­duce olive oil, both with 3D mod­els and ani­ma­tions.

According to the archae­ol­o­gists, olive oil pro­duc­tion tech­niques and infra­struc­ture were likely some of the most advanced in all of the Roman Empire, at the time.

The press­ing of olives to pro­duce olive oil depends on a fairly straight­for­ward process,” Nicholas Vella, one of the archae­ol­o­gists from the site, told the University of Malta mag­a­zine, Think. You need to apply pres­sure to olives which have had their pips removed. The ancient sources tell us you did not want to crush the pip because that would cre­ate an infe­rior qual­ity olive oil.”

Dating back to the begin­ning of the rise of Carthage’s eco­nomic and polit­i­cal impor­tance in the Mediterranean region, the villa was an ancient farm whose activ­i­ties spanned gen­er­a­tions.

Bronze Age finds around the archae­o­log­i­cal site have also con­firmed the rel­e­vance of olive oil pro­duc­tion for the local pop­u­la­tion. Furthermore, chang­ing tech­nol­ogy at the mill demon­strated how the impor­tance of olive oil pro­duc­tion grew at the site over time

The piv­otal role that the villa and olive oil pro­duc­tion played for the local pop­u­la­tion is also reflected in the name of the area in which the mill was found – Żejtun, which comes from the Sicilian Arabic word, zay­tun, mean­ing fruit of the tree.”


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