“Everyone dreams of being Indiana Jones,” says Rome-based archaeologist Darius Arya. And the Rome-based archaeologist lives the dream. For Darius, the Eternal City is more than ancient history, it’s living history and an ongoing story to share across screens big and small.
“I wanted to be knee-deep in ancient inscriptions and underground sites, so I figured I’d do it,” tells Arya who holds an BA from the University of Pennsylvania, a Masters and Masters/PhD in Classical Archaeology from University of Texas Austin, and was awarded a Fullbright scholarship and fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. During his Fullbright, Arya, moved to full time Rome in 1998, anchoring himself in the unique juxtaposition of past and present.
Ancient Rome on the Screen
Over the past two decades in Rome, Arya has done everything to share it his passion for Classical studies, archaeology and architecture. As director of non-profit American Institute for Roman Culture, Darius created the popular YouTube channel Ancient Rome Live, a themes in antiquity.
Additionally, Darius hosts and creates television programs such as “Traveling the Roman Empire with Darius Arya” (Wondrium) and “Ancient Invisible Cities” (PBS’s three part series exploring Istanbul, Athens and Cairo) and television series “Under Italy” (RAI5) where he explores the subterranea of cities.
Darius has been coordinating excavation in Rome for 15. We wanted to know what it’s like to live, work, and dig in Rome.
What are some of the surprises you’ve come across at an excavation?
No matter how much you plan and study, when you finally excavate you will inevitably find things you didn’t expect, never dreamed of. My personal favorite and probably most fulfilling came from our dig at the Park of the Aqueducts, a public park less than eight miles from the center of Rome.
We were halfway through the day when we uncovered a colored marble head. As we progressed, we realized we had an entire intact statue of the highest quality—a second century AD red marble statue depicting Marsyas tied to a tree, with beautiful detailed musculature and one remaining bronze inlaid eye. I was so paranoid when we found it, I decided to sleep in the trench with Marsyas that night for fear of looters (always a real threat for any excavation). The Marsyas is on permanent public display at Capitoline Museums Montemartini gallery.
What are the biggest challenges you face in an excavation?
Archaeology is slow work. And the thrill of a season in the field is matched by a long study season in the warehouse and in the library, with a lot of specialists and technicians and countless more hours of study, research, and documentation. It is tedious and methodical—all totally worth it.
Challenges can be bureaucratic and also topographical. Rome has some of the most complex stratigraphy in the world since it’s been continuously occupied for over 3,000 years and thus so much was built and deposited on the same land by so many citizens, foreigners, pilgrims, governments, and empires.
Taking the larger view of the field of archaeology and heritage preservation as a whole, probably the biggest challenge today is not looting nor war, but accelerated urban development and growing need for arable land.
You were one of the first archaeologists to have an active voice on social media, and you won a Shorty Award! In your words, why is social media is so important to archaeology, classical studies and architecture?
Visual storytelling, an essential component of social media, is integral to archaeologist and historians. It brings the audience directly to the material culture. I believe it is possible to bridge the gap between innate enthusiasm for the material and the actual academic discipline by utilizing new media to keep the material dynamic like social media, video and more.
How do you navigate living in Rome, a contemporary city with nearly three thousand years of visible history and lot of baggage?
With hundreds and hundreds of churches, monuments, and archaeological sites and museums, I’m never bored. Even after two decades of living in Rome every single day is a delight for me. There is always something to discover, explore, and rediscover, and my Rome experience flows into the palimpsest of the city.
A version of this article first appeared in Traditional Building, March 2019.