Picking Up the Pieces: Determining the Social Status of the Gioiella Site Through our Initial Findings

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.


Works Cited:

  • 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.

The Sharing of Lake Trasimeno by the Etruscan Cities of Chiusi, Cortona, and Perugia

Lake Trasimeno is a fascinating aspect of the local landscape not only because of its shallow depths and sole dependence on rainfall, but also because scholars believe that it was a shared aquatic resource for three powerful Etruscan cities: Chiusi, Cortona, and Perugia. The reason that the sharing of Lake Trasimeno is puzzling to Archaeologists and Historians alike is because we don’t know how they negotiated the terms of use. Although Archaeologists have discovered Etruscan inscriptions about the boundaries of the three cities, there haven’t been any records describing how they managed the Lake. The lack of records of possible negotiations regarding use of the Lake leaves room for theories to develop, one of which I will be discussing in this post.

It is possible that in the early stages of Chiusi’s, Cortona’s, and Perugia’s presence in the area, they competed for the natural aquatic resources of the Lake, such as fish and reeds. However, competition can lead to over-extraction, which can lead to the degradation the Lake’s already limited resources. All three of the cities would feel the repercussions of the resource depletion, and they may have been persuaded by this fear to come to an agreement regarding the use of Lake Trasimeno (there have been multiple sanctuaries found around the the Lake, indicating that it may have been sacred space which may have played a part in the negotiations). However, after researching the structure of shared aquatic resources of the present day, such as the  Yellow Sea, East China Sea and Lake Titicaca, in Peru, I’ve managed to piece together an anthropological parallel of why Chiusi, Cortona, and Perugia decided to share Lake Trasimeno.

During my research, I came across a similar situation to that of Lake Trasimeno in the twentieth century with the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. The China Seas have been used by China, Japan, and both North and South Korea for centuries, however the competition between the nations caused over-fishing, which depleted stocks and posed a threat to the already fragile aquatic ecosystem (Xue 2005, 365). This resulted in the Sino-Japanese Agreement being signed between China and Japan, and the Sino-Korean Agreement being signed between China and the Republic of Korea, in order to manage aquatic boundaries and maintain the ecosystem they all relied on. (Xue 2005, 366).

If this over-extraction situation were to have taken place with Lake Trasimeno, then it is likely that Chiusi, Cortona, and Perugia would have decided to come to an agreement regarding sharing the Lake instead of completely depleting it. This idea is a global phenomenon that Göran Dave and Mohiudan Munawar comment on by saying that “as the degradation of the environment became readily apparent, political will to stop degradation lead to the formation of new national and international agreements to reduce pollution” (Dave et al. 2014, 440). Therefore, theoretically, the three cities could have either come to a formal or informal agreement. They could have come to a formal, written agreement like the China Seas, or they may have come to an informal one like Lake Titicaca, in Peru. The 151 fishing communities around Lake Titicaca have certain “exclusive, though informal, rights,” meaning that the communities recognize the others’ territories without a written record of boundaries (Levieil et al. 1990, 367).

Although the real reasoning behind the sharing of Lake Trasimeno may be lost to us, or simply undiscovered, the idea of over-exploitation is simply one of potentially many theories. Chiusi, Cortona, and Perugia may have decided to develop either a formal or informal agreement over the Lake, or they may have constantly fought over it for generations. This anthropological parallel simply poses one possible situation that the three cities may have found themselves in, which would have called for negotiations over the Lake to take place.



Dave, Göran and Mohiuddin Munawar. 2014. “Aquatic Ecosystems Across Boundaries: Significance of International Agreements and Cooperation.” Aquatic ecosystem Health and Management 17 (4): 437-46. doi: 10.1080/14634988.2014.978245.

East China Sea. From FreeWorldMaps.net. http://www.freeworldmaps.net/ocean/eastchinasea/.

Lago Trasimeno. From Smore.com. https://www.smore.com/wa9f-mosaics-with-karla-duterloo.

Levieil, Dominique P. and Benjamin Orlove. 1990. “Local Control of Aquatic Resources: Community and Ecology in Lake Titicaca, Peru.” American Anthropologist 92 (2): 362-82. http://www.jstor.org/stable/680150.

