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Five UT senior classics students spent the summer in Morocco, conducting an archaeological survey around one of the oldest cities in northwestern Africa.

“Gardens of the Hesperides: The Rural Archaeology of the Loukkos Valley” is a collaboration between UT and the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage Sciences) in Rabat, Morocco. It is co-directed by Professor Aomar Akerraz from the Moroccan university and UT Professor Stephen Collins-Elliott, with the participation of Moroccan professors and students.

This was the first year of what will be a multiyear project.

UT students involved in the project were Ryan Guffey of Morristown, Tennessee; Emily Gregg, from Nashville; Alex Grimm and Rick Robinson of Knoxville; and Nathaniel Cordle of Maryville.

The team began by exploring the Loukkos River valley in Morocco and looking for traces of Roman sites to understand the development of the agricultural economy around the city of Lixus. Ancient Greek and Roman texts point to Lixus as the location of the mythical Gardens of Hesperides. In reality, Lixus was a thriving port city beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, a major stop for seafarers and traders on the Atlantic rim since the eighth century BCE.

Researchers want to know more about the economic development of the countryside and the role it played in the growth and prosperity of Lixus, and, in turn, the roles Lixus and the Loukkos River valley played in the larger ancient Mediterranean world throughout antiquity.

“The central question of the project is to know how the economy of the Loukkos was organized,” Collins-Elliott said. Researchers want to understand the relationship between Lixus and its surrounding region as well as its connections with the western Mediterranean, and whether those relationships changed in the Roman period.

The students spent this summer doing an archaeological field survey of the Moroccan countryside. During the next two years of survey, the project will move up the Loukkos valley toward El Qsar el-Kebir, leading into the second phase of the project, during which rural sites will be excavated.

The work provided students with experience in survey methods, the identification and processing of archaeological finds, and use of geographical information systems. They’ve learned how to use cutting-edge tools in digital archaeology. Students also learned about Moroccan history and cultural heritage through visits to Tangier to the north and the ancient site of Volubilis to the south. They also will have the opportunity to work with Moroccan colleagues, research professors, and students.

The team began work on July 10 and finished earlier this month.


Amy Blakely (, 865-974-5034)