The city site of Abthugnos, until now primarily known due to the extensively preserved ruins of a capitoline forum from the 2nd century A.D., is investigated in connection with its functions as well as its features as a rural city in the hinterland of Carthage, applying methods of building research and settlement archaeology in the context of a collaborative study with L’Institut National Du Patrimoine De Tunisie (INP).

Location

The Roman city of Abthugnos is located approximately 90 km south of Tunis in the interior of the country, near the modern village of Henchir es-Souar in the province of Zaghouan, Tunisia. The fertile landscape is characterised by the foothills of the Djebel Zaghdoud. Numerous wadis pervade the region around the city, an area which is primarily agriculturally exploited. Abthugnos probably still belonged to the territory of Carthaginian Pertica, while not far to the south-west of the city ran the Fossa Regia, the borderline between the Roman province of Africa established in 146 B.C. and the Numidian kingdom. During the reign of Emperor Hadrian, Abthugnos became a municipium (territorial city).

History of research

The well-preserved ruins of the temple on the forum, as well as additional structures and finds of inscriptions, have been described by travellers and scholars since the second half of the 19th century. In 1988, the Tunisian archaeologist Naïdé Ferchiou initiated extensive excavations and rescue work in the centre of Abthugnos in the framework of a rescue excavation by the INP. A monumental complex, which she identified as the central forum of Abthugnos with capitol and civil basilica, was excavated. Set in motion by this research, in the following years additional documentation and excavations, as well as individual restoration measures, were carried out by the INP.

Building research and settlement-archaeological studies

The excavated built structures of the monumental forum with temple and basilica will be documented with 3-D laser scanning for the first time true to form in their actual state of preservation, and based on this will be analysed with regard to their architecture as well as the historic phases of building and usage. In this context, particular attention is paid to the underlying plan of the forum, which follows a scheme of Roman fora frequently applied in North Africa, as well as to questions concerning its implementation. At the same time, the foundations for a concept for the future conservation of the forum site have been created.

In the urban area, additional built structures such as cisterns, wall courses of ashlar masonry running for long sections, and paved surfaces are also visible. Deploying geophysical surveying methods and GPS surveys, the city area with its structures and architectural finds should be recorded in its entirety and analysed taking all available information into consideration. The goals are to elucidate the character of ancient and late antique Abthugnos, which became the seat of a bishop at the beginning of the 4th century, as well as to understand the significance of the city in its rural environment.

Sustainability project »Team-building Archaeology«

The current study of the archaeological ruins of Abthugnos is accompanied by a sustainability project dedicated to the relationship of the local population to the historical monuments found in their immediate vicinity. With research approaches from ›Community Archaeology‹, awareness-raising among the families in the region, for the cultural heritage should be promoted, and at the same time insights into the areas of archaeology, architectural history and monument preservation (also as future fields of education for local students) should be communicated. The aim is to develop a concept for the preservation and presentation of ancient Abthugnos, in a close exchange at the communal level and with professional expertise.