The Coriglia/Orvieto Excavation Project

Location: Orvieto, TR, IT

Season: May 19, 2019 to June 29, 2019

Application Deadline: May 1, 2019

Deadline Type: Rolling


Program Type:
Field school, Volunteer

RPA Certified:

Saint Anselm College and the Parco Archeologico Ambientale dell'Orvietano

Project Director:
David B. George, Saint Anselm College and Claudio Bizzarri, Parco Archeologico Ambientale dell'Orvietano

Project Description:

We are accepting volunteers to participate in excavations in Italy during the summer of 2019 with the Coriglia/Orvieto Project.   This international archaeological project is sponsored by the Department of Classics at Saint Anselm College.  The Department’s works in Italy are conducted in cooperation with civic and archaeological officials of the towns of Orvieto and Castel Viscardo, the village of Monterubiaglio, and the Soprintendenza per I Beni Archeologici dell’Umbria.   This archaeological expedition is part of a long-term project to excavate several sites near Orvieto.  Volunteers will have the opportunity to gain experience in diverse aspects of the broad field of archaeology by participating not only in excavations in the field, but also in the cleaning, identification, and documentation of recovered artifacts and the flotation of soil samples for the purpose of collecting organic matter in the form of seeds, grains, nuts, and other evidence of the historic flora and fauna available to the site’s inhabitants.  This season we will be working at an Etrusco-Roman settlement at Coriglia approximately 8 miles from Orvieto and, personnel permitting, at a 2500 year old Etruscan pyramidal hypogeum deep below the city of Orvieto.

CORIGLIA: Over the last 13 years, excavations at this Etrusco-Roman settlement have uncovered a complex assemblage of monumental structures that resulted from the persistent habitation of the site from as at least the 6th century BCE through the renaissance.  Among its interesting features are two walls, one Etruscan, the other Roman.  The older Etruscan wall, constructed of tufa and encased with basalt stone, runs approximately East-West for 55m.  The more recent retaining wall of Imperial date paralleled the entire length of this wall before turning to the North and then running for another 70m terracing the landscape.  The Etruscan wall, dated from ceramics and construction to between the 6th and 4th century BCE, supports the south portion of the upper terrace and had been surmounted by a series of inverted large pots (dolia) referred to as ziros. In this part of Etruria, these finds frequently indicate sacrifice to gods of the dead.  Evidence for postholes and collapse of a structure have been found on this portion of the terrace.  If this wall marked out a temenos (sacred space), the direction it faced is as yet unknown. All of the ceramic materials found in this context are Etruscan or imported Greek. To the east an Imperial road, stormwater basins, water supply pipes and canals, and an entry to the site were repeatedly reworked. To the southwest two large vascae (each large enough to hold a sport utility vehicle) were excavated in 2009 and 2010.  These Imperial structures cut even earlier catch basins and canals and were later tapped as a water source for a medieval workshop excavated along their northern exterior wall.  Western portions of the upper terrace support a bath of Late Republican construction that was expanded during the early Imperial period. In 2007 we uncovered an apsidal structure at its southeast corner the inside of which was covered with hydraulic cement interpreted as part of a nymphaeum (a type of water feature).  Continued excavation in this area revealed adjoining rooms to the north of this apsidal structure, two additional apsidal structures, and remains of a hypocaust system confirming the existence of a caldarium at the far northwest corner of the trench.  To the east and unrelated to these structures we have found a series of Etruscan walls, one of which had an Etruscan ritual deposit beneath it that dates to around 400 BCE. This area, once a lower terrace was at some point overflowed by one or more landslides, was left buried, and built upon rather than excavated to its original level. In 2015 in the southeast corner of this same trench we discovered an intact vault system dating from the 1st century BCE that we shall continue exploring in future seasons. Evidence found in this vault, the landslide material and the catch basins during the 2016 – 2018 excavations indicates the site may have functioned as a sanctuary.

Our initial interpretation of the site as an Etruscan settlement that had developed into a Roman villa after the Roman conquest of Orvieto (the Etruscan Velzna) has not been supported by our subsequent excavation results.  The finds are too monumental and wanting in the types of ceramic remains that one would expect to find associated with a villa. In addition the roof tiles are more indicative of public and religious buildings of the Etruscan and Roman periods.  Our current working model is that Coriglia began as an Etruscan water/healing shrine around which a small town developed and grew. After the Roman suppression of Orvieto (Velzna) with which Coriglia was associated the finds indicate that it grew into a larger town with a bath complex/shrine along a branch of the Via Cassia during the late Republic, possibly dedicated to Bacchus. The complex remained in use until at least the 5th century CE.  The settlement persisted until at least 1000 CE with production activity lasting until the 15th century CE.

CAVITÀ 254: As for the underground pyramidal-shaped structure (hypogeum), we discovered it five summers ago but have not yet ascertained its function.  We know what it is not.  It is not a quarry; it’s walls are too well dressed.  It is not a well or cistern; its walls have no evidence of hydraulic treatments. We have excavated to a depth of 18 meters finding in sequence a medieval floor over a mix of material from the prehistoric to the 5th century BCE, followed by a meter and half of relatively sterile gray sandy material poured in from some point above at the center of the cavity.  Below this, is a series of strata deposited from a flight of stairs cut into the tufa wall.  Material recovered from these deposits dates to around the middle to end of the 6th century.  There are large quantities of Gray and Black bucchero, common ware, and substantial Attic Red and Black Figure pottery. Evidence in these deposits show that the site was sealed toward the end of the 5th century BCE; apparently in a single event.  Of great significance is the number of Etruscan language inscriptions that we have recovered – over a hundred and fifty and growing. We are also finding an interesting array of architectural/decorative terra cotta.  Excavation continues with the goal of identifying the purpose of this structure and reason for its ritual “killing.”


All volunteers rotate between the sites and the labs.  Students will also be taught how to use XRF and Raman as well as various other archaeometric techniques. 

An important component of the excavations is its Archaeological Field School that supervises the immediate excavations and offers lectures and other educational opportunities.  Academic credit is available to those who wish.  In addition, we have provided opportunities for graduate students to develop thesis projects, publish papers, and present findings at venues including the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual meeting. Members of the archaeological field school will be required to attend regular evening lectures and a number of short excursions to other nearby sites and museums.

Period(s) of Occupation: Etruscan; Roman Republican; Roman Imperial, Late Antique, Medieval

Etruscan settlement; Roman Bath Complex; Etruscan Sanctuary; Etruscan hypogeum. Our project is working at three sites in the Parco, one near Orvieto, Italy and one underneath Orvieto the other on the slope of the mesa. The first is an Etrusco-Roman settlement that begins as an Iron Age settlement and, with no interruptions, continues through a late medieval phase. The strongest phases are Hellenistic Etruscan, Early Empire and mid-third Century CE. We have uncovered a number of monumental structures. Among the most striking features are two walls the most recent a retaining wall of Imperial date running more or less East-West for 55 m then turning to the North and apparently running for 70 m. To the south of this wall runs an older wall constructed of tufa and encased with basalt stone. The Imperial wall seems to respect the footprint of an earlier wall dated from ceramics and construction to between the sixth and fourth century B.C.E. All of the ceramic materials found in this context are Etruscan or imported Greek. Behind the tufa wall seems to have been a terrace surmounted by a series of inverted dolium (ziro). We also found evidence for postholes and the collapse of a structure on the terrace. In this part of Etruria, they frequently indicate a sacrifice to gods of the dead. An understanding of their context here requires further excavation. Further to the south of these structures we found a series of large vascae cutting through at least four phases of walls. Another area of particular interest is the north-west corner of the site. We uncovered an apsidal structure the inside of which was covered with hydraulic cement that we interpreted as either associated with a caldarium or as part of a nymphaeum. We also found more rooms to the north of the apsidal structure but neither abutting nor quite in the current state of preservation adjoining. We have recovered a hypocaust but the association of the various parts to each other is as yet unclear. To the west of these structures we have found a series of Republican and Imperial floors and walls below which we recovered a wall with an associated Etruscan ritual deposit. Beneath the city of Orvieto, we have uncovered a pyramidal hypogeum of Archaic Etruscan date. We are working to excavate this structure in association with the Fondazione Faina. It has a stair case carved into the tufa wall that decends along two sides. It is quite large. Currently the cavity is 10.5 m x 10.5 m at the bottom of the excavated level. It is 15 m from the lowest point of excavation to the closed-in apex. To date, we have recovered animal bones, fragments of braziers, large quantities of bucchero vessels as well as substantial fragments of Attic Red and Black figure pottery.

Project Size: 25-49 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 4 weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: none

Room and Board Arrangements:
The fee covers room and board. The dig house is a 15th monastery, the Convento S. Lorenzo in Vineis, just outside of Orvieto Centro- two to four to a room. Some additional rooms are in a Ex-School just down the road from the Convento.  These rooms are dormitory style.  Both residences have laundry machines and drying racks.  Meals are taken in the refectory of monastery, prepared by a chef who is on staff. Cost: $600 per week/ $3,600 for all six weeks.

Academic Credit:
4 to 8 credits for Archaeological Fieldwork (optional) credits offered by Saint Anselm College. Tuition is $1,450 for four credits (Credit is optional).

Contact Information:

David B. George

Department of Classics; Saint Anselm College





support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.

Post a Fieldwork Opportunity