New discoveries from the necropolis of Porta Nola, Pompeii

A final season of excavation at the necropolis of Porta Nola (Pompeii) was undertaken this summer by a joint team from the BSR, the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn, Departamento de Arqueologia and the Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia. With the participation of 24 students and a number of specialists, and the support of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, the work focused on two areas within the necropolis.

In the mid-70s the Soprintendenza di Pompei, whilst extending the excavation of the necropolis to the west of the gate along the circuit road, discovered a series of burials belonging to Praetorian soldiers opposite the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The excavation at the time focused on the recovery of the funerary stele. The new excavations conducted this past month reopened the area with the aim of both locating the cremation urns of these soldiers, as only two had reportedly been recovered, as well as testing the hypothesis that earlier burials lay underneath these Praetorian tombs.

Working systematically along the road side, the 2017 excavation relocated the positions of the burials recorded in the 1970s. The first tomb, identified as that of L. Betutius, had previously been excavated and two cremation urns had been recorded. This year, exploring the area immediately behind the tomb, a further cremation urn was discovered together with a number of funerary items including a lamp depicting a satyr.

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Excavated cremation urn (Photo Stephen Kay)

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Lamp with a satyr (Photo Charles Avery)

 

Progressing westward the excavation identified two further tombs where only the funerary stele had been recovered. The excavation discovered both the cremation urns which had been placed behind the stele, the second of which, belonging to L. Manilius Saturninus, was accompanied by a small jug and animal bones.

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Small jug from the burial of L. Manilius Saturninus (Photo Trinidad Pasies)

The fourth and most westerly tomb excavated contained the cremation urn of Sex. Caesernius Montanus who had served for eleven years, so was therefore between 29 and 31 years old when he died. These four new cremations will be studied over the course of the next year, potentially offering a further insight into the lives of these Praetorians.

Alongside the discovery of these four cremations, an area was also opened immediately to the north of the tomb of Obellius Firmus, between the tomb and a precinct wall. First investigated last summer, at the close of the excavation a large area of burning, containing ash, charcoal and burnt human bone was identified. This area was fully excavated this year, and whilst this area yielded material associated to funerary practices, a further two burials were also discovered, placed alongside the northern side of the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The first of these cremations was placed inside a pit lined with stone blocks and sealed with an upturned bowl, covering which was ash and hundreds of fragments of a spectacular bone funerary bed.

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Fragments of a funerary bed (Photo Charles Avery)

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Excavation of a further burial behind the tomb of Obellius (Photo Charles Avery)

The discovery this season of six new cremations from the necropolis of Porta Nola at Pompeii significantly furthers our knowledge about the use of this necropolis and the associated funerary practices. The study season which ran alongside the excavation and which will continue into 2018 is beginning to reveal a fascinating history of this necropolis which was in use up until the final days of Pompeii.

The Porta Nola Necropolis Project is extremely grateful for the support shown by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, in particular the Direttore Generale and Honorary BSR Fellow Professor Massimo Osanna and the Funzionario for the area Dott. Fabio Galeandro. In the field, the team was kindly supported by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei excavation assistant Geom. Vincenzo Sabini. The project is directed by Llorenç Alapont, Rosa Albiach and Stephen Kay with the support of a team of specialists: Trinidad Pasies (Conservator), Letizia Ceccarelli (Finds Officer), Ilaria Frumenti (Surveyor), Fabio Mestici (Numismatist) and Pasquale Longobardi (Health and Safety Officer). The project directors are grateful to the team of specialists who work on the project: Tomas Jirak, Monika Koroniova, Pilar Mas, Antoni Puig and Victor Revilla. The 2017 excavations were supervised by Pedro Corredor, Joaquin Alfonso and Ana Maria Miguelez. Finally, a huge thank you to all the students who participated in the excavation this year making it such a success.


