Before going to the Gioiella site for the first time, I tried to keep an open mind about what the excavation would be like, but assumed it would be a lot of hard work for a few shards of pottery. I ended up being right about the hard work, but I definitely underestimated the number of finds. So far, we have accumulated about twenty boxes full of artifacts, mostly pieces of coarseware, fineware, roof tiles, and tesserae, and have also found a wall. In a way, excavating at the site is a lot more interesting than I thought it would be because it’s like solving a mystery in which each artifact is a clue. With each new find, you have to ask yourself where the object came from, what its function was, and how it got to be where you found it, using its location, condition, and nearby finds to help you discover its past life and solve the mystery.
After the initial days of clearing away many wheelbarrows’ worth of heavy clay, I began to grow attached to one of the original two loci, B1. Its southeast corner, where we found a layer of sand on top of the otherwise homogenous clay on the first day, was the first place I helped dig and has been my favorite place to work ever since. On the subsequent days, I worked in A1 some, but mostly in B1. Although B1 revealed itself to be largely composed of sand untouched by humans, we found part of a wall perpendicular to the western side, as well as a strip of clay in the sand parallel to the southern side of B1 leading up next to the wall. Because the clay was full of human debris (coarseware shards, rocks, and charcoal deposits evidencing burning) while the sand around it had no human artifacts, we could tell that where the clay is now had once been a trench dug into the sand.
Inside the trench under the debris, we found the top of a perplexing row of terracotta roof tiles standing on edge. When we uncovered the top of the first tile, we hypothesized that it had fallen off a building and landed on its edge in the clay during the final days of the structure. In order to understand the tile, we had to uncover its context by scraping away a layer of clay around it. In doing so, we found a another tile on end next to it, along with two more pairs of tile standing on edge next to it, making a line of three tile pairs running east to west. On top of the end of the easternmost tile, we found a conglomerate of rocks. Based on the evidence up to that point, we were convinced it was an early Christian burial. In late Roman times, tile were sometimes used for graves by members of the lower class, like the example from Ajaccio, Corsica, shown below.
Istria, Daniel. Roman grave covered by roof tiles. Digital image. Inrap. Inrap, 9 June 2005. Web. 21 June 2016. <http://amenageurs.inrap.fr/preventive-archaeology/Press-release/2005/p-1346-lg2-Discovery-of-an-Early-Christian-Baptistery-in-Ajaccio.htm>.
Christians were buried facing the east and stones were sometimes put over the head, which matched the direction of our trench and the location of its stones. However, as we kept digging, we found more pairs of tile in the line that continued into the undug bulk, which greatly decreased the likelihood of a burial. The new hypotheses included a double burial (unlikely), a cover for a drainpipe to disperse the weight of the soil away from the pipe, and a stokehole for a bathhouse. The tile seemed to lead up to the wall, strengthening the probability of either a stokehole or drainpipe. The problem with the these theories is that the the structure was on a hill, so a drainpipe wouldn’t really have been necessary, and we haven’t found much other evidence for a bathhouse.
Today, we found a tile perpendicular to the pairs on the eastern side, used as an end piece. Based on the fact that the clay around it is the same as the clay surrounding the other tile, we can tell they were all put in at the same time. The endpiece makes the drainpipe and stokehole hypotheses very improbable, leaving us with quite a mystery. We won’t be able to fully understand until we discover what’s under the tile, but it’s important to not be too hasty with digging or we might miss something. As we were working on exposing the tile by removing a layer of clay at a time, we found a significant decrease in the amount of debris contained in the clay. The change in the content of the clay points to the possibility that some sediment was put in upon the construction of the tile, with a debris-filled layer added later. Even with this possibility, the row of tile pairs is still a mystery that must be solved by more excavation.
Rough Drawing of B1 as of 21.06.16, 1=1m