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Brian Rose: Raider of the Lost Art(ifacts)

Brad Pitt? Orlando who? When it comes to “Troy,” these Hollywood stars may be pretty, but they’re pretty much rookies compared to University of Cincinnati archaeologist Brian Rose. He was at Troy for 15 years, leading digs that unearthed ancient gold jewelry, statuary and even an elaborately stylized coffin.

Date: 4/22/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: provided by Brian Rose

UC ingot  

Archaeologist Brian Rose, professor of classics at the University of Cincinnati, really digs his work. 

The archaeological remains of Troy

Yes, it’s been gritty labor done in isolation amidst dry dust and heat as high as 120 degrees while excavating at Troy (in Turkey).  But now it’s grit to glamour for Rose as a new movie on Troy – starring Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom – is set for release on May 14

His phone began ringing last autumn -- broadcasters like the National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel and the History Channel.  

Rose, at right, holds the statuary head of Augustus, with graduate students looking on

The interest was not too surprising, since Rose has overseen Greek and Roman excavations at Troy for 15 years, following in the footprints of UC’s Carl Blegen, who led major excavations there in the 1930s.  Over the years, Rose and his international colleagues discovered an ancient sarcophagus that retains its original paint and color in a way that is unsurpassed by any other known marble coffin of the classical Greek period.  Another nearby tomb for an adolescent girl held a cache of gold jewelry that had been hidden for 2,500 years.  But Rose really grabbed headlines when he and his students uncovered a larger-than-life statue of Roman Emperor Hadrian as well as a portrait head of Augustus, the Roman emperor who ruled at the time of Christ (31 B.C.-14 A.D.).

“I think the Troy project will be remembered most for our work in the Lower City, which extends for about 1,200 feet south of the [Troy] mound, and especially for what we’ve learned about the defensive system of the citadel during the phases around 2500 B.C.,  the second millennium B.C. and the third century B.C.,” opines Rose.

A defensive ditch dating from the time of the legendary Trojan War

Among their findings was a ditch cut out of bedrock for the settlement most frequently associated with the Trojan War stories told in the Homeric epics.  The trench may have been a defense against chariots.  Another defensive structure dating from the third century B.C. – a sizeable limestone fortification wall – protected the city in the classical period.

“Suddenly, there’s great interest in our work.  Of course, it’s because of ‘Troy,’ the movie,” he admits.  But he still appreciates the interest in history that such popular culture and the media can stimulate.  So, he takes it all in stride as part of his (most days) 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. work day. 
Rose even plans to see “Troy” on the day it opens.  “I was asked to write a review for the Archaeological Instititue of America website, and I want to get that done,” he laughs, adding that he – along with colleagues who have led digs in Greece – will probably remain in demand for a while to come yet. 

Rose at work, cataloguing gold jewelry found at the site of Troy

“There’s a whole spate of sword-and-sandal films that have been or are coming out.  It all started with ‘Gladiator,’ and even ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is a sword-and-sandal film.  Now, there’s ‘Troy,’” Rose explains.  “Next, Vin Diesel has ‘Hannibal’ in production, and there are dueling Alexander the Great movies in production.  One stars Leonard DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman.  The other is directed by Oliver Stone.”