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):  http://www.rainews.it/dl/rainews/TGR/multimedia/ContentItem-413a3ae1-7b7e-4690-af05-16546a0d4b46.html 

Umbria 24 also ran the story: http://www.umbria24.it/attualita/scavi-archeologici-a-la-villa-di-castiglione-del-lago-ecco-i-primi-risultati-sui-ritrovamenti

And back in Greencastle, Indiana, it appeared in the Banner-Graphic: http://www.bannergraphic.com/story/2428172.html

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 season preliminary report

We are happy to be informed that our permit for the 2017 excavation season has been issued. Below is a link to an illustrated report that summarizes our work during the 2016 season. Due to the field season shortened by heavy rains, we will combine the 2016 and 2017 seasons in our next formal publication.

2016SeasonReport (PDF, 38 MB)


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:


2015 Field Season: Publication


The results of the 2015 Field Season have been published in FASTI online:

Giampiero Bevagna – Umbra Institute, Pedar Foss – DePauw University, Rebecca Schindler – DePauw University, Stefano Spiganti – Intrageo.  “Castiglione del Lago, Gioiella site survey, 2015: preliminary report.” FASTI Online, 2016.




Conferenza Stampa/Press Conference 8 luglio 2016



8 July 2016

Castiglione del Lago—The Umbra Institute-DePauw University Archaeological Project in the Comune of Castiglione del Lago has completed the first season of excavation at the Vaiano-Gioiella ‘Villa’ site. Authorized by the Ministero dei Beni Culturali and the Soprintendenza Archeologica dell’Umbria, the archaeological project is a collaboration between The Umbra Institute (Perugia), DePauw University (Indiana, USA), and Intrageo. The excavations were conducted with the support of the Comune of Castiglione del Lago and the Archeo Trasimeno group. The excavation directors are Giampiero Bevagna (Umbra Institute), Pedar Foss (DePauw University), Rebecca Schindler (DePauw University), and Stefano Spiganti (Intrageo).

The archaeological site “La Villa” is located on a hill to the north of Lago di Chiusi. To the east of the site there is also an ancient road and a cistern for collecting water, both of which probably date to the Roman period. A surface survey of the Vaiano-Gioiella Villa site conducted in 2015 revealed that the site was occupied, but perhaps not continuously, from the 2nd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. The distribution of material recovered from the surface in 2015 also suggested that this was a large complex with at least two distinct building areas: one to the south, where fragments belonging to a thermal structure were recovered, and another to the north.

The 2016 excavation season began on 6 June. Due to the intense rain at the beginning of the month, the excavations were interrupted for over a week. In the end, the excavation team was able to work in the field for approximately 15 days. During that time four squares were excavated. Based on the survey information from 2015, the project began excavation on the eastern edge of the site. Two distinct areas of debris accumulated sue to subsequent activity on the site were uncovered as well as a collapse from a building that included roof tiles and part of a cocciopesto – over 153 kg of tile within an area of 1×4 meters. The most interesting discovery this season is a channel that was cut into the natural sediment and then covered with tiles pitched to form a triangular covering. This appears to be a drainage system, even though it does not have a bottom that would allow water to flow but was constructed directly on the natural sediment. The channel is at least 6.5 meters long but its overall length remains to be discovered.

The materials from the excavation confirm that there was a thermal complex on the site as there are examples of tiles for heating a floor, tubuli for heating the walls, and mosaic fragments. The excavations also uncovered several examples of Sigillata Italica (Aretina) with stamps from the manufacturers. Moreover, the recovery of numerous artifacts with traces of burning indicates that ceramics and possibly metals were produced at the villa complex.



8 luglio 2016

Castiglione del Lago — La ricerca archeologica condotta da The Umbra Institute-DePauw University nel Comune di Castiglione del Lago ha completato la prima campagna di scavi al sito della ‘Villa’ di Vaiano-Gioiella. Autorizzata dal Ministero dei Beni Culturali e dalla Soprintendenza Archeologica dell’Umbria, la ricerca è il risultato della collaborazione tra The Umbra Institute (Perugia), DePauw University (Indiana, Usa) e Intrageo. Gli scavi sono stati condotti con il supporto del Comune di Castiglione del Lago e del gruppo Archeo Trasimeno. I direttori dello scavo sono Giampiero Bevagna (The Umbra Institute), Pedar Foss (DePauw University), Rebecca Schindler (DePauw University) e Stefano Spiganti (Intrageo).

Il sito archeologico “La Villa” è situato su una collina a nord del Lago di Chiusi. Ad est di quest’ultimo sono presenti una strada ed una cisterna di raccolta delle acque, entrambi probabilmente di epoca romana. Una prima ricognizione intensiva della superficie della Villa di Vaiano-Gioiella, condotta nel 2015, ha rilevato che il sito fu occupato, anche se forse non in modo continuativo, dal II secolo a.C al III secolo d.C. Anche la distribuzione dei materiali trovati in superficie suggerisce che l’insediamento era un complesso di notevoli dimensioni con almeno due strutture distinte: una a sud, dove sono stati rinvenuti materiali pertinenti ad un impianto termale, e una a nord.