Map of Copacabana & Lake Titicaca. From Lonely Planet. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/south-america/bolivia/copacabana-and-lake-titicaca/.

Xue, Guifang (Julia). 2005. “Bilateral Fisheries Agreements for the Cooperative Management of the Shared Resources of the China Seas: A Note.” Ocean Development and International Law 36: 363-74. doi: 10.1080/00908320500308767.




Agriculture and Archaeology: Looking Back and Forward


There is no doubt that the study of archaeology is intrinsically linked with the quality of the soil on the site being observed.  But what can the composition of the soil teach  us to better understand the relationship between strata and the artifacts found there?  This question becomes increasingly significant when we understand what tools were used in working the land.  The ability to work soil and make agriculture manageable is a hallmark of human ingenuity and as such is witnessed to be heavily intertwined with different cultures’ iconography and mythology.  In Etruria, there is a common myth centering around farmers’ agricultural development and the tools they utilized  hinting to the tools’ symbolic meaning.  Common on cinerary urns dated to the 2nd century B.C.E. is imagery depicting “The hero who fights with the plow” as seen in figure 1.  This myth reveals potential social upheaval in Etruscan society at the time and the depiction of agricultural tools solidifies their significance within local history not only as a staple of farming life but also as a symbolic tool in understanding the definition of city boundaries. (Archaeological museum of Chiusi 2017).  The plow, in particular, was a necessary tool used in planning a city and tilling its boundaries was often the first step as well as a sacred religious practice.   This solidifies the plow not only as a necessary tool in human agricultural development but as an important symbolic one.  The social upheaval during the 2nd century B.C.E is centered around the Etruscans’ conflict with incoming Romans.  The depiction of a tool, necessary for drawing city lines and agriculture, being used as a weapon directly addresses the Etruscans’ appeal to incoming Roman power.


Fig 1. The Hero Who Fights with a Plow

The act of tilling earth, while necessary for the aeration of soil, inherently disturbs the original stratification of what is being worked.  This can result in tillage erosion directly threatening the geomorphology and soil distribution of the area.  It is incredibly relevant in the field of archaeology that each and every strata of soil must be examined to understand the basis of humans’ interaction with the area.  While this impact has always been recognizable in the redistribution of soil layer, for the majority of human history tilling has been accomplished through the use of animal drawn plows which statistically do not reach the same levels of redistribution that modern day, mechanized implements do (Van Oost K. et al 2006).  The introduction of mechanized agriculture in the form of motorized vehicles and plows substantially lessened the workload that individuals were forced to undertake while increasing the amount of soil disruption possible (Van Oost K. et al 2006).  Fig 2 depicts a comparison of such devices and the size of the implements speaks to the difference in workload that an animal-powered device can exert compared to a mechanized one which potentially reaches meters farther.  In this regard the effects of modern, mechanized agricultural production are immediately apparent to the archaeologist who must deal with these disturbed strata of soil.


Plow Smaller

Figure 2. Comparison of ancient and mechanized plow

It is obvious that these practices disturb soil layers and their accessibility to the archaeologist, but they also result in the countless destruction of sites and artifacts that lie just below the earth (Keller Donald, Rupp David 1983).  The direct impact of agricultural tilling is apparent on our work on the Gioiella site where modern, mechanized farm equipment has disturbed multiple strata of soil and heavily broken up a number of artifacts including Arretine ware, terracotta tiles, and other cookware implements.  In figure 3, the disruption of soil strata is clearly evident and with continuous tilling multiple layers are mixed together with any fragile artifacts suffering potential damage.  While it is not possible to determine whether or not these methods result in all of the damage found at the Gioiella site, there is not doubt that continuous tilling has resulted in the disruption of soil strata and artifacts.

Soil TIll Smaller
Fig 3. Disturbed Soil strata at the Gioiella site

And this is where our studies at Gioiella as archaeologists and the local history of Italy intertwine on a deeper level.  The previously discussed disruption of soil strata is clearly visible in the farmland worked in figures 3 and 4 in the sunflower fields.  The prevalence of the hero myth, common in Etruscan culture, has briefly highlighted the significance of agricultural tools in the both the agricultural sphere and religious sphere of human culture.   As such there is a bitter irony that modern developments in mechanized agriculture have reached the point where they may so easily destroy this rich history.  This conflict is unavoidable as humans always refine methods to work their land more efficiently.  However, we must use our understanding of this disruption to grasp the relationship between human development in the past and the present.