Stephen Kay

Archaeology Officer

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Fresco frenzy at the BSR

BSR scholars and artists were recently invited to take part in a fresco painting workshop organised by Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi. Assimilating the techniques and materials of ancient and Renaissance painters, the workshop presented the opportunity to recreate a fresco to a high degree of authenticity. The workshop complemented the interest in fresco painting of many of the group, with several having already visited Naples where they had seen the fantastic frescoes excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The day began with an introduction to the history of fresco painting from its ancient Greek origins, when it was used to decorate prestigious buildings and the homes of the wealthy. The earliest Greek examples are now lost, with most of the knowledge on this craft coming from literary sources.

For wall-painting in the Roman era, one of two techniques – fresco or secco – would have been employed. Both had as their base pozzolana (volcanic ash) which was mixed with water to make it set, and they differed in how the paint was applied. With the fresco technique, pigment was ground with water to make the paint and then applied on top of wet, fresh lime mortar or plaster, then left to carbonate and set. With the secco technique, the plaster was still dry when the paint was applied, necessitating the binding of the pigment with egg or glue to make it stick. Clay-based pigments were often used in fresco-painting in the Roman era and this type of pigment could be polished, giving the fresco a shiny finish.

Both techniques had their drawbacks: the pigment on secco frescoes was more susceptible to flaking off over time, however the fresco paintings had to be completed quickly, before the plaster set, and accurately, as mistakes could not be corrected once painted.

Fresco painting continued into the Middle Ages, however the images depicted were simpler and less refined. A turning-point was reached at the end of the 14th century with the pioneers Cavallini and Giotto, who headed a new-found interest in the depiction of space and volume. With new styles came new techniques, the most important of which were: fewer layers used to build up the panel; the use of sinopia, a reddish-brown pigment used to create a preparatory drawing on the panel before the paint was applied; and the combination of the fresco element of painting on wet plaster with that of the secco technique, in which further details were added once the panel had been painted and set.

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‘The Last Judgement’ fresco by Cavallini in S. Cecilia in Trastevere

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‘The Dream of Joachim’ fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

With the outline of the tradition and the technical aspects explained, it was time to put the new-found knowledge into practice. The group was split into two, with half recreating Pompeian frescoes and half following the Renaissance technique, and both groups following designs from that period.

The Pompeian group began by mixing together the mortar formula and spreading it on their panels. They then sketched their designs onto the surface with pigment, then traced along the sketch with a knife to make a small engraving of the design. Plaster was then applied over the engraved base layer, through which the design showed through and was then reapplied on the plaster layer. With the design in place, the painting could begin.

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Mixing the mortar. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Applying the mortar layer. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

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Outlining the design in paint. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Adding details to the plaster layer. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

The plaster layer was applied to just half of the panel, to show the different stages of the process.

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James Norrie (Rome Fellow), Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting) and Peter McDonald (Abbey Fellow in Painting) with their Pompeian frescoes

Those following the Renaissance technique began by drawing their designs on tracing paper, then puncturing small holes along the outline of the drawing. They then applied the cement layer to the panel, softening the mixture with water and working it with a spatula until it was smooth. The tracing paper was placed over the top, and then the sinopia pigment was applied, permeating the punctures to give the outline of the design.

With the general outline in place, the sinopia pigment was mixed with water to create a paint which was used to complete the outline, and then the designs were completed with coloured paint.

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Helpmann Academy Resident Kate Power – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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The Bridget Riley Fellow Sinta Tantra – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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William Fletcher Foundation Scholar Chris Browne – painting in progress. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Many thanks to Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi for organising a fantastic workshop.


Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

Understanding, designing and creating maps: a workshop on new software in archaeology

Earlier this year, Research Fellow Maria del Carmen Moreno, who joins us at the BSR this year from the University of Southampton to carry out research on the port system of imperial Rome, generously offered to share her expertise on new software being used in archaeology. Here she reflects on the workshop which she organised and conducted, and on the role this software has to play in this field of study.

