Summary of the 2018 Season

A summary of our 2018 season is now available at FASTI Online and can be accessed here.

We will also present the results of the first four seasons of fieldwork at the AIA Annual Meetings in San Diego, Jan. 3-6, 2019. Look for us in session 5E, Jan. 5, 10:45-12:45.

For a preview, here is our abstract:

Read more


End of the First Week – 2018

After a wet beginning this week (we had to wait out a rainstorm in the shed of the old farmhouse), we were finally able to lay out the new excavation areas and begin digging.

Learning how to use the Total Station.

We have two new trenches in the central area, where we are hoping to learn more about the features uncovered in 2017 (see the report posted last week) and reach habitation levels. It is slow going here because the clay fill is difficult to dig. By the end of the week we had completed passes in both trenches. On the north, Y6 has not yielded much of interest yet, but in A7 we can see the remains of a substantial brick and mortar structure that has collapsed on its side, which is possibly part of the Roman terracing.

Working in the Central Area (A7).
Digging through lots of clay on the north side of the Central Area (Y6).

On the lower terrace, where the bath complex is located, we completed one cleaning pass and we can already articulate part of the support structure for the bath continuing to the north. We have a lot more fill to get through!

This week we also had several field trips. On Tuesday we began our unit on Museum Studies and spent some time in the  antiquarium of Castiglione del Lago where the students practiced drawing objects.

In the Castiglione del Lago Antiquarium in the Palazzo della Corgna.

Afterwards we took a tour of the Medieval Fortress (1297):

On the ramparts of the Fortezza.

On Saturday we left Castiglione del Lago for a tour of some of the Etruscan sites to the southwest of Lago Trasimeno. We started at the Etruscan tombs at Sarteano, which were excavated in the early 2000’s and are now open to the public (by appointment), including the wonderfully preserved fresco paintings in the Tomb of the Quadriga. We then continued on to the Etruscan Museum in Chianciano Terme. This museum, which is housed in an old palazzo, displays the remains from many Etruscan tombs in the area. Individual tombs dating from the 7th century BC are displayed in subterranean niches that were once used as a cantina. From Chianciano Terme, we traveled to Chiusi, a city that we can see clearly from our site. In the 6th century BC, Chiusi was the most powerful Etruscan city in the region. The archaeological museum displays material from the late 9th century BC onward, providing visitors with a chronological overview of Etruscan culture.

Prof. Bevagna explaining the phases of Etruscan history in the archaeological museum of Chiusi.

Next week we have three days of field work planned—let’s hope the rain holds off!—and another field trip on Thursday.


2017 Season’s End: Press Conference and Preliminary Results

This week we completed excavation and finds processing for the Gioiella-Vaiano site; the previous week we had to contend with sudden cool weather (which was nice) combined with rainstorms (which were not). We made tremendous progress, however, thanks to the hard work of the students and staff, and were able to present our preliminary findings at a press conference organized by the Comune di Castiglione del Lago on Wed., July 5. That presentation can be seen here on YouTube:

We have identified three main components of the site so far: 1) an area with deeply-founded walls, an apse, and a substantial staircase (the bottom of which we have not yet been able to reach); 2) a bath complex of at least three rooms, with portions of the underfloor heating system intact; and 3) a large drain, perhaps an outlet for part of the baths. The site is almost certainly a large Roman villa with a lifespan of ca. the 2nd c. BC to the 3rd c. AD.

The staircase; note how the stone supports for the (probably wooden) steps were keyed into the side wall. We do not yet know how deep the staircase goes, or what parts of the site it once linked.
The apsidal building, just east of the staircase, which was later built over by a wide, heavy cement wall
Corriere dell’Umbria article; 6 July 2017

Regional media outlets picked up the story, and broadcast a story in the Corriere dell’Umbria newspaper for 6 July, and on the 5 July evening news for TGR Umbria (television; starts at about 15:38; note that it may not be viewable outside of Italy): 

Umbria 24 also ran the story:

And back in Greencastle, Indiana, it appeared in the Banner-Graphic:

State plan of the site, with the staircase and apsidal building at upper left, the drain (dug in 2016) at middle right, and the bath complex (lower right)

Our sincere thanks to the Soprintendenza dell’Umbria for permission to excavate this year, the Comune di Castiglione del Lago for sponsoring and supporting the project, the Umbra Institute for organizing the project, Stefano Spiganti of Intrageo for handling logistics and reporting, DePauw University and its alumni for providing additional support, and of course all the students who participated in the 2017 season.

The ‘complesso thermale’, or bath complex, showing the waterproof cement (cocciopesto) and small columns (pilae) of the underfloor heating system used by the Romans. There were at least three rooms to the baths, and the structure suffered heavy collapse (through which we have been digging).