Fig 4. Example of Soil Tilling at the Gioiella site

Works Cited

“Cinerary Urns” Archaeological Museum of Chiusi, 2017

Donald R. Keller, David W. Rupp “Archaeological Survey in the Mediterranean Area” B A R International Series 155, pp. 1-15 1983

Van Oost, G. Govers, S. De Alba T. A. Tillage erosion: a review of controlling factors and implications for soil quality”  Quine Progress in Physical GeographyVol 30, Issue 4, pp. 443 – 466 First published date: August-19-2016


Etruscan and Roman Museums

During my stay in Castiglione del Lago, I’ve been able to visit many of the surrounding cities. Each city is a work of art in itself, and their history and architecture have made an indelible impression on me. More importantly, in regard to my courses on Roman and Etruscan history, we have visited museums in these cities to observe how they portray the history of the Etruscans and Roman expansion, namely the Etruscan Academy Museum of the City in Cortona, and the Museo Etrusco in Chianciano Terme.

In the Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona, one of the most important things I noticed is that all the informational cards in the museum are in Italian and English. It can sometimes be frustrating to visit museums in foreign countries when the information is present yet inaccessible due to a language barrier. The exhibit that specifically caught my attention was the Etruscan burials and grave goods. In order to communicate the idea of an Etruscan tumulus, an artificial hill created from dirt, the museum provides a diorama of a burial mound showing the outer facade as well as the inner chambers. The mounds were mainly used as family tombs containing many rooms and corridors filled with grave goods for use by the deceased in the afterlife. The museum illustrates the process and function of tumuli using dioramas and poster boards to educate all audience members, not only those who have studied the subject.


The museum exhibits themselves are very spacious and can be easily viewed from various angles, allowing visitors to see most, if not all, of the objects on display, rather than a limited view obscured by walls. Something I had not seen before in a history museum is the tactile, hands-on objects which visitors can touch. At first I thought a stone statue leading to the burial exhibits was an actual artifact, as most history museums I’ve visited discourage patrons from touching or even getting too close to the artifacts. I thought it was a very creative and engaging way to incorporate the visitors into the museum’s collection, allowing them to apprehend history through their senses. Such methods often appeal to younger audience members, but visitors of all ages can appreciate the ability to touch replicas of ancient artifacts.

Overall I greatly enjoyed the layout of the exhibits and the arrangement of objects in each display, although this museum is not without its faults. None of the artifacts in the display cases have descriptions of their uses. There are large poster boards that give an overarching summary of the exhibit or important key facts, but a majority of the exhibits, such as the burial exhibit, simply name the objects and give their time period, but do not explain what the object was used for in Etruscan society. It seems that the museum assumes visitors will have prior knowledge of the artifacts on display. For example, the Roman curule seat in the grave goods exhibit. The average museum visitor may simply interpret this item as the ancient Etruscans being buried with their chairs, probably to have them in the afterlife, yet research shows that a curule seat was an indication of political and military power that would only be buried with those of very high rank. A museum’s purpose is to preserve and inform, yet audience members are forced to draw their own conclusions or passively interact with the objects if they are not provided with background information.

My favorite museum trip of all was to Chianciano Terme. The Museo Etrusco looks small from the outside but boast two floors of Etruscan artifacts. Most interesting is the lower floor for its use of architecture to display artifacts. The lower level of the museum was an old wine cellar consisting of long hallways, storerooms, and alcoves. Artifacts are housed within these areas, recreating the environment in which they were found, as well as providing spaces for dioramas of everyday Etruscan life. All posters of information are written in Italian, English, and German. Considering that it is a small museum, this came as a pleasant surprise as it shows that the curators were dedicated to accommodating international visitors. The museum also made use of videos to convey certain aspects of the excavation process as well as recreations of Etruscan life. The videos are in Italian but contain English and German subtitles, again reflecting the consideration for international visitors. My favorite exhibit was Etruscan women on the lower floor. A video depicts a reenactment of the life of an Etruscan women, from her hairstyle, manner of dress, jewelry, and daily activities. Dioramas recreate female activities by incorporating artifacts, such as weights for making clothes on a loom and a hearth for cooking. An interesting touch is that one of the displays containing very small, fine gold jewelry provides a magnifying glass next to the display, allowing visitors to get a closer look at the fine detail of Etruscan jewelry. Although this small museum is very impressive in regard to their consideration for international visitors, creative use of architectural space and breadth of artifacts, the museum fails to provide explanations of the objects on display, like the museum in Cortona. Even after studying Etruscan history, I was still unsure of what certain objects were or their functions. Any other common visitor would simply observe the objects but not appreciate their meaning.

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In reflecting upon these two museums trips, they are both lacking adequate detail and background information about the bulk of their collection. In addition to simply displaying an object, museums can give meaningful insight and background to bring to artifacts to life for visitors. Other than that, both museums proved to be enjoyable and engaging, displaying Etruscan and Roman artifacts in a manner visitors of all ages would find interesting.

Museum Analysis


Part of the archeological training experience is outside of the class and the field and in understanding how to connect the outside world with archeological knowledge and how to convey that knowledge. This is often done through the utilization of museums, and visiting these archeological museums to observe, analyze and think critically about their respective archaeological contents has been a main focus of the program. One of those museums, The National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia, was one of the better museums I have seen not only in terms of displaying Etruscan and Roman history, but also in the general practicality, accessibility and clarity of their exhibits.

The Villa Giulia’s array of exhibits included maps, reconstructed structures and statues, but also, and more importantly for the sake of this discussion, an excellent collection of burial items and tombs. A great way to understand the Etruscan culture and values is in their funerary rituals and practices. The Etruscan people used different means of preserving remains such as urns and sarcophagi, including large, detailed ones of both metal and marble. One of the most well-preserved and interesting sarcophagi that I saw appears below, and from it, we can learn and understand a few different interesting components of Etruscan culture.



The display case that the sarcophagus is inside of is in a separate display room, sitting directly in the center of the room. This was an excellent placement of the artifact because as you walk into the room, it immediately commands your attention due to its size and its near impossibility to avoid. Even though the size of the object by itself is a reason that it would be hard to miss, placing it elsewhere, such as against the wall adjacent to both entrances might not have been as effective, as you might walk right past it due to the entrances being directly across from each other making other, separate exhibits more visible.

While it is important to note the effective display of the sarcophagus, the artifact itself is the subject worth some serious analysis, as it can tell and suggest to us some information about the Etruscan people. Resting on top of the large sarcophagus are two people, more specifically a man and a woman. This, at least to me, seemed as if it was a representation of Etruscan Egalitarianism. Unlike Roman culture, the social constructs of gender were much more equal between men and women in Etruscan culture. Women were allowed to dine with men, socialize with men, and based on this two-person sarcophagus, in which a man was buried with a woman, this type of egalitarianism might even be carried to the grave. While putting a statue of a man and a woman on the same sarcophagus might not necessarily be a direct example of this egalitarianism, the coincidence is worth noting.

Another important thing to notice on this sarcophagus is the clues it gives out about terracotta clay production. On the back of the head of the female figure (not shown in the photo), there is a hole roughly three inches in diameter. Unlike the previous discussion, this has nothing to do with gender roles or social constructs. Instead, this hole tells us something about construction of large, terracotta structures made by the Etruscans such as this sarcophagus. When sculpting and heating terracotta, the clay-based material used by the Etruscans to make the sarcophagus as well as other objects such as tiles, it requires heat to solidify the clay and set in place. When heating the clay, especially one such as this that is hollow on the inside, it is important that oxygen is allowed to escape. If oxygen were to be trapped inside and heated, it would cause fractures and breaking on the structure. Thus, this is why one of the figures has the ventilation hole on the backside. While it might seem simple and insignificant, observing this and understanding its purpose can help solidify an understanding of Etruscan terracotta productions. Understanding the importance of a small feature such as this allows museum visitors (at least those who look closely) to understand the complexities of Etruscan manufacturing and the understanding the Etruscans had for simple yet critical details for production details such as this.

The study of tombs and burials in archeology can tell us quite a lot about characteristics of ancient cultures, and further, the inclusion of these burial discoveries in museums is an excellent way to relay this information to the rest of modern society. Museums such as the National Etruscan Museum in the Villa Giulia does an excellent job of displaying these discoveries in a way that is both physically and visually easily accessible to the public, as well as practical in terms of easily comprehensible display. By creating a proper display of artifacts such as the previously discussed sarcophagus, the average museum-goer can have an easily accessible look into the ancient past.



During our past few weeks here, we have had the opportunity not only to work at the archaeological site but also to visit a number of museums in Umbria, Tuscany, and Rome. In addition to providing us with more background on the Etruscans and Romans, the museum visits help give us ideas on what we can do to improve the antiquarium in Castiglione del Lago. Currently, the antiquarium’s eclectic collection of ancient Etruscan artifacts, Medieval art, and Italian WWII paraphernalia has limited signage and jumbled organization, so part of our project is to help make the displays more audience-friendly. Castiglione del Lago’s antiquarium has potential, so hopefully in the near future it will look more like museums such as Arezzo’s Museo Archeologico, which we visited about two weeks ago. Even though it isn’t considered one of Italy’s finest museums, the archaeological museum in Arezzo still had a number of strengths. My favorite display from the museum was a recreation of an Roman banquet setting, shown below: thumb_IMG_5703_1024.jpg

Personally, I find recreation exhibits such as the banquet model to be really impactful because they make the past seem more real and help me to understand the lives of individuals in the ancient societies that we have been studying. For someone without any background in Classical Studies, Arezzo’s recreation exhibit would be even more helpful since the viewer probably hasn’t read descriptions of banquets or seen fresco depictions of them. With this factor in mind, Arezzo could improve its exhibit by providing other examples of Roman banquets, such as a poster showing the banquet scene from the Tomb of the Leopard or photographs of archaeological remains of a banquet, so that the audience would understand what the museum was basing the display on. Providing the audience with artistic, historical, and archaeological examples would also better connect them to the process of museum archaeology and in turn give them a more complete view of the ancient world, as Hedley Swain suggested in An Introduction to Museum Archaeology. Even without the extra information, Arezzo’s banquet reconstruction is very effective at giving context to artifacts that would have otherwise just been groups of pottery.

In regards to the antiquarium in Castiglione del Lago, a display combining Roman artifacts and household materials to recreate a scene such as a banquet would be a relatively easy and inexpensive way to liven up the current exhibits and give context to the artifacts. After making initial reconstruction displays comparable to those in the Museo Archeologico in Arezzo, we could potentially build towards more complex reconstructions, similar to the ones we saw in the Museo Etrusco in Chianciano Terme. Of the museums we have visited outside of Rome so far, the Chianciano Terme has been my favorite. The majority of its displays were remarkably ingenuitive, providing a significant amount of context and background information. In addition to artifacts in cases with descriptions, the exhibit included models of a grave, a pottery wheel, a banquet, and a farm. My favorite part of the museum was the reconstruction of an Etruscan household, with cutouts of a family interacting with the artifact display. thumb_IMG_6135_1024.jpg

As a museum visitor, this method of presentation was much better at catching my attention than a simple case of artifacts. Like Arezzo’s banquet reconstruction, the household scene helped me to visualize the day-to-day of Etruscan life and connect with the lives of those in the past. If a member of the museum’s audience didn’t have much background information on the Etruscans or Romans, they would probably not find cookware very interesting to look at if they weren’t able to relate it to something they knew and understood. This household display allows the viewer to see cookware as it would have been used in Etruscan times, which helps them to make connections and better understand the artifacts. However, a problem with presenting artifacts in recreations such as the household scene is that the recreation shows only one possible scenario, which could potentially narrow the perspective of the audience. Ideally, a museum should show multiple possibilities of how various artifacts were used, but that would take too many resources. Instead, Chianciano Terme’s exhibit could be improved by making sure that it is clear to the audience that the artifacts might not have been used exactly how they are depicted in the set up. The museum could make posters that pose questions to the audience about their own perspectives, such as asking them if they could picture other potential scenes in their minds, which would make the exhibit more interactive as well. Additionally, this particular exhibit could be improved with better lighting so that it is easier for the audience to see the artifacts. Even with minor areas for improvement, the exhibits at Chianciano Terme impressively creative and set the bar high for the antiquarium in Castiglione del Lago.