My name is Maria del Carmen Moreno, and I am a postdoctoral researcher working at the British School at Rome. I am a specialist in Roman Archaeology and Landscape Archaeology, and as such, I am very familiar with the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I believe the introduction of this tool in Archaeology has generated a bit of a “revolution” that is just starting to be acknowledged and incorporated into the discipline of Roman Archaeology, since it allows the user to manage and analyse vast amounts of data based on their distribution over the landscape. But every journey begins with a single step, and regarding GIS, that step consists of understanding what GIS is and its possibilities, and (then) getting hands-on with a computer to create a first map.

After several conversations with some residents at the British School at Rome, it became clear that tools of this kind generate interest and curiosity amongst scholars and artists alike, and so I thought of ways to showcase not only the possibilities of GIS, but also to demonstrate that, despite its complexity, GIS shouldn’t be considered a scary piece of software only understood by some, but as a very useful tool accessible to any person with an interest in this topic. I therefore decided to organise a workshop, entitled “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems in Humanities” at the British School at Rome for those interested in the topic.

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The day came, and an audience of residents (both scholars and artists) and some colleagues from other institutions and international academies in Rome were introduced to many different topics. To name just a few, we explored the definition of GIS and advantages of its use not only in Humanities but in many other disciplines and areas of research, and the diverse ways into which the curved surface of the Earth has been organised and represented through coordinate systems, as well as the numerous possibilities of commercial and open-source software available nowadays. Lively exchanges of opinions developed throughout the morning and early afternoon, especially when we discussed the process of map design and the consequences of choosing one geographic projection over another (which may introduce diverse degrees of distortion on the length and area of regions, countries, and continents alike, as some assistants discovered then).

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The site of Portus. Photo by Maria del Carmen Moreno.

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The site of Isola Sacra. Photo by Maria del Carmen Moreno.

We also went into the computing side of GIS, where we could think of ways in which real phenomena are represented and stored as geographic digital data, thus establishing the differences between vector and raster formats and the possibilities they offer for GIS users. Most importantly, I introduced some ideas about metadata and strategies for digital archiving, a fundamental concern when dealing with digital data in order to allow its description and reuse by researchers in the future. Finally, a tutorial on the creation of maps in ArcGIS (developed specifically for this workshop) was distributed amongst the assistants, in order to enable them to create their own maps. And thus, the session finished.

As a little reflection, I believe it was a very interesting workshop where the diversity of approaches and perceptions of the geographic space held and discussed by the assistants become the very central point of the session, allowing all of us to think and reflect on space, territories and landscapes in more diverse and creative ways.

As a final note, I would like to thank the assistance and the collaboration of the British School at Rome in the organisation and celebration of this workshop. Without them, this initiative wouldn’t have been possible.


Maria del Carmen Moreno (Research Fellow, BSR)

Lucus Feroniae: a new survey of the archaic sanctuary and Roman colony

Lucus Feroniae with Alice James - Sophie Hay

This spring has seen the completion of a large scale geophysical survey of the site of Lucus Feroniae, 30km to the north of Rome. Working together with the Sopintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’area metropolitana di Roma, la provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria meridionale (with special thanks to Dott.ssa Alfonsina Russo and Dott. Gianfranco Gazzetti) the BSR and University of Southampton have investigated the important sanctuary and town with both magnetometry and Ground-Penetrating Radar.

Lucus Feroniae - Sophie Hay

Following its discovery in the early 1950s, subsequent excavations focused around the central area of the forum, temple and amphitheatre, together with the excavation in 1961 of the close by Villa dei Volusii Saturnini. Whilst the routes of the major thoroughfares, the Via Tiberina and Via Capenate, have been traced, the full extent of the city has never been fully mapped.

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The survey, the preliminary results of which were presented at the UCL and Soprintendenza workshop held at the BSR last November , will be presented at a conference in May hosted by the Museum of Nepi (Director Dott. Stefano Francocci). Building upon the newly published volume Lucus Feroniae: il santuario, la città, il territorio the results of the survey reveal that this was a small town, perhaps serving as an administrative centre, but which was focused around the sanctuary. The results of the survey, which complement the findings of the earlier Roman Towns Project, will shortly be published in PBSR.

Stephen Kay (Archaeology Officer)

Photos by Sophie Hay (Geophysics Officer)

The British School beyond Rome: finding Trajan in Benevento

amy-russellAmy Russell is Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at Durham, and is spending the autumn of 2016 as a Research Fellow of the British School at Rome as part of her AHRC-funded project Senatorial Monuments: a new approach to the social dynamics of ideology formation in the Roman empire. Here Amy tells us about ‘seeing [her] own sites through new eyes’ during a three-day research trip to Benevento with fellow BSR residents.

‘One of my favourite parts of spending time at the BSR, whether as a Research Fellow, award-holder or regular visitor, has always been the chance to immerse myself in other visitors’ research and practice. The interdisciplinary interaction we have every day over tea or dinner constantly opens my mind to new possibilities and new research directions. Often, one colleague’s site or gallery visit ends up becoming a group trip, and we get the chance to see something we never would have known to look for. And seeing my own sites through new eyes is even better!

A group of award-holders and I took this philosophy to the extreme this past week, as they agreed to come with me on a three-day research trip to Benevento. The core of the trip was the Arch of Trajan, which features in my current project on monuments built by the imperial Senate, but we added on visits to museums and churches in Naples, other sites in Benevento, and the Reggia di Caserta.

 

Our trip started and ended with Hercules: the two statues of the weary hero from the Baths of Caracalla, originally displayed next to each other, both entered the Farnese and then the Bourbon collections but were then separated, with the more famous of the two ending up in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale at Naples and the other at the foot of the great staircase at Caserta. A Monday conversation with Jana Schuster [Giles Worsley Rome Fellow] about how it might feel to come across the Naples example while walking naked through the baths was complemented by a debate on Wednesday about which one is better, and what the visual impact of seeing them both together might have been.

 

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Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Arthur Westwell.

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Detail of Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Amy Russell.

In Benevento, all eyes were on the arch, a monument to Trajan’s reconstruction of the Via Appia. It was the road that gave Benevento its importance in the imperial period, as it brought countless travellers through on the way from Rome to Brundisium and the east. I counted senators until the light went and climbed up on bollards in undignified fashion (Arthur Westwell [Pilkington Rome Awardee], always dignified, helped) to check whether they were wearing appropriately senatorial shoes; Maria del Carmen Moreno Escobar, our Portus Project representative, was excited to find a representation of Trajan founding Portus – note the anchor.

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Photo by Jana Schuster

This is not me climbing the arch, but a slightly more dignified scramble to give a sense of the lengths ancient historians will go to to investigate spolia… It wasn’t all ancient in Benevento. The town was a Lombard capital from the sixth to the eleventh centuries, enjoying (some of the time) a remarkably peaceful existence which has resulted in some fantastic surviving early mediaeval architecture.

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Photo by Jana Schuster

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Photo by Serena Alessi

Arthur and I might have exhausted the patience of less doughty companions with our transports of joy over the eccentric eighth-century Santa Sofia. Jana Schuster’s eye for building phases helped us reconstruct the fate of some of the vaulting, but the plan, which is part-radial, part-axial, and part star-shaped, gave us plenty to work with on imaginative reconstructions of Lombard liturgy and movement through the building. Meanwhile, modernist Stefano Bragato [Rome Awardee] was quietly gathering information, and impressed us later by calmly laying out the phasing of a late mediaeval wall we passed on the way to dinner.

 

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Photo by Amy Russell

He and Serena Alessi [Rome Fellow] found something closer by a few centuries to their own research when we visited another of Benevento’s hidden secrets, a 1992 sculpture garden by the Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. As if he knew that our little interdisciplinary group was coming, Paladino based his garden on the mediaeval monastic concept of the hortus conclusus, a hidden sanctuary for thought and reflection.

