In my opinion the most interesting day of excavation thus far has been day three on June 9th. It had rained the prior three excavation days, mainly in the afternoons around 3:00 pm CEST, causing excavations to be halted early. On June 9th it rained in the early morning around 8:30 am CEST, thus delaying excavation for about an hour. Previously the excavation team had only been able to begin removing the topsoil layer of trench CLG16 B1 and CLG16 A1. After the rain delay in the morning, we got to work clearing the remainder of the topsoil from CLG16 A1 and found a sandy layer present in both trench CLG16 B1 and CLG16 A1. We were able to clear two passes across trench CLG16 A1 in which we found many promising items, adding to the mystery of the site’s exact nature and function. Of the items found in trench CLG16 A1, four small finds, Arretine ware, game pieces, tesserae, and cocciopesto caught my attention as they provided a mired of theories and hypothesis to ponder over.
A few pieces of pottery bases we uncovered contain inscriptions indicating that they are high-quality goods from Arezzo, a town about an hour away from Chiusi, the location of our site. This pottery is known as Arretine ware, which is reddish-brown earthenware found on Roman sites, as well as other pieces of pottery debris such as amphora fragments, indicating an abundance of storage ware (Arretine Ware). Arretine ware became popular in the Tuscan and surrounding regions as shiny, decorated pottery, once that would be used for dining by the wealthy, hence the villa hypothesis. The storage vessels also add to the villa hypothesis as such a structure would in theory produce a lot of local goods such as wheat, olives, and grapes and thus need an abundance of storage space and vessels.
We also found what may be two small, rounded game pieces. These artifacts are about two centimeters in diameter and have a slight green color. The ancient Romans had many games of chance that involved dice and/or game boards (Thompson). We will have to properly clean these pieces and conduct further research to discern their true purpose, but if they are game pieces it would only further back the theory that our site is that of a Roman villa.
We uncovered an abundance of black and white tesserae cubes that were present in CLG16 B1 and CLG16 A1, used mainly for decoration on buildings. These square cubes were mainly cut from marble, tile, glass, and sometimes shells. A base of mortar would have been prepared with the tesserae positioned close together to eliminate any gaps, which would have been filled with a liquid mortar. The whole mosaic design would then have been cleaned and polished. The Romans were influenced by the Greek Hellenistic approach to mosaics, often depicting scenes from Greek mythology (Cartwright). The main Roman style in Italy used only black and white tesserae which, in the 3rd century C.E., was often used to portray marine motifs that commonly adorned Roman baths (Cartwright). Although at this time we have yet to uncover any intact examples of mosaics, the fact that we have found so many pieces in CLG16 A1 and CLG16 B1 indicates that a structure in this site was well decorated, possibly in the typical Roman style.
There was also a lot of cocciopesto, a lime-based mortar used as a coating for waterproofing flooring, found in both trenches. Researchers state that in the 4th century, the Greeks discovered layers of volcanic deposits which they mixed with slaked lime and sand, thus creating mortar (The History). The Romans found the same layer of volcanic deposit at Vesuvius. They would later take this knowledge and invent another type of waterproofing mortar with lime and crushed ceramics that would become cocciopesto (The History). At the same time we uncovered what seemed to be chunks of sulfur, leading to the suspicion that the site could have actually been a therapeutic hot spring as were and still are common throughout Umbria and Tuscany. Roman engineers devised systems of aqueducts, improved from Greek design, to carry water to the baths. Roman baths were installed in private villas, townhouses, and forts. If this were a thermal bath, or at least a bath within the villa, we would expect to find some sort of hydraulic/aqueduct system (Aaland). There was also a small number of quarter-round tiles found throughout the site, which in ancient times would have been used to raise floor levels to allow for warm air to flow under flooring. Another, probably more plausible theory is that the sulfur was used for making plaster for walls. As we continued to scrape away the layers of soil, we found pieces of raw material for making plaster, leading to another theory that the site might have been a manufacturing/workhouse.
I have to admit that the first few days of excavation were hard and a bit confusing. I suspect they did not match anyone’s expectations of an archaeological dig, but once we removed the top layers of soil and began to dig in the trenches the whole excavation process became much more exciting, yet, it also created many more questions. We have been excavating for about ten days and we have yet to uncover any indisputable evidence as to the function of the site. Based on what evidence we have uncovered it seems like we may either be excavating a Roman villa or a Roman workshop, both of which could easily contain the four small finds we have uncovered. We still have a lot more work to complete before we fully understand what our site contains, which contributes to the excitement of this archaeological experience.