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Image of group at Gardens of the Hesperides

Gardens of the Hesperides: The Rural Archaeology of the Loukkos Valley 2018 Season

By Stephen Collins-Elliot, assistant professor, Department of Classics

This summer marked the last season of surface survey in the Loukkos river valley as part of the Moroccan-American project “Gardens of the Hesperides: The Rural Archaeology of the Loukkos Valley,” codirected by Professor Aomar Akerraz of the Institute National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP) and Professor Stephen Collins-Elliott (UT Knoxville).

The season ran from July 2 to 28 and involved undergraduate and graduate students from INSAP and UT, as well as the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, University of California – Davis, Florida State University, Willamette College, Charles University in Prague, and the École du Louvre in Paris. UT classics alumnus David Royce participated as well, employing his talents drawing ceramics in the lab.

This season, the survey was conducted largely in the inland areas of the Oued Loukkos, around the villages of Oulad Ben Said and El Adeb, as well as north of the city of Ksar el-Kebir, which has been identified with the site of Oppidum Novum, a site listed on the Antonine Itinerary. This season also saw the second season of the geological survey conducted by Tiziano Abbà for the project, completing a land units map of the area under investigation. So far this season, a picture appears to be emerging in which Mediterranean imports—evidenced by tableware and transport amphorae—are finding a distribution that is concentrated immediately near the coast. Developing a model of the settlement pattern of the countryside around Lixus using Human Behavioral Ecology was the subject of a poster presented by Professor Chris Jazwa (University of Nevada at Reno) and Stephen Collins-Elliott at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Boston. Further presentations and papers are in preparation to incorporate the latest results from the systematic survey into the model.

Participants lived in apartments in Larache and enjoyed traditional Moroccan food prepared by Khadija, our cook. On the weekends, the team took field trips to Tangier, the ruins of the Augustan colonies at Iulia Constantia Zilil and Iulia Valentia Banasa, as well as the prehistoric cromlech at M’zora. The team also stopped by Chellah to be given a site tour by former Project Hesperides team member Péter Nagy (PhD student at Oxford), who is working on a 3D photogrammetric reconstruction of the medieval Merinid masjid-madrasa complex at Chellah near Rabat, before stopping by Meknes and the city of Volubilis.

This season could not have been accomplished without the dedication and tireless enthusiasm of the project field director, Katelin McCullough (PhD candidate, UNC Chapel Hill). Many thanks go to Hicham Hassini of the Delegation of the Ministry of Culture at Larache, Layla Es-Sadra, Abdelaziz El Khayari, to Lisa Fentress and David Stone for their support, and to the people of the Loukkos valley. This season was made possible thanks to the Ministry of Culture of the Kingdom of Morocco, the Institute National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine, and thanks to the generous support of the Loeb Classical Library Foundation and the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Student Perspective

Kyle LegantThis summer I had the pleasure of joining the archaeological project Gardens of the Hesperides (INSAP-UT) in northern Morocco. Even though it was my third archaeological project, there were many things that made this trip unique and memorable. The first and most obvious difference is this was my first time working in Africa. It’s always a big commitment to live somewhere not your own for a month and it can be intimidating when it’s in such a different culture. Morocco, however, was full of surprises when it came to making me and the other Americans on the project feel at home. Most of my afternoons were spent at one of Larache’s cafés watching the World Cup (Allez les Bleus!) and drinking traditional Moroccan mint tea. In the evenings, we would enjoy dinner as a group and then often end the night with board games in our apartment.

The highlight of the summer was the opportunity to see some of the archaeological remains Morocco has to offer. Over three weekends, we were treated to tours led by Professor Collins-Elliott as we visited several archaeological sites with Roman material. The first site we visited was Lixus. This site housed our lab, which functioned as a home base for the project. The following weekend we headed north to visit Tangier, seeing its archaeological museum and its souk (or market place). On the way back south, we stopped at Mzoura, the Stonehenge of Morocco with its 167 menhirs (standing stones) and the Roman colony of Iulia Constantia Zilil.

Our third and final trip lasted two days. On Saturday, we headed south, stopping at the site of Iulia Valentia Banasa on our way to the city of Rabat. Banasa is a sister city of Zilil, sharing the distinction of being an Augustan colony. In Rabat, we visited the archaeological museum housing artifacts from across the country. Just outside the city is Chellah. Also known as Sala, this walled location is home to a Roman site, a 13th century mosque and a magnificent garden. We ended the day with a short drive and finally settled into our riad (hotel) in the royal city of Meknes.

After a wonderful Moroccan breakfast and time exploring the city, we began our trip back to Larache. This time we stopped at Volubilis, the largest of the Roman sites in the country. We spent a few hours exploring the remains of the city, seeing the forum, a triumphal arch, remains of an aqueduct, and a few dozen mosaics still in their original setting. After an ice cream to cool down, we got back in the car to finish the trip and prepare for our final week of survey.

Not to give the impression we weren’t working while there, because work we did. For four weeks, the mornings and early afternoons consisted of walking through the Moroccan countryside as we endeavored to locate new sites. This consisted of collecting pottery from the surface of fields while using GPS to demark the boundaries. This type of work was also a unique experience for me as it was my first time conducting survey on an archaeological project. While the survey was everyone’s main job on the project, I also had the added responsibility of entering our GPS recorded points into a GIS computer program with which I will be doing further research.


Kassandra AyalaGoing to Morocco was a great experience to me. I learned about archaeological survey, how to identify ceramics from rocks, spent a good time washing pottery sherds, and hiked up steep hills but with spectacular views. Not only did we work in the fields and the lab, we also explored cities and other archaeological sites, as well as meet plenty of locals. The short time I was there, I made wonderful friends, learned much about the culture by roaming the city, and got to know a bit of what archaeology work is like.


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