 

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Photo by Arthur Westwell

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Photo by Serena Alessi

There was plenty more crammed into the three days, from the mixture of Egyptian and Roman faux-Egyptian sculpture from Domitian’s temple to Isis at Benevento to the glorious English Garden at Caserta, where guests get a peek at the bathing Aphrodite (just after being warned by a gory fountain sculpture of Diana and Actaeon that spying on goddesses rarely ends well). The trip left us tired but intellectually refreshed: I could say the same of the whole of my time here at the BSR’.

 

 

A week in the life of a BSR award-holder

Living in such a culturally and historically rich city as Rome means that a wealth of opportunities are on offer, and our award-holders and residents have been making the most of this! Numerous excursions, gallery tours and conferences are attended each week, and here we take a look at the ‘extra-curricular’ activities of a typical week at the BSR.

All of our residents were invited to the opening of the Japanese House exhibition at the MAXXI last Tuesday, which runs until late February 2017, after which it will move to the Barbican Centre and then on to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. The exhibition featured a series of photographs and models exploring the development of postwar domestic architecture in Japan.

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Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

Back at the BSR: as part of the research for her AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Amy Russell, 2009-10 Ralegh Radford Rome Scholar and current BSR Research Fellow, gave a fantastic lecture on the imperial senate and the way in which it interacted with both the emperor and the city. Joining us from slightly further afield, yesterday evening’s guest speaker William Gudenrath (Corning Museum of Glass, New York) gave a talk on the history of glasswork and the glassblower from early Roman antiquity through to its ‘golden age’ in the Renaissance.

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Amy Russell on ‘The imperial senate and the city of Rome’. Photo credit: Arthur Westwell

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William Gudenrath discusses different glassblowing techniques. Photo credit: Stephen Kay

These lectures will soon be available to watch again on YouTube, and you can always find out more about our upcoming events on our website.

As always, both lectures were followed by a lively question-and-answer session, with the discussions continuing in the atrium for a rinfresco and cena speciale.

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Discussion and rinfresco following a talk. Photo credit: Antonio Palmieri

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BSR tiramisù ready for a cena speciale!

The great wealth of history and art in Rome means that our residents have the chance to demonstrate their expertise on a huge range of topics. Last Thursday, our current Henry Moore Foundation–BSR Fellow in Sculpture, Simon Barker, led a trip to Tarquinia to see the stunning Etruscan tombs. Simon enlightened the group with his extensive knowledge of the Etruscan period, and the artists gave their perspectives on the styles and techniques of the artefacts and tomb paintings.

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Detail of one of the painted Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

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Wandering through the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

Friday saw our award-holders take on stone carving for the first time. Led by sculptor Peter Barstow Rockwell, each person was given a slab of stone to work on and instructed on how to work the material. Everyone returned exhausted from the effort of the carving, but had a fantastic time in the process!

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

On Sunday 13 November 2016, Jacopo Benci (Senior Research Fellow in Modern Studies and Contemporary Visual Culture) organised and participated in an informal roundtable on women and artistic practice at  Centro Studi DARPS (Donne Arte Pensiero Società), where the five women artists currently in residence at the BSR (Kelly Best, Maria de Lima, Maria Farrar, Catherine Parsonage and Vivien Zhang) discussed with Marica Croce Caldarulo (director of DARPS), Serena Alessi (literary critic and women’s studies scholar; BSR Rome Fellow, Oct 2016-June 2017), Lucrezia Cippitelli (art critic; lecturer in Aesthetics, Florence Academy of Fine Arts; lecturer in Art Theories, University of Addis Ababa); Costanza Mazzonis (contemporary art consultant, Sotheby’s Italy), and Marina Micangeli Sanfelice (entrepreneur).

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Enjoying some burrata at the DARPS event

One of the many perks of being a BSR resident is the access to sites that are usually closed to the public. Today marked a particularly special trip: Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens led a visit to the Casa Bellezza, a series of fantastically preserved frescoed rooms from the late Republican era which sit underneath a 1930s structure which was the home of conductor Vincenzo Bellezza.

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Photo credit: Vivien Zhang

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Photo credit: Maria Farrar

Just another week at the BSR!