2017 Excavation, 19 June update

It has been extremely hot the past two weeks, with temperatures regularly over 30 degrees Celsius (low-mid 90s Fahrenheit). With the exception of a brief shower last Thursday, there has been no rain. The clay soils on the site are barked hard. The students have handled these difficult conditions wonderfully; they’ve been willing to move the morning start time to 7:00 to avoid the worst of the heat.

We are working in two areas: Z6-7, and E2, to the southeast. We have found walls and destruction debris in both areas. The walls appear to belong to several different phases, and it will take additional excavation and analysis to work out the relative chronology, though for the moment, all materials found fall into the range of 2nd c. BC — 3rd c. AD identified on the 2015 survey.

In Z6-7 (above) to the west (at right) we have an interior space of some kind (which collapsed and was eventually roughly repaired). Further east (at left) a thick mortared wall cut across an earlier wall arc. All of these walls continue to ‘go down’ (that is, we’ve not yet found their foundations), and we are hoping to find preserved surfaces associated with the walls, perhaps with artifacts that can help us interpret function.

The function of the area in E2 seems fairly clear — a cocciopesto (waterproof cement) basin, terracotta hot air vents (tubuli), circular bricks to make colonnettes that held up the floor for a heated room, and many mosaic tesserae all suggest we are excavating debris from a bath complex.

We also continue to find sigillata italica fine table ware, several with decoration or manufacturer’s stamps, and this year we have at least three stamped tiles so far, which could help us understand where some of the construction matierals came from, if they were not made on site and potentially identify one of the owners. Since the complex was inhabited for hundreds of years, we will have to tease out the various phases of building, abandonment, and rebuilding.

We even found a tile that has two dog paw prints, evidence that the Roman canine stepped on the tile while it was drying in the sun. A nice moment frozen in terracotta.

We have experimented also with using our cm-accuracy GPS to draw individual stones in the walls, and it has worked a treat!

We are very proud of how fast the students have learned and how they’ve handled the challenging conditions. Just two weeks more of excavation and a week of processing finds. Hopefully we’ll get some answers to the history of the site, and even better, more interesting questions.

2017 Field Season Begins

Today, June 2, is the Festa della Reppublica in Italy, a national holiday that celebrates the referendum in 1946 that Italians held to decide whether to continue to be a monarchy, or to become a republic. The republic prevailed (12,717,923 to 10,719,284). For us, it is a required day off (we cannot excavate on a day when state employees cannot in theory inspect our dig). This past week, we saw our project get press in the Corriere dell’Umbria, a regional newspaper:

We also cleared and cleaned the site, calibrated the GPS (within a centimeter!), laid out the trenches (or ‘operations’), took elevation levels on the top of the soil, collected loose artifacts on the surface (including 1st c. BC – 1st c. AD Arretine wares with in planta pedis manufacturers’ stamps, black-slip, or vernice nera, of the 3rd-2nd c. BC, a nice iron nail, mosaic tesserae, and one enticing fragment of relief ware that we are waiting to examine more carefully before we dare to designate it as Etruscan bucchero…), and photographed the site.

The tops of several walls are visible, but are not quite recognizable in the photo:

We will start on Monday with four trenches: A6, A7, Z6, and Z7:

We also instructed the students in the proper and safe technique of using heavy picks, light picks, and trowels, on a section of clay vacant of any artifacts:

Yesterday we had a lecture on the history, geomorphology and environment of the Lake Trasimeno region, and then took a field trip to Tuoro sul Trasimeno, the site below which the Carthaginian general Hannibal ambushed the Roman general Gaius Flaminius on 24 June 217 BC. We also visited Isola Maggiore, a truly lovely island in the lake, here showing Castiglione del Lago, our home base, in the background:

The island was full of pheasant, and, oddly enough, a rodent called ‘dormouse’, which was a delicacy in Roman times, and which were raised definitively at the Ossaia villa near Cortona, on the north side of the lake. This was the first time I had ever seen one live:

It would be fantastic were we to find fragments of the hamster-house like ceramic houses in which the Etruscans and then Romans raised these creatures, called gliraria, examples of which can be seen at both the museum in Cortona and the one in Chiusi (clearly the Romans were farming them in our area). But we’ll have to wait and see…

2016 thank you, donors!

Thank you to our donors and funding sources for making it possible to conduct our 2016 field season!

  • DePauw University Professional Development Fund
  • DePauw University Asher Fund
  • DePauw University Naylor Fund
  • Anonymous donor
  • DePauw University Classical Studies Watkins Fund
  • DePauw University Classical Studies Mercury Fund
  • DePauw University Classical Studies Kairos Fund (see video):

music: Modà, Dov’è Sempre Sole

2016 season: Italian press coverage

The story of our 2016 field season has been picked up by several Italian news outlets:

Including the RAI TV news outlet, TG Umbria: the Sat., 9 July 2016, 19:30 edition: