The Rutgers University Archaeological Field School in Italy conducts work to further the research goals of the Upper Sabina Tiberina Project. Our team’s ultimate aim is to assess archaeologically a select cluster of Roman villa sites in the Upper Sabina Tiberina, focusing on the Republican and early Imperial period (third century BCE to third century CE) in order to investigate regional patterns of rural habitation and agricultural exploitation. Our villa sites are situated in an area defined by the Tiber on the east, mountains separating the region from Umbria to the north and the Reatine valley to the East, and the edge of the Galantina torrente to the south. We seek to substantiate archaeologically the point at which the historical characterization of the Sabina in the late Republic and early Empire is perceptible in the rural built environment, providing evidence of agricultural intensification and subsequent economic development. To this end, we are excavating one villa site in the area (Vacone), while conducting survey at other known villa locations.
The first part of our strategy is to excavate the villa near the town of Vacone (the “Villa d'Orazio") as the cornerstone for a comparative regional project assessing the Roman rural habitation in the area in terms of its scale, mode of agricultural exploitation, and diachronic development. This selective excavation at Vacone will be combined with a geophysical survey of the immediate environs of this villa and other villas in the subject group. Research goals include estimating the size of both the villas and the surrounding land they exploited, assessing the choice of villa locations from the standpoint of topography and ecology, and incorporating a GIS database with detailed physical and chronological information about the group villas.
Our team has selected Vacone for excavation based on information derived from earlier interventions by the office of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio and our own GPR survey of the central area of the villa. The villa has two standing criptoportici (underground chambers/corridors) built in opus incertum style masonry, which would date it to the late Republican period. The interventions supervised and published by Giovanna Alvino of the Soprintendenza in the 1980s shored up these substructures and carried out limited excavation in the area above each criptoportico. The work on the lower criptoportico uncovered a mosaic floor running along the length of its roof. Several thresholds were also unearthed that appear to open into mosaic-floored rooms in the area between the two criptoportici, presumably part of the villa’s domestic quarter. Our GPR survey of this area, conducted in October 2011, confirmed the presence of anomalies consistent with room walls. Exploration of the upper criptoportico revealed a space for the pressing of wine or oil adjacent to the end of the criptoportico, with a channel running down to a collecting basin in the criptoportico itself. Today the portion of the site between the criptoportici, where we have begun excavation, is on publicly owned land, and the remainder of the villa site would seem to be under local farmland and associated privately owned buildings.
For more information about the work at Vacone and the UST Project, see http://ustproject.org.