Ellie Johnson (Administrative Assistant (Communications and Events))

40 years on from the excavations at San Giovanni di Ruoti

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‘Alastair Small (Rome Scholar 1965-7) began work near the small village of San Giovanni di Ruoti in Basilicata (ancient Lucania) in the 1970s with Robert Buck, and with the encouragement of Dinu Adamesteanu, the great superintendent of the region. The local historian Gerardo Salinardi had drawn attention to the potential of the site, then accessible only by mule. The excavation from 1977 to 1984 revealed a stunning villa site, occupying a beautiful position looking down the Valley of the Fiumara di Avigliano, towards the ever receding hills.

The site produced splendid late Roman mosaic floors (now in the museum at Muro Lucano), and had its own bath building. It was on two floors, with a large absidal building, and perhaps the most significant aspect is its continuity. There appears to have been an early phase which began around the time of Augustus and continued just into the third century, but when the villa sparks back into life in around 300 it continues into the mid-seventh century.

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Site tour with Alastair and Carola Small.

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Life was not entirely ordered – the disused areas show extraordinary amounts of rubbish and animal remains – but at the same time, San Giovanni di Ruoti remained connected, especially to Adriatic trade.

 

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Alastair speaking at the presentation of the new volume La villa romana e tardoantica di San Giovanni di Ruoti (Basilicata). Una sintesi.

Alastair returned earlier this month to San Giovanni for the presentation of a synthesis of the excavation, produced with Francesco Tarlano.  The volume, La villa romana e tardoantica di San Giovanni di Ruoti (Basilicata). Una sintesi (published superbly by Pisani Teodosio Edizioni) is a sharp, clear and well-illustrated account of this important villa site, summarising work published in the more imposing Phoenix supplements which experts will know (two more volumes are due).

I was privileged to be part of the event, and it was yet another illustration of the passion Italians have for their heritage. Alastair and Carola Small, indefatigable as ever, were at the heart of everything – a tour round the site with an eager audience, talks in the evening in a packed hall; and many memories.  This was a dig which had engaged a community, and archive photos of the 1970s team were eagerly scrutinized for friends and relatives. Some of the Canadian team came too – husband and wife Eric Haldenby and Rosemary Aicher, who met at Ruoti, and Joann Freed who worked on the pottery.  Luisa Troiano, who had moved to America in the 1960s, and whose generosity made the whole project possible, gave a gracious speech and was cheered to the rafters. Everything was managed impeccably by Felice Faraone, whose idea it had all been.

The following day, Alastair, Carola and I travelled to Muro Lucano to see the mosaics and the other treasures of this super museum, directed by Salvatore Pagliuca, who has created a little gem, with a stunning sixth-century grave from Baragiano to gladden my heart.

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Salvatore Pagliuca with a group at the Muro Museum.

I stayed in the aptly named and very lovely Dimora di Bacco, where Luigi Nardiello and Giuseppina Matturro were bringing in the vintage from their vineyard. Much in Basilicata has not changed, and perhaps in particular its capacity to run at a different pace from the rest of Italy, just as in antiquity its cultural activity outlasted northern neighbours.  Recently, it has been in the news for its acceptance of large numbers of migrants (in late Antiquity it was the Lombards of course).  It scores extraordinarily highly in tourist satisfaction, but is far less visited than other parts of Italy; and San Giovanni di Ruoti is in need of attention – it must either be restored properly or backfilled. Basilicata goes its own way, but investment is needed.

This story can be multiplied almost endlessly – a small town, well excavated by a super team, with huge local enthusiasm, and revealing unknown treasures.  It is what makes Italian archaeology so very remarkable – it is not just a scientific process, it is also a way in which discovering the past makes new memories, creates new communities, and refocuses older ones. This story stands for the many times I have encountered the impact of archaeology in Italy, and in this instance, much is owed to the BSR’s great friend Alastair Small, for whom the affection in this local community was palpable. Bravo Alastair!’

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Christopher Smith (BSR Director)