Gioiella Villa Excavation

I have spent the past year and a half deciding on whether or not to partake in this study abroad program. Last year I was accepted to go but backed out at the last minute due to one main reason– fear of the unknown. This year, after a series of unfortunate events (and many meetings with Professor Foss), I decided I cannot live my life in constant fear and decided to go for it. During these meetings, Professor Foss always encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone.

I don’t like change. Seriously, I hate it. I talk to my family every day, I stick to a strict routine, and I keep a pretty close bubble around me. This is my comfort zone. For the past year and a half, I thought to myself, “If I go to Italy, I’m totally going to disrupt my comfort zone. Who I am will be disrupted.” However, Professor Foss reminded me that I’m not stepping out of my comfort zone, I’m just expanding it. He reminded me that I would be with him and Professor Schindler (two professors in my major that I’ve had multiple classes with) and students from my university. Although I did not have a friendship with these students beforehand, they were from my university therefore creating a sense of comfort. I said okay and here I am during week five of the program happier than ever on my decision to come to Italy.

I would be lying if I said my first couple days in Italy were great. They weren’t. I was homesick, it was my first time being more than a timezone away from my family, and it was my first time in a different country. There were a lot of firsts for me that week that made me question why I chose to come here. However, the first time I went to the Gioiella site, I remembered exactly why I came.

I came to Italy to better myself. I came to Italy to pursue my interest in the classics. I came to Italy to learn more about the Etruscans. I came to Italy to practice the archaeology I’ve only read about in textbooks. But more importantly, I came to Italy to gain an experience.

The view of Lago di Chiusi from the Gioiella excavation site.

From the moment I stepped on the Gioiella excavation site, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I have spent the past three years learning about archaeological methods and this was my chance to practice what I have learned all while learning more. Initially, I thought I was going to be sifting through buckets of dirt looking for shards of pottery. However, I learned very quickly that archaeology is a lot more than that. Archaeology is a process.

I learned a little bit about the total station, an instrument used to help survey the land. I learned that the total station needs to be set up every single day in order to take levels when we switching to a new locus number. I learned that some loci take longer than others. I learned that some days will have more finds than others. I learned patience.

I thought that once I went through the buckets of dirt and shards of pottery, I would get to the good stuff. You know, like I would find a bronze statue or a lost text. But it’s not like that. You hit a lot of bumps in the road in archaeology. You think that you really have something and then it turns out to be nothing.

For instance, in our B1 trench we found what initially looked to be a tile burial made of terra cotta roof tiles. We learned that the tiles extended way past the point of it possibly containing a body unless this person was a giant. We then thought this underground structure could be a draining system in which we saw an example of at the National Etruscan Museum at the Villa Giulia in Rome. But with a drain there must surely be stuff (i.e. lost coins, beads, other materials) at the bottom of it, right? Wrong.

Example of a tile burial

When we removed a section of the tiles, there was nothing but specks of ash and carbon atop a sandy clay. Where was the bottom of the drain? We dug about 30 cm after removing the layer of ash and carbon only to find virgin sand and a fossil from the Pliocene. That sandy clay was the bottom of this structure. Leaving us back at square one.

With two days left of digging before the season ends, I’m not sure if we will discover the purpose of this underground structure. Heck, we might not ever fully understand it but we can infer. We can make assumptions and educated guesses based on similar things found at other sites. The great thing about archaeology is that it is always changing as time progresses. When an archaeologist makes a huge discovery, they can help rewrite past theories and improve upon them.

Wish us luck! I heard you always find the best things in the afternoon of the last day.