La campagna di scavi del 2016 ha avuto inizio il 6 giugno. A causa delle pioggie persistenti dei primi di giorni del mese, lo scavo, è stato interrotto per oltre una settimana. In totale, l’équipe di lavoro ha potuto svolgere le indagini al sito per circa 15 giorni. Durante questo periodo, sono stati scavati quattro quadrati. Sulla base delle informazioni raccolte durante la ricognizione del 2015, le ricerche sono iniziate nella parte orientale del sito. Sono state rinvenute due distinte aree di accumulo di materiale dovuto probabilmente ad una sistemazione successiva dell’area, insieme a un crollo della struttura del tetto di un edificio, composto da tegole e coppi, insieme a porzioni di pavimento in cocciopesto – oltre 153kg di tegole in un’area di 1×4 metri. La scoperta più interessante di questa campagna è una canaletta inserita nel sedimento naturale e coperta con tegole poste in modo tale da formare un triangolo. Sembra essere un sistema di drenaggio, sebbene non sia provvista di un fondo di scorrimento, ma sia collocata direttamente sul sedimento naturale. La canaletta è lunga almeno 6.5 metri, ma la sua lunghezza totale resta ancora da scoprire.

I materiali trovati nello scavo confermano l’esistenza di un complesso termale nel sito, poiché sono stati recuperati esempi di tegole pertinenti al riscaldamento del pavimento, tubuli per il riscalmento delle pareti e frammenti di mosaici. Gli scavi hanno portato alla luce anche diversi esempi di Sigillata Italica (Aretina) con bolli di fabbrica. Inoltre, il ritrovamento di numerosi materiali con tracce di incendio indicano che la ceramica e forse anche i metalli venivano prodotti nel complesso della villa.



2014 Field Season: Publication

The results of the first Trasimeno Archaeology Field School (2014) Field Season in the castle (La Rocca) of Castiglione del Lago have been published in FASTI online:

Paolo Bruschetti – Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Umbria, Stefano Spiganti – Intrageo.  “La Rocca di Castiglione del Lago (PG) Campagna di scavo 2014.” FASTI Online, 2016.



2016 Update 2: How far does it go?

Since we discovered the ditch with a channel made of pitched tiles, we have been asking ourselves three questions: what was the channel’s function, how far does it it extend, and what is its relationship to the wall in B2? By the end of last week, we had traced the tile feature west from operation B1 to operation B2. When we realized that the channel extends beyond the edge of the wall and likely beyond the western edge of B2, we decided to section B2 in order to save time and to address the question of the stratigraphic relationship between the channel and the wall.

Connor works to uncover the top of the tiles in B1.
The excavation area keeps getting smaller!

As we cleared the fill off the top of the tile feature, we realized that portions of the wall had collapsed on top of the channel, indicating that at least the top of the channel remained open up until the period of abandonment of the site. However, the wall itself was constructed after the channel. The top of the tiles are several centimeters below the bottom of the wall and the wall was founded on the natural (i.e., geological) sediment, which in this area of the site is clay rather than sand. Unlike B1, where the channel is cut into sand, in B2 it was cut into clay. Those sedimentary layers overlap each other almost exactly at the line between our two operations (B1 and B2).

View across B1 and B2 showing the channel with the tile feature and the wall.

But what was the purpose of the channel? When we first exposed the pitched tiles in B1, we had several theories: a burial, a drain, a stokehole for a kiln or a bath house. Given the length of the feature, it was most likely a drain. But it was clearly blocked by an end tile on the eastern end. We removed the fill on either side of the last set of tiles and then removed both of those tiles and the end tile. To our surprise, the ‘drain’ had no bottom! On the eastern end it was constructed directly on the sand sediment. To know for sure, we even dug out a section of the sand. There is nothing there.

Rebecca and Sara working on the east end of the channel to excavate the sediment around the last set of tiles.
The ‘drain’ was constructed directly on sand (at least on the east end)!

Now that we have exposed the channel across most of B2, we have sectioned off another set of  tiles next to the portion of the wall that was constructed more systematically and founded at a deeper level than the western end. Here our plan is to excavate the fill on either side of the tiles and then to lift them (as we did on the eastern end) to see whether there is a bottom, or whether this section was also constructed on the natural sediment (in this case, clay).

Section of the channel next to the wall. At this point the channel was cut into sedimentary clay.

We also extended the excavation area to the south (operation C2). Here we encountered a dense deposit of roof tiles and other building material (including a chunk of cocciopesto flooring) but no pottery at all. We found 69 fragments of pan tiles, 74 pieces of imbrices (rounded tiles that fit over the joins of the pan tiles to keep rain from coming in). Altogether, we removed 153.24 kilograms (337.13 lbs) of tile, all from an area of only 1×4 meters. This material either collapsed from a building very close by or was redeposited here from somewhere else on the site. We will have to wait until next year to find out where that building might be.

Dense collapse of tiles and other building materials in operation C2.

The students will spend the next week helping to process the finds and working with the museum in Castiglione del Lago.

The end of season 1 at Gioella!