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Pontifical Academy of Archaeology

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The Pontifical Academy of Archaeology (Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia) is an academic honorary society established in Rome by the Catholic Church for the advancement of Christian archaeological study. It is one of the ten such Pontifical Academies established by the Holy See.[1]

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  • ✪ Archaeology at the Presidio Officers' Club
  • ✪ The Biblical scenes most represented inside the Roman Catacombs
  • ✪ Origin of Language: TA-TA Hypothesis
  • ✪ Jesus Scholar John Dominic Crossan
  • ✪ Catacombs of Rome


[ Music ] >> Kari Jones: As archaeologists at the Presidio, we're quite fortunate because we have a standing structure, which is not common at all on archaeological sites-to actually have standing structures that can inform the archaeology and archaeology that can inform the history of a building that people can see, they can walk into, they can touch, they can feel. And we're quite fortunate to have maps that tell us where to look. And we've painted a map from 1792 onto this parking lot. So this is actually the western wall, the western outside wall of El Presidio from 1792. And you can see, it goes back this way, and eventually it will intersect with the Officers' Club, because the Officers' Club now is a part of the original El Presidio, which is the fort that was established here in 1776 by the Spanish to protect the San Francisco bay. The area that we're standing in right now is actually what would be the back yard of the very southern end of El Presidio. One of the reasons that we're back here is because we've excavated other areas at the southern defense wall, at the back of El Presidio, and we've found that they were throwing their trash basically out the back of their homes. So, the number one thing that we find here at the Presidio is roof tile. And that's just because they had to make a lot of it in order to cover a whole lot of roofs. But the other kinds of things are ceramics, pottery-basically plates, bowls, table wares, etcetera. And those are the kinds of things that can tell us who they were trading with, whether they were making things here locally at the Presidio, or whether they were trading more with Mexico, which was the case. Almost all the ceramics from here actually come from Mexico. And from the patterns on the pottery, we can tell exactly what workshops and where those ceramics came from. They also are good time markers. They tell us exactly where we are time wise. The other sorts of things that we find a lot of are the kinds of animals that were eaten here, mostly cow and a little bit of sheep. But we also find some types of metal. For instance, over at the Chapel site, we found a crucifix that had actually been buried at the corner, clearly to consecrate the site, and now we have that object in our collection. So one of our interests is how this Chapel site from 1780 connects to our standing building here-the Officers' Club which we think is from about 1812 or so. We've left this open to let people know exactly the kinds of things that we find. And one of the most important things that we find is trash, because we are on a military post. And on military posts there are rules for behavior. But there's also humanity. And humanity very often deviates from those rules. And a lot of what we do in archaeology is sort of discovering those secrets, those deviations, the reality of the world. And we use trash or artifacts, the architecture, which I pointed out, and even standing structures to understand that life. So, this is a really good example. This is big serpentinite stones that were quarried at the Presidio, and used to make the foundation for the adobe walls that would have been built on top of them just like the Officers' Club that is still standing. It has these exact same types of foundations. The archaeological site is quite shallow, and the way that we as archaeologists recognize the site is not only by big rocks like this, which are quite obvious, but also by the soil-its color, its texture, and its contents. So if we just take a look at some of this soil here, you can see that it's a rich deep dark brown color. And that deep dark brown color tells me as an archaeologist a couple of things. It says that people were probably here. And that's because people have a lot of organic material that just comes with them-food waste and trash-and it makes a nice deep rich soil. And there's also quite a few artifacts. So these are exactly the kinds of signals we're going to be looking for when we do excavations anywhere else in the Presidio. They're the kinds of signatures-the artifacts and the soil-that we looked for when we did excavations back behind the Officers' Club. Unfortunately, for our research purposes, we didn't find any Spanish colonial archaeology. What we did find was the first additions onto the Officers' Club, made after the U.S. Army arrived. At this point, they're starting to really invest in this adobe structure, and try to make it look more like a western United States army post. What we found was the piers that supported that building, that Officers' Lounge that was put on the back here, and probably most interestingly, this fireplace here that would have formed part of the back wall, and would have had a chimney out of this sort of lounge. Here in the front we were able to help the adobe repair team by actually digging out the original builders' trench-the U-shaped ditch that the colonists dug in order to build this foundation and then put the adobe on top of. And this trench is interesting to us because it tells about the way this building was constructed. So the Spanish colonists had instructions that came from Madrid and went through Mexico City, and then came from San Blas, and then made their way up to San Francisco, which at the time was the very end of empire. It was at the very northernmost outpost of the Spanish empire, and it was the end of the Spanish empire. So, what we're finding archaeologically is that the colonists often improvised from these plans. There was a standard plan, and somebody in an office somewhere hundreds or thousands of miles away could say, you build it this way. But in the end, they had to do it the way that they knew how, and the way that the labor would allow them to do it. So we've seen in a lot of our excavations that what the standard practice was supposed, what the standard practice was actually here wasn't the royal decree, which is interesting to us. The other thing about the trench is that we found a little bit, a smattering, of a cultural material in it, including some of the kinds of ceramics that might help us date exactly when this structure was built. We're curious to see how old this building actually is. So we're walking through the Moraga Room. While we're in here I should point out this, which is the roof for the original structure. This was just recently taken off of the building, and you see these pieces of blue tape on it, and on a lot of these they have numbers, which is allowing somebody who's taken this piece of the roof, this roof sheathing off, to put it back on exactly where they found it. And that's because we're very interested in this roof. We used to call it the American-period roof, but now we've started calling it the Spanish roof, because we think this might actually be the original roof that the American colonists found when they came to the Presidio. Wood was very scarce in the San Francisco bay area, and it had to travel long distances in order to get here, especially wood of this quality. And so the Americans probably reused the wood they found, that the Spanish had already put on the roof. And this piece of wood here, you can actually see it curves as it heads down that way. So this is the full length of the tree. And fortunately for us as archaeologists, we have bark edges. And what bark edges allow us to do is figure out when the tree was cut. And if we know when the tree was cut, using a technique called dendrochronology which, basically just, "dendro" which is tree, and "chrono" which is time. So it's basically trees telling us time. Trees develop rings year by year by year. And we can use those rings to tell us exactly when this roof was put on. So we can learn a lot more about this building just through something as simple as this-the wood that came off of the roof. So again we're in what would have been the back yard of the original fort. This addition to the Officers' Club was built sometime in the 1880s, as a kitchen. We found a pit full of American-period trash. Mostly it was bone and organic material, like animal fat or foods etc. But we saved soil. And in case anyone is interested in this period for research, they can test the soil for chemicals or signatures of what that food actually might have been. The other thing that we found were American-period structural remains. These piers are spaced about six feet apart, and they're very, very typical of the American-period construction. The Army used this post-and-pier construction rather than sort of the larger continuous foundations that we're used to now. And they mark a level of building construction that we knew about from historical records, but we never actually had tangible evidence of. And so what we've done as part of the project is to preserve these here, and in a hundred years, if all else has been lost if our records are lost, and say there's some big fire and the internet no longer exists they will know from this material evidence that there was an 1880s-era construction back here. And that's sort of what we do is sort of the preservation ethic at the Presidio which is just to leave anything that we don't have to remove in place. [ Music ]



