Fieldnotes: Short Articles and Field Reports

In Search of the Etruscans, Under the Tuscan Sun
March 28, 2011 | by Nicola Humphrey, Joanna Kacorzyk, Silvia Pallecchi and Elena Santoro

The Etruscan settlement of Marsiliana was brought to light in 1908 by Prince Tommaso Corsini, who successfully excavated more than one hundred pit graves with stone circles and tumuli in the area of Banditella, near the present-day district of Marsiliana. 

In 2002 the Department of Archaeology and History of Art Department of the University of Siena, in collaboration with the Council of Manciano and the Marsiliana Estate of Prince Corsini, initiated an archaeological research project to recommence investigation of the Etruscan settlement.  Fieldwork, under the direction of the Superintendent of Cultural Resources of Tuscany has continued for six seasons and has produced extensive scientific data which confirms the importance and vitality of the settlement, which was associated politically and economically with the Etruscan city of Vulci.

One major result has been the discovery of the residential area of Marsiliana, comprising Poggio del Castello, Uliveto di Banditella and part of Poggio di Macchiabuia, an area of 47 hectares.  The project also investigated a large tumulus in the Perazzeta plain, datable to the seventh or sixth century B.C.

The grave goods from this tomb, which had not been disturbed, have been fully restored and are waiting to be exhibited. Current excavations are concentrated on a burial site with a circular tomb on Poggio di Macchiabuia, dated to the eighth or seventh century B.C., and a residential building of some 400 sq. m. dated to the sixth or fifth century B.C. A survey, to identify and catalogue habitation and burial sites, is also continuing in the area around Marsiliana.

The “Casa delle Anfore”

Between the late 6thand 5thcentury BC the hills surrounding Marsiliana were covered with small production sites believed to be inhabited by families who were descended from the aristocracy that emerged during the orientalising period.  Investigation has revealed one site of particular interest dating to the last quarter of the 6thcentury BC, and from studies of the pottery discovered inside it is believed to have been occupied until the end of the 5thcentury – the Casa delle Anfore, so named owing to the proliferation of Etruscan amphorae discovered at the site.

Situated within Corsini’s estate, the 400 metre square peripheral residence shows evidence of a perimeter wall containing an entrance to the east, and a central enclosed courtyard which opens onto at least seven separate rooms. Approximately two metres from the eastern perimeter lies what is believed to be an external courtyard area covered in pebbles, perhaps representing a large square or street.  At the centre of this open courtyard a rectangular cavity covered in flakes of travertine was found, the function of which was possibly to collect surface water.

Excavation of the rooms at the south-eastern end of the residence has revealed a large volume of tiles, pottery on the floor, and Etruscan amphorae (most likely used for shipping) lining many of the walls at regular intervals as suggested by the large concentration of fragments discovered. Amongst these fragments, and possibly originating from wooden shelves which once may have adorned the walls, cooking and food storage vessels were discovered. Archaeological interpretation has concluded that a lack of ceramic or tableware would suggest these rooms were used as food warehouses.  Excavation of rooms at the front of the courtyard area along the eastern perimeter wall outside the building have shown a variety of large jars lined up along the walls of the rooms, probably covered by a roof.

The Necropolis of Macchiabuia

Dating from the late 8th to early 7thcentury BC, the Necropolis site of Macchiabuia is characterised by the presence of approximately forty burial tombs of a similar style and type.  The core of this funerary complex was identified in 2006 as being the largest tomb of the necropolis, having previously been excavated by Tommaso Corsini in 1896.

The tombs are characterised by a circular arrangement, between four to nine meters in diameter, of surface stones, made of roughly hewn local stone. In the centre of these stone circles the burial chambers in the form of wooden structures are housed in deep rectangular pits, surrounded by thin layers of stones acting as a ceiling and waterproof seal, with a tumulus of soil lined with clay serving to protect the burial. 

Single tombs were used for multiple depositions over time, and required secure access to allow for Etruscan burial rituals and customs to be maintained and carried out, whilst simultaneously deterring looters. The underground chamber where the deceased were interred could be reached through an entrance via a vertical wooden shaft which extended across the entire burial mound, closed on the surface by a large stone slab.  Despite such measures and being open solely at the time of burial, subsequent robbery of these tombs has taken place over the centuries.

As is witnessed with many past civilisations, the practice of burying the deceased with grave goods was practiced by the Etruscans, and excavations of the tombs at this funerary complex have revealed a variety of grave goods alongside the burials.

The oldest excavated burial chamber (tomb four) unearthed two vessels containing the cremated remains of two individuals, and the project is assisting to research and interpret the funeral processes as evidenced by the archaeological record. 

A variety of grave goods including shards of jars and amphorae as well as locally produced brown and red mixing bowls some of which were decorated in geometric patterns enabling them to be dated back to the last decades of the 8thcentury BC, were discovered alongside the tip of an iron spear. These grave goods were organised by type and function, with jars and wine vessels concentrated along the longer edges of the tomb.

Interpretation of the grave goods, evidence has led archaeologists to believe that a man and a woman were interred within tomb four owing to the presence of a spear (associated with males) and the type of lid of one of the urns being primarily used by females

Inside tomb two, the remains of three individuals were discovered, with two of them having been cremated while the third was simply buried.  It is believed that the cremated remains belonged to a man owing to the shape of the urn in which his remains were found, and a woman as her remains appear to be associated with spinning and weaving tools. The human remains from the burial are believed to be that of a very young girl.