Blog Post #1– Museum Review

During my six-week study abroad term in Italy, I have the opportunity to visit many museums. Many of these museums cater to the history of Central Italy and more specifically the history of the Etruscans and Romans. Two of these museums really struck me due to specific Etruscan pieces and the layout of their museums: the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca (MAEC) in Cortona, Italy and the National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. The MAEC is a smaller, local museum that holds a fair sized collection of Etruscan artifacts from the surrounding area along with pieces from the medieval period; whereas the National Etruscan Museum is specific to Etruscan artifacts.

On June 6th, I was able to visit the MAEC. In the MAEC, you are able to find the third longest known Etruscan inscription. The Tabula Cortonensis is an inscribed, bronze tablet from the 3rd of 2nd century BCE found near Cortona, Italy. The tablet was purposely broken into eight sections, however, the eighth section is now missing, leaving seven legible sections. The Tabula Cortonensis is a land transfer agreement between two parties.

The exact translation of the tablet is unclear considering the Etruscan language is not easy to understand. The language the Etruscans used was not Indo-European like Latin or Greek. However, the language uses a variation on the Greek alphabet brought over by the Euboeans. The Etruscan language can be read but the words cannot always be understood.

The Etruscan alphabet based on the Greek alphabet brought over by the Euboeans.

The placement of the Tabula Cortonensis in the MAEC resonated with me, rather than the piece itself. Like I mentioned earlier, the MAEC holds both Etruscan and medieval artifacts. Thus being said, a large majority of the Etruscan artifacts are in a newer, remodeled section of the museum that has interactive exhibits, models, and large display cases whereas the medieval artifacts are held in display cases, packed together leaving the visitor overwhelmed. The tablet is in the newly remodeled section of the museum.


The Tabula Cortonensis is in an exhibit room, dedicated to the tablet. It is enclosed in a glass case promptly in the middle of the room. By having the tablet towards the center of the room, visitors, myself included, are drawn towards the artifact. Also, since the tablet is within a glass case, it allows visitors to easily view both sides of the inscriptions.

There is a series of local artwork based on the Tabula Cortonenis that is showcased on the walls of the room. By placing the artwork in the same room as the tablet itself, I felt as if the importance of the tablet increased. I thought to myself, “Wow, this tablet is so important to the people of Cortona that they are recreating it through art thousands of years later! How neat is that?!”

The Tabula Cortonensis is a marketing point for the MAEC. The artwork and the tablet allow visitors, particularly locals, to connect with their ancestors and the history of the area. It also creates a sense of regional pride in the area.

On June 18th, I was able to visit the National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. The museum, as the name states, is the museum for Etruscan artifacts around Italy. The Villa Giulia was built by Pope Julius III in 1551.

The National Etruscan Museum is organized in such a way that allows visitors to understand different groups of Etruscans without getting them confused. Below is a floor plan of the museum:


As shown on the floor plan, the museum is divided into nine sections. These nine sections represent nine Etruscan cities and groups. I was particularly interested in the Vulci section of the museum because it has a lot of information and artifacts based on Etruscan funerary practices.

Upon entering the Vulci rooms, visitors immediately see urns and funerary goods from the Villanovan period. The Villanovans were a warrior-farmers living in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.

The Villanovans traditionally had two types of urns– the biconical and a hut urn. A biconical urn has a bottom to hold the ashes of a body and a top to keep the ashes contained. The urns can be decorated with metal chains to represent jewelry on the person or it can be plain.

As time goes on, the Villanovans made a transition from the two-story biconical urn to a terra cotta hut urn. The terra cotta hut urn was representative of the wattle and daub huts the Villanovans lived in during the Early Iron Age.

Shown above is both a biconical urn and a Villanovan hut urn. As you can see, the hut urn provides much more detail than the biconical urn. This particular hut urn is made of bronze and contains small detailed decorations. These details could be used for decorations or they could be part of a specific example of a Villanovan hut.

The thing I liked about the National Etruscan Museum the most was how and why they organized the museum the way they did. The museum is organized from the beginning of the Villanovan culture in Vulci moving onward through the time of the Etruscans. Visitors get a clear understanding of the order in which Etruscan history is presented without being lost in the materials presented.



Material Finds

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.

Works Cited

Aaland, Mikkel. “Mass Bathing: The Roman BaInea and Thermae.” MEDITERRANEAN BATHS. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 June 2016.

