A New Way To Restore Ancient Roman Mosaics
Professor Uses the Tools of His Trade at Moroccan Ruins
As a geophysicist, Ahmed Lachhab never imagined he would be applying the same tools he uses to study lakes in Pennsylvania to help archeologists in Morocco.
Yet in an article published in the academic journal Archeological Prospection, Lachhab, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Susquehanna, lays out how he used ground-penetrating radar to help archeologists preserve ancient Roman mosaics at Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in northwestern Morocco.
“Volubilis is an ancient Roman city that dates to about the third century B.C.,” Lachhab explains. “It was a prosperous city marked by attractive villas with large mosaic floors that illustrate ancient Roman mythology.”
Lachhab first encountered Volubilis in 2018 when he began taking students there through Susquehanna University’s Global Opportunities study-abroad program. During the GO Morocco experience, students engaged in a daylong workshop where they explore Volubilis, its history and learn how to restore sections of the damaged Roman mosaics.
The Romans built the mosaics in a prescribed way, layering mortar atop a foundation of soil and boulders. Over the ensuing years, the foundations of the mosaics have shifted, leading to the mosaics becoming unleveled, fractured and separated from their surrounding walls.
“When the site first underwent restoration between 1940 and 1950, archaeologists lifted the mosaic and re-laid it over rebar-enforced concrete slabs,” Lachhab says. “This is a very labor-intensive process that is nearing the end of its lifespan, meaning the mosaics are again in need of restoration.”
Instead, Lachhab proposed using the tools of his trade — laser level survey, drone photogrammetry and ground-penetrating radar — at Volubilis’ House of Venus and the House of Dionysos. As a geophysicist, Lachhab normally uses these techniques to determine the volume of water and sediment deposits in lakes and man-made reservoirs. At Volubilis, he surveyed three mosaics: Dionysos and the Four Seasons, Diana’s Bath, and Bacchus and the Four Seasons.
He first used a self-leveling laser to survey the surface of the mosaic, noting where the rippling and sinking is. He then used a drone to take a series of detailed photographs of these mosaics and created 3D photogrammetry models and orthomosaics maps (a series of photos pieced together to create a larger detailed images) to inspect surface features and accurately measure their spatial dimensions. Finally, Lachhab surveyed the mosaics using ground-penetrating radar to collect 2D profiles and create 3D diagrams of the mosaic layer down to 50 cm depth.
“The integration of the three techniques was proven to be necessary to assess the actual state of these mosaics,” Lachhab says. “Most importantly, the GPR shows the presence of void spaces — places where the land has settled — sometimes on both sides of the concrete slab, as well as the presence of fissures that are both restricted internally beneath the mosaic and/or crossing the entire mosaic layer all the way to the surface.”
Now, instead of lifting the entire mosaic, the archaeologists used Lachhab’s maps to locate any areas of void beneath the mosaic and fill only that space with binding material, using a syringe inserted into the mosaic.
“It’s a much more noninvasive method when beginning the restoration process on these ancient works of art,” Lachhab explains.
Lachhab presented his findings at a recent meeting of the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics in Bulgaria. Likely the only geophysicist in the room, he was approached by other archaeologists eager to have him survey their sites elsewhere in Bulgaria and Greece.
“This is a breakthrough in the field of archaeology,” Lachhab says. “It gives a good feeling to be preserving these precious mosaics that have been there for over 2,000 years. I’m enjoying this learning process as well, and it is Susquehanna’s GO program that brought this about.”
Zombies Bring a New ‘Revelation’
By Haley Dittbrenner ’25
Thirty years ago, Thomas Martin, associate professor of religious studies, began teaching what he describes as “the most dangerous book in the Bible.” For the past decade, he has incorporated zombie media into his curriculum to curate the course Book of Revelation/Zombie Apocalypse so students could understand the biblical apocalypse in a contemporary way.
“Students are into zombies,” Martin says. “Some students are best friends with zombies.”
Martin asserts that his class is a serious biblical studies course — zombie movies are simply a way of getting familiar with interpreting apocalyptic texts. While the course fills the ethics requirement of Susquehanna’s Central Curriculum, it is geared toward students interested in biblical interpretation and what the Bible says about the end of the world.
