Archaeology in Italy 2009

More than 50 students, scholars and archaeological professionals from more than 20 universities, including SMU, will assemble in Tuscany in Summer 2009 to excavate the Etruscan sanctuary and settlement of Poggio Colla.
The excavation team is headed by Gregory Warden, University Distinguished Professor of Art History at SMU, along with Professors Michael Thomas of the University of Texas at Austin, and Ann Steiner and Gretchen Meyers of Franklin and Marshall College. The excavation serves as a field school for undergraduate and graduate students to learn archaeological practice and theory while working alongside a diverse professional staff, including archaeologists, surveyors, geologists, architects, illustrators, information technologists and other archaeological specialists, as well as the conservation staff.

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Poggio Colla: What we “found” this summer

Warden_trench.jpg An update from Dr. Greg Warden:

It feels as if everyone wants to know what we have found this summer. As I walk the streets of Vicchio or correspond with colleagues and friends across the globe, the questions are the same. Have you found anything interesting?

Warden_finalphotos.jpg The answer is a resounding yes, but then comes the inevitable follow-up question. What did you find?

This is tougher and usually results in an embarrassing pause in the conversation. How do I explain, without an hour-long PowerPoint lecture, about the new architecture, the various kinds of work areas, the interesting new types of artifacts, or the same old artifacts now found in a different and thus exciting context?

And if truth be told, how do I tell people that I really am not sure what we have found, that we are still hard at work in the labs studying and conserving the artifacts, that we are collaboratively – all 50 of us, including scholars, students, and staff – trying to make some sense of what we have found? How do I explain without sounding stuffy and condescending that this process will take us years?

There are no easy solutions in this kind of archaeology, and while gold jewelry and silver coins do magically appear in the earth once in a great while, we work slowly and patiently studying many unglamorous things that will eventually, with some skill and no small portion of luck, tell an exciting story about the Etruscans.

We finished excavating this Friday, the last day of July, and we will spend this week documenting and then backfilling the trenches. The digging is at an end. I can safely say at this point that every one of our trenches has produced important, indeed very important new information, even though a more complete understanding of what we have “found out” rather than “found” will only come with years of study.

09_pc34_gregwarden.jpg The list of findings, however, is quite impressive. On the North-West Slope our English colleague, Phil Perkins, has excavated an area with several fire pits and a quarry. The fire pits may be early ceramic kilns, and the pottery from the area is very early, possibly earlier than the 650 BCE date that we previously postulated for the earliest habitation at the site. The remains of the quarrying are quite impressive: one huge block was squared and partially undercut but left unfinished.

In Trench PC 33, on the south edge of the acropolis terrace, we continued to excavate the massive column base found last year. We were surprised to find another column base next to it, our sixth from the site, this one possibly purposely broken. The trench also produced a massive wall foundation, similar to the ones found on the north edge of the terrace, with two buttressing walls (one of which was only discovered on the last day of excavation). This is important new evidence for the architectural layout of the sanctuary in its later period (4th-2nd centuries BCE).

Trench PC 34, at the western end of the acropolis terrace, was also continued from 2008. It has produced dramatic evidence for the ways that Etruscan sanctuaries functioned as economic entities, connected to the agricultural production of surrounding territory and possibly functioning as distribution or redistribution centers. The evidence comes in the form of huge storage jars or pithoi, as well as circular stone discs that may have been used as lids or work surfaces, and an assortment of loom weights. Also important is the large quantity of carbonized seeds from this area; possibly grain, but we will have to wait for their analysis to say anything more definitive.

09_pc38_fromsw.jpg Trench PC 38, still on the west end of the acropolis terrace but northwest of Trench PC 34, has provided some excellent evidence for the architecture of the second and third monumental phases of the sanctuary. Already we are revising some of the hypotheses of last year’s excavation report; the new but still technically hypothetical west building is larger than expected, if indeed it is a building, or a series of buildings.

In this case we have only a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but in another part of the trench we seem to have found the northwest corner of the Phase II and III courtyard buildings that dominated the acropolis after the destruction of the Phase I temple. The corner is beautifully formed by a very large sandstone block on top of which three terracotta roof tiles have been carefully stacked. The use of tiles to mark the corner of a building is potentially interesting as ritual, but what is certainly a ritual (foundation?) deposit is two large pieces of sheet bronze placed near the corner, one of which is associated with burned bones, including the jaw bone and tooth of a fairly large animal.

The bones and bronze are being carefully worked on in the lab by our conservator, Batyah Shtrum, and the conservation process will probably continue into the next season. The final word on the nature of this deposit will probably have to wait until next summer. That’s when I may finally be able to say something less banal about what we “found” in 2009.

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