“Arretine Ware.” Dictionary.com. N.d. Web. 16 June 2016.

Cartwright, Mark. “Roman Mosaics.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. N.p., 13 June 2013. Web.

“The History of Hydraulic Lime Mortars.” Introductiepagina. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2016.

Thompson, Greg. “Ancient Roman Board Games.” Lovetoknow. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2016.


Archaeological Mysteries

Before going to the Gioiella site for the first time, I tried to keep an open mind about what the excavation would be like, but assumed it would be a lot of hard work for a few shards of pottery. I ended up being right about the hard work, but I definitely underestimated the number of finds. So far, we have accumulated about twenty boxes full of artifacts, mostly pieces of coarseware, fineware, roof tiles, and tesserae, and have also found a wall. In a way, excavating at the site is a lot more interesting than I thought it would be because it’s like solving a mystery in which each artifact is a clue. With each new find, you have to ask yourself where the object came from, what its function was, and how it got to be where you found it, using its location, condition, and nearby finds to help you discover its past life and solve the mystery.

After the initial days of clearing away many wheelbarrows’ worth of heavy clay, I began to grow attached to one of the original two loci, B1. Its southeast corner, where we found a layer of sand on top of the otherwise homogenous clay on the first day, was the first place I helped dig and has been my favorite place to work ever since. On the subsequent days, I worked in A1 some, but mostly in B1. Although B1 revealed itself to be largely composed of sand untouched by humans, we found part of a wall perpendicular to the western side, as well as a strip of clay in the sand parallel to the southern side of B1 leading up next to the wall. Because the clay was full of human debris (coarseware shards, rocks, and charcoal deposits evidencing burning) while the sand around it had no human artifacts, we could tell that where the clay is now had once been a trench dug into the sand.

Inside the trench under the debris, we found the top of a perplexing row of terracotta roof tiles standing on edge. When we uncovered the top of the first tile, we hypothesized that it had fallen off a building and landed on its edge in the clay during the final days of the structure. In order to understand the tile, we had to uncover its context by scraping away a layer of clay around it. In doing so, we found a another tile on end next to it, along with two more pairs of tile standing on edge next to it, making a line of three tile pairs running east to west. On top of the end of the easternmost tile, we found a conglomerate of rocks. Based on the evidence up to that point, we were convinced it was an early Christian burial. In late Roman times, tile were sometimes used for graves by members of the lower class, like the example from Ajaccio, Corsica, shown below.


Istria, Daniel. Roman grave covered by roof tiles. Digital image. Inrap. Inrap, 9 June 2005. Web. 21 June 2016. <http://amenageurs.inrap.fr/preventive-archaeology/Press-release/2005/p-1346-lg2-Discovery-of-an-Early-Christian-Baptistery-in-Ajaccio.htm>.

Christians were buried facing the east and stones were sometimes put over the head, which matched the direction of our trench and the location of its stones. However, as we kept digging, we found more pairs of tile in the line that continued into the undug bulk, which greatly decreased the likelihood of a burial. The new hypotheses included a double burial (unlikely), a cover for a drainpipe to disperse the weight of the soil away from the pipe, and a stokehole for a bathhouse. The tile seemed to lead up to the wall, strengthening the probability of either a stokehole or drainpipe. The problem with the these theories is that the the structure was on a hill, so a drainpipe wouldn’t really have been necessary, and we haven’t found much other evidence for a bathhouse.

Today, we found a tile perpendicular to the pairs on the eastern side, used as an end piece. Based on the fact that the clay around it is the same as the clay surrounding the other tile, we can tell they were all put in at the same time. The endpiece makes the drainpipe and stokehole hypotheses very improbable, leaving us with quite a mystery. We won’t be able to fully understand until we discover what’s under the tile, but it’s important to not be too hasty with digging or we might miss something. As we were working on exposing the tile by removing a layer of clay at a time, we found a significant decrease in the amount of debris contained in the clay. The change in the content of the clay points to the possibility that some sediment was put in upon the construction of the tile, with a debris-filled layer added later. Even with this possibility, the row of tile pairs is still a mystery that must be solved by more excavation.  

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Rough Drawing of B1 as of 21.06.16, 1=1m