Throughout the semester-long course, students analyze three zombie movies and similar passages in the Book of Revelation. One movie, Dawn of the Dead, introduces students to the idea of the classic apocalypse and how the Book of Revelation could also be considered classic.
Later in the semester, students watch Shaun of the Dead, a parody of stereotypical zombie media. The class discusses what constitutes a parody, and how making fun of a zombie apocalypse changes its message. Using these ideas, students question whether the Book of Revelation could be considered parody, and how that would change interpretations of it.
The final film, Warm Bodies, explores the idea of ostracization at the end of the world. “There are places in the Book of Revelation where it appears all the bad people have been sent to hell and are just gone. But then they curiously show up as extras in the story of the New Jerusalem,” Martin says. “Are the damned really damned, or is there hope for them in the Book of Revelation?”
Martin, who has published numerous papers on interpreting biblical literature, including The Silence of God and Angels Run Amok, instructs his students to read the Bible responsibly and nonviolently. For many students, this is the real revelation.
“I have the best job in the world, because every day I get to mess around inside 20-year-olds’ brains,” he says. “And when that works, and they realize what’s happening, and the lights go on, that’s magic. And I love the magic.”
Professors’ Research Featured in New York Times, on NBC
Ongoing research from Nick Clark, chair and professor of political science, and Rolfe Peterson, associate professor of political science, was the subject of a New York Times article, “Was Election Denial Just a Passing Threat? Or is it here to stay?” Their research examines opinions surrounding the veracity of the 2020 presidential election and whether a voter’s geographic location plays a role.
Professor of History Ed Slavishak appeared in an episode of NBC’s Emmy Award–winning show, Who Do You Think You Are? At the beginning of the program, Slavishak shares his findings on the life and political career of actor Zachary Quinto’s great-grandfather, including an especially interesting discovery that would factor into Quinto’s future acting career.
Recent Alumnae Awarded Fulbrights
Two Susquehanna recent alumnae are recipients of the prestigious Fulbright U.S. English Teaching Assistant award from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.
Madelyn Correllus ’23 graduated from Susquehanna with departmental, Latin and university honors, earning bachelor’s degrees in psychology and music. Her Fulbright award will allow her to pursue her master’s degree in sociology at the University of Sheffield in England, where she will study topics concerning identity, gender and diversity during the 2023–24 academic year.
“I’ve always been interested in the way that people think and how society shapes people’s beliefs and attitudes,” Correllus said. “In England, I plan to study current social issues from a sociological perspective, strengthen my research skills and explore qualitative research methods.”
As a student at Susquehanna, Correllus completed an independent research project for the university’s Honors Program that examined committed relationship ideology and fear of being single, which she presented at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference. In addition to her independent research, Correllus also collaborated on a directed research project and worked as a research assistant for Nick Ungson, assistant professor of psychology. She also performed a senior flute recital at SU and plans to continue playing by participating in ensembles at the University of Sheffield.
Correllus said she considered applying for the Fulbright for some time but was undecided about tackling the rigorous application process until she spent a semester abroad in the Czech Republic through Susquehanna’s Global Opportunities study-abroad program, adding that it was “a transformational experience for her.”
Grace Tepes ’23, of Northampton, Pennsylvania, will spend 10 months in Germany teaching English to students.
Tepes’ upcoming Fulbright experience in Germany will be her third time studying in the country. She traveled to Germany as a high school student and returned to spend a semester in Freiburg, a city in the country’s Black Forest, through Susquehanna’s Global Opportunities studyabroad program.
“During my semester abroad, I took courses in German history, literature, film and grammar, as well as in environmental policies and green business,” Tepes said. “Studying in Freiburg was a wonderful experience. The beauty of the landscape appeals to me and I enjoy being able to use my knowledge of the German language. I also have ancestral roots in Germany and Austria.”
After completing her Fulbright experience, Tepes plans to pursue a career in laboratory work to capitalize on her biochemistry major.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the federal government. It is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program currently operates in over 160 countries worldwide.Return to top