During one of our first lectures upon arriving at Castiglione Del Lago, Professor Foss, one of the teachers leading this archaeological dig, told us that archaeology is like reassembling a puzzle, but you do not know the initial picture… and you only had ten percent of the pieces. The validity of that statement did not resonate with me until I saw that very professor’s eyes light up after I showed him a small shard of black pottery.
“Great job Jack,” Professor Foss said after discussing with a couple of his colleagues about this mysterious piece of pottery. Just because of this one piece of pottery, our professors developed multiple ideas not only about the origin and use of the bowl it came from, but about the site as a whole. His enthusiasm inspired me to start thinking about not just if each shard of pottery was important in its own right, but what this piece could tell us about the site as a whole. In a previous article published by the professors leading this excavation at the Gioiella site, they found 12,734 objects during a basic survey of the area. Among these pieces was a high concentration of coarseware as well as other cookware which led them to believe that this site was used for production of domestic wares (Bevagna, Foss, Shindler, Spiganti 2017). These findings in the initial survey translated to the actual excavation, but with an increase on the discovery of the fineware, evidence of carbon and oxidized iron deposits, as well as other burnt pottery, which suggests that this site was a place where coarse and cookware was being produced for their own economic ventures. According to Tamara Lewit, the production of personal tableware, whether fine or semifine, as well as coarseware, happened throughout all of Roman territory for personal use (Lewit 2017). This feature of Roman villas may apply to the excavation of our potential villa. There is an excess of coarseware and tiles on site, although there have been no discoveries of stamps which would indicate if the production of the tiles or pots were domestically produced or imported from other sites. Among the finds that we have discovered, there have been two significant pieces of fineware that are broken, but our team has been able to recover most of the shards, giving us a nearly whole piece (see (Image 1).
After a week of work, the professors in charge took us to museums that presented pieces of pottery and other artifacts that are from the same area that our site is located. We first visited the Etruscan Academy Museum, which sported a vast selection of not only Etruscan wares, but the art of every civilization that occupied the area until current day, including the time period that our site was occupied (roughly 2nd century BC to the 3rd century AD). One of their main attractions was an excavated roman villa called Ossaia that was in operation the same time that our site had been (see Images 2 and 3 for reference to pieces similar to Gioiella sire pieces). Ossaia not only used the same agricultural methods as our site in terraced farming, but also sported similar fineware pot and cups that we have been uncovering and had substantial proof that they produced their own pottery for their own economic ventures (Gualtieri Rossini Moroni 2017). Next, we went to the National Etruscan Museum in Chusi, which also had pieces from the same time period as our site. After viewing the pieces at these museums, I could not help but think about the extremely similar pieces that are from the same time periods of our site (see Image 4). After further investigation on my own, I discovered that they were from villas that were contemporaries of our site. Unlike our site however, the other Roman villas where these pieces have been discovered were vastly more excavated and researched. It is through this that I believe that not only the villas were contemporaries of ours, but the people who lived there were as well.
With the amount and quality of the pieces we have been uncovering in only one week of excavation, and only after digging 12 centimeters past the initial strata of tilled soil, I am optimistic for further finds that can make us comfortable with calling this site an ancient Roman villa. Through that assumption, we can also conclude that this villa was both producing its own pieces of pottery, and importing other fineware pieces from other sites along the countryside, signifying that this site was occupied by affluent aristocrats, like many of the others in the Val di Chiana.
Figure 1: our discovery of the first large piece of fineware at our site in Gioiella, still in the ground, but when extracted, formed a very artistic bowl.
Images 2 and 3 are from the Ossaia villa in the Cortona museum. Both of these pieces were produced during the same period that our site would have been in operation.
Figure 4 shows a rim and bowl base from a villa in the Chiana valley around the same time as our site would have been in operation.
- Bevagna, G., P. Foss, R. Schindler, and S. Spiganti. “Castiglione Del Lago, Gioiella Site Survey, 2015: Preliminary Report.” Associazione Internazionale De Archeologia Classica(2015): 21.FastiOnlineDocuments&Research. Web. 9 June 2017.
- Fracchia, H., 2006b, “Middle to Late Imperial Ceramic Production and Evolution in the Southern Val di Chiana”, in D Malfitana, et al. (eds.), Old Pottery in a New Century, Catania. 2017.
- Gualtieri, M., Rossini G., Moroni B., “Campana plaques from Ossaia – La Tufa (Cortona, Arezzo): from archaeological hypotheses to archaeometric results” in Periodico di Mineralogia. 2017.
- Lewit, Tamara. “The Lessons of Gaulish Sigillata and Other Finewares.” Local Economies?(n.d.): 227-57. Brill Online Books and Journals. Web. 9 June 2017.
- Marzano, Annalisa. Roman Villas in Central Italy: A Social and Economic History. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2007. Print.