A project that will see the construction of 3D models on a little-known archaeologically-rich site is set to shed new light on the cultural history of ancient olive oil production in the southeast of Malta.

Wirt iż-Żejtun, a heritage NGO that serves as a caretaker to the locality’s ancient Roman villa, has launched a project that will see life once again roam the halls of the ruin in a virtual space.

“We chose the Roman villa because few are aware of it enough to appreciate its value and close ties to the local context,” Wirt iż-Żejtun president Ruben Attard told Times of Malta.

“People tend to imagine a built structure but, really, the site is mostly a ruin with some unique visible features, like the oil pressing block,” he said.

“We will take what we learned from the long years of studies and digs and use it to virtually construct a 3D model that will visualise not only what the structure once looked like but how the day to day operation of olive oil production functioned.”

This new exercise in historical mapping is partially funded through the project LEADER, which supports innovation in small-scale community projects, with the support of the Gal Xlokk Foundation and Heritage Malta.

Students from the Department of Archaeology and Classics at the University of Malta have been carrying out excavation works at the site since 2006, uncovering a treasure trove of information on the working villa as well as Punic remains that can be dated back to the fourth century.

The Roman villa in Żejtun was discovered in 1961 when works began on a school in the area. The first archaeological dig of the site was carried out between 1970 and 1976.The Roman villa in Żejtun was discovered in 1961 when works began on a school in the area. The first archaeological dig of the site was carried out between 1970 and 1976.

The Roman villa in Żejtun was discovered in 1961, when works began on a school in the area and the first archaeological dig of the site was carried out between 1970 and 1976.

Olive oil production has strong ties to the southeast of Malta; Żejtun, in particular, is said to have once been home to acres of ancient olive groves. The name ‘Żejtun’ also originates from the Sicilian-Arabic word for olives.

The extensive Bronze Age finds in the area, including burial grounds in Tal-Barrani and villas at Tas-Silġ, in Marsaxlokk and Ta’ Kaċċatura, in Birżebbuġa, are strong indications that olive oil production was extensive in the locality during the Roman era.

An animated feature that details the history of olive oil production in the Roman villas of the southeast will also be produced as part of the project.

Unlike a domus, which was a typical domestic residence for upper class Roman citizens, a villa typically included an agro-industrial element to the building as well as residential quarters.

Works on the 3D model will be undertaken by local entertainment company Shadeena Productions, while the animated feature will be produced by Studio Seven.

“Heritage Malta is very excited with this collaboration on this unique site. A typical villa agraria, the Żejtun villa has always offered unique features and opportunities that go beyond the site’s archaeological value, which recent excavations have proved to be quite substantial,” David Cardona, Heritage Malta senior curator for Phoenician, Roman and medieval sites, said.

“The location of the site within the grounds of a school offers a unique case for a direct and continuous link between archaeology, archaeological practitioners and the school.

“This project, initiated by Wirt Iż-Żejtun, provides us with a prime tool through which the site can be understood by the public and, most importantly, by the school and its pupils within the grounds of their own school,” he added.

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