Update: Week Four

After a challenging start to the season because of the rain and the cold, last week we were able to excavate every day. Now we are dealing with the heat. To avoid the worst of it we are leaving for the field at 5:30 am and working until 12:30 pm; fortunately our favorite bar in Castiglione del Lago opens at 5:30!

Efforts in the central area of the site have focused on the building first identified in 2017. Our hypothesis about the function of this structure changed several times over the course of the week: at first we thought we might have a production area, possibly for wine or oil; but after removing several strata of accumulated fill, it now appears that we may have a dining area with decorative wall plaster inserted into niches that alternate with large pilasters

View looking East of the Central Area at the beginning of the week.
View looking East of the Central Area at the end of the week.

In the Middle Ages at least part of this building was still visible because we evidence of a robber trench on the north side.

P. Foss explaining to the students how to recognize a robber trench.

Work also continues in the area of the bath house. We are still working through late (probably Medieval) re-use of the area. However, some notable finds have come from that part of the site, including a nicely carved marble cornice and several examples of nearly complete tubuli – the ceramic pipes the Romans used to heat their buildings. Charlie Locke shows off one example here:

The students are all working hard and learning new skills, such as how to wield a pick-axe properly:

Maggie Ephraim. DePauw 2021

As well as the more delicate work of cleaning the cocciopesto (plaster decoration) on the walls:

Kayla Kane, Wellesley 2022

At the end of the week, our friends at the Trasimeno Sailing Club invited us for evening on Lago Trasimeno. A perfect ending to an exciting week. We are looking forward to what next week will bring.


Trasimeno 2019: Ready to start…

The students are here but the weather is not cooperating.

The 2019 Trasimeno Archaeology Students

We have arrived in Castiglione del Lago for our fifth season of fieldwork at the Vaiano-Gioiella villa site. Eleven students from schools across the U.S. have joined us this season. Unfortunately it has rained continuously this week and the site is completely soaked; we hope to begin excavations early next week. In the meantime, the students are attending classroom sessions on archaeological method, museum studies, and the history of Umbria from the Etruscan era through the Roman Empire. We have also organized a field trip to Chianciano Terme and Chiusi.

When we do get out to the site we have several goals for this season. On the lower terrace we have now identified three rooms of a bath complex, at least two of which had a hypocaust system for heating the floors and walls. This season we will expand the excavation of the bath complex to the east to determine the size of the apsidal room (Room 2) first identified in 2017 and perhaps to locate the furnace that would have provided the hot air for the hypocaust.

The Bath Complex, 2017-2018

The bath complex appears to be the earliest construction on this part of the site and may date to the 1st century BC. To the north and west of the apsidal room (Room 2) there is evidence of later construction, perhaps related to some kind of industrial work. To learn more about this, we plan to expand the excavation to the west. Ultimately we plan to connect the excavation of the lower terrace with the Central Area.

In the Central Area, we plan to continue the excavation of the two squares from 2018, A6 and A7, where at the very end of the season we found the bottom of the stairs, which were first uncovered in 2017, and a small area of tile floor that is cemented into what appears to be a cocciopesto basin. This certainly seems to be a processing room, probably for liquids.

Central Area, 2017-2018

Since the cocciopesto basin appears to be below a cobble and tile wall with an aperture, it is possible that we have a torcularium, a Roman wine press. The aperture would have held the wooden beam used to create a fulcrum for pressing the grapes and the liquid would have run into the basin. To the north of the stairs we appear to have virgin clay, thus this season in addition to re-opening squares A6 and A7, we will expand excavations to the south and work in B7.

In addition to excavation, this year we will begin a study of the coarse ware ceramics from the villa. We have identified a variety of fabrics that were used in the production of the coarse wares. Prof. Jim Mills from DePauw University will be joining us for three weeks to make thin sections of the fabrics for analysis. We will also continue our photogrammetry program. For a taste of that project, please check out our Digital Site Museum.

Check back here for updates throughout the season.

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):  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 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