A variety of grave goods were discovered including weaving implements such as spools and thread and a glass spindle. Providing a further insight into the Etruscan culture situated against one of the short walls of the tomb, remnants of a fireplace were discovered above which was placed a bronze cauldron typically used for the boiling of meat. Nearby, next to the hearth, evidence of two iron spits were discovered, most likely for the use of roasting meats such as beef.

The excavation and stratigraphic recording of these stone burial circles on the hilled necropolis have enabled archaeologists and researchers to reconstruct and generate visual three-dimensional representations of the tombs and provide greater insight into Etruscan burial practices, and further excavations will help to clarify the data.

Association Etruria Nova

In 2009 the University of Siena, while retaining overall direction of the project, transferred management of the logistics to the Association Etruria Nova, a non-profit organisation formed by graduates of the university and archaeological experts. The collaborative contract between Etruria Nova and the Department of Cultural Resources has led to the establishment of an International Archaeological Fieldschool, open to students and graduates (of both Italian and foreign universities) who intend to practice field archaeology, and also to volunteers interested in gaining experience in the area. Almost 180 people took part in the fieldschool in 2009 and 2010, comprising of archaeologists and volunteers from eighteen countries.  This was an exceptional formative experience, increasing awareness of the guardianship of the heritage of the province of Grosseto and creating a firm foundation for the development of both informed cultural tourism and further intensive research.

Etruria Nova have organised a series of activities of different workshops and summer schools for 2011. In February (14th-27th) at Follonica, near Grosseto, the First International Workshop on the Post Excavation Handling of Data and Materials will be held. This is an opportunity to work with professional archaeologists on data and materials found during the last archaeological campaign in Marsiliana d’Albegna.

During the months of May and June there will be a new Archaeological Project in Southern Italy:

In the land of Palinurus: In search of an ancient settlement of Magna Grecia (1th May - 26th June 2011, Policastro Bussentino, Campania, Italy)

In the region of the Enotri, in the Gulf of Policastro, here emerged a series of ancient settlements which from earliest times had close contact with the Hellenic peoples living in the area now known as Magna Grecia. In this territory, linked in Virgil's Eneid with Palinurus the navigator, there

developed an important site whose origins are marked by a series of coins which refer to it as Pixous. The Association Etruria Nova, in collaboration with the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage in Campania, and the Council of Santa Marina, presents the First international Archaeological Research Season at Policastro, open to archaeology students and anyone interested in gaining experience in archaeological fieldwork.

The season will to include:

1. Archaeological excavation.

2. Survey.

3. Initial finds processing and site documentation.

In May and June there will be three others initiatives:

From the 30thMay to 12th June ”The Etruscans at Marsiliana”,  Second International Introduction to Archaeology Fieldschool will take place. Following the success of last year this initiative offers the possibility of getting to know the job of the archaeologist better. There will be a series of lectures with practical workshop activities and on site involvement.

From the 12thto 26thJune “Processing of pottery and metal finds of the Etruscan Period”,  First International Introduction Course in Restoration will take place. The course will comprise two module, each of one week, and will include classroom instruction and practical restoration sessions, using pottery and metal finds from the 2010 season of excavations at the necropolis of Macchiabuia and the Casa delle Anfore.  It is open anyone interested in learning the basic theory and practice of restoration. The Technical Director is the conservator Dr. Alberto Mazzoleni. 

Theoretical tutorials on will cover:

1.       Archaeological restoration: techniques and methods;

2.       Taphonomy: decay and corrosion;

3.       Recovery through excavation: methods;

4.       Conservation: active and passive;

5.       Storage and display of finds: basic principles

6.       Restoration of Etruscan pottery (cleaning and consolidation, methods and materials in reassembly)

7.       Restoration of metals (cleaning techniques (chemical and mechanical), anti-corrosion treatment.

8.       Organisation of a restoration laboratory for pottery and metal finds.

The theoretical lectures will be complemented by supervised practical sessions.

The last initiative provided for begins on the 26thJune and finishes on the 9thJuly, Detecting Cultural Landscape in Mediterranean Archaeology (DeCLaMA 2011), and for the first time it is possible to participate in the different disciplines of Marsiliana. A traditional survey will be supported by a study of the ancient landscapes, born as the First International Archaeobotanical Fieldschool. Historical and archaeological features are recurrent components of the Mediterranean Cultural Landscape, yet are little understood. It may be a monumental centuries-old tree, or antique varieties of fruit trees and vines, or artefacts leading back to ancient uses of the land, such as terraces, charcoal-burning sites, or abandoned vineyards, olive-groves, or chestnut orchards. This course offers theoretic and practical tuition in the rediscovery, evaluation, and management of these parts of the Cultural Landscape, with the aim of enriching the landscape surrounding archaeological sites. A new understanding of the use of  Cultural Landscape will proceed from the innovative multidisciplinary approach of the course, through the perspectives of botanists, archaeologists, geographers, managers and landscape architects.

The excavation season in 2011 will be from the 28thAugust to the 30thOctober. Excavations will continue at the Necropolis of Macchiabuia and on the site of the Casa delle Anfore.

Contacts for info and registration:

Associazione ETRURIA NOVA 

Vicolo S. Agostino, 12 - 53024, Montalcino (SI)

tel. +39 (0) 577 600917  mobile +39 349 3613406