In the 17th century, Pope Benedict XIV responded to public and Church interest in archaeology by establishing an association of students of Roman archaeology. Antonio Bosio's work on the catacombs had drawn the attention of international archaeologists to the early history of Christianity.

In 1816 Pius VII, on the recommendation of Cardinal Consalvi, gave official recognition to the Accademia Romana di Archeologia and the academy became an important international centre of archaeological study. Its foreign members and lecturers included Barthold Georg Niebuhr, Johan David Åkerblad, Bertel Thorvaldsen, as well as sovereigns Frederick William IV of Prussia and Charles Albert of Sardinia. Pope Pius VIII gave the Academy the title of "Pontifical Academy".

In 1833 an attempt was made to remove the tomb of Raphael, but the Academy protested to Pope Gregory XVI and was successful. Later through the efforts of one of its members, the Academy was responsible for the restoration of the Tabularium on the Capitoline Hill. In the mid-19th century, the Academy became involved in a series of property rights disputes, as it hoped to prevent damage to monuments by restricting the rights of residents in low-cost housing near the Pantheon in Rome. It succeeded in obtaining from Pope Pius IX a decree for the demolition of the houses on the left side of the Pantheon; it also protested against the digging of new holes in the walls.

Modern operations

The Academy operates with the guidance and direction of the Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology.[2]

The Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church is the Academy's "protector" and overseer. It has a membership of 130 ordinary members, with further honorary, corresponding, and associate members. Its meetings are held in the palace of the Cancelleria Apostolica. The seal of the Academy represents the ruins of a classical temple, with the motto "In apricum proferet" – "It will bring to light."

In July 2010 the Academy celebrated its 200th anniversary.[3]

Academy publications

  • Leggi della Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia (Rome, 1894)
  • Omaggio al II Congresso Internazionale di Archeologia Cristiana in Roma (Rome, 1900)
  • Bullettino di Archeologia Cristiana of Giovanni Battista De Rossi (to the end of 1894) passim
  • Il Nuovo Bullettino di Archeologia Cristiana (Rome, 1894–1906)

See also


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Roman Academies" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
This page was last edited on 30 July 2019, at 11:39
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