2003 TRENCHES PC 17, 23, & 25
Robert Vander Poppen, Field Supervisor


Field Supervisor Robert Vander Poppen.

Week 5:

Field School Students:
Elizabeth Wolfram
Bradley Schneider
Sarah Houlihan
Jeroen Oosterbaan
Stephen Mills
Christa de Zoete

We have now entered into the heart of the second half of the field season here at Poggio Colla, and excavation is proceeding at a rapid pace. In the last week the excavators of PC 17-23-25 have made a number of interesting discoveries that have helped to clarify the process of construction and destruction of the last phase of the monumental building, as well as making a number of significant advances in revealing the architecture and artifacts of the earlier complexes atop the hill.


Bradley Schneider and Sarah Houlihan in PC 23.

Last week ended with the team clearing off a large patch of burned soil in PC 17. This area is most likely the charred remains of the beaten-earth floor for the phase III building. Especially important was the discovery of a badly burned fineware bowl. The vessel, discovered by Steve and Jeroen, was sitting directly on the floor level underneath a number of fragments of burned mudbrick. When the conservation team tried to join the fragments of the crushed vessel they discovered that the fragments had been vitrified after they were broken. The intense heat of the ensuing fire had caused the sherds to bubble and warp as the ceramic was heated into a glasslike state. As a result of this warping the sherds could not be rejoined despite the complete nature of the pot, giving us a glimpse at a few moments of time in the period of the destruction of Poggio Colla. Apparently, the vessel had been sitting on the floor and was crushed by the collapse of the mudbrick before the whole collapsed structure was burned.


Jeroen Oosterbaan and Steve Mills excavating in PC 23.

In the northern portion of PC 23, Brad, Christa, and Sarah worked to uncover the same preserved pieces of the phase III floor level. Here the burning was more intense and a greater portion of the floor level was preserved. Like its counterpart in PC 17, the floor level preserved a number of ceramics smashed onto the surface by the collapse of the mudbrick walls. In addition, Adrian discovered a piece of bone inlay that seems to be cut in a checkerboard pattern within the floor level.


Sarah Houlihan and Christa de Zoete working in PC 23.

These finds were complimented by the excavation of the deeper stratum 4, which has yielded a number of pieces of beautiful Orientalizing and Archaic bucchero. Steve, Jeroen, and Adrian all discovered a number of pieces with incised or stamped motifs. These fragments are a testimony to the rich elite culture of Poggio Colla in its earliest phases. In the same area Jeroen discovered what looks like a posthole carved into the bedrock. Unfortunately the posthole is located in the southern scarp of PC 23 and the other half will have to wait until next year before we can be certain of the function of the carving.


Posthole in the southwest locus of Trench PC 23.

Hopefully this week will serve to clarify even more of the questions we still have about the nature of the phase III building and its predecessors. We plan to continue to take the northern portion of PC 23 down to the level of bedrock in order to examine it for other features associated with earlier structures. What other answers the soil holds for next week we await eagerly.


Assistant Field Supervisor Adrian Ossi sits atop his mausoleum.

Week 6:


Charles Sauvin, Stephen Mills, Jeroen Oosterbaan, Robert Vander Poppen,
Bradley Schneider, Adrian Ossi, Chirsta de Zoete, and Sarah Houlihan pose on their dirt pile.

This week was a typical last week of excavation at Poggio Colla. We went into the week unsatisfied with the amount we had excavated and learned in PC 23. By the end of the week we had made significant progress in both areas. Excavation continued this week solely within PC 23, where we focused on completing the western end of the trench.


Post hole (foreground) and fissure in Trench PC 23.


Fissure in PC 23 as seen from the east.

In the area at the SW corner of PC 23 we continued to excavate in the area that produced a Phase I post hole last week in search of bedrock. What we discovered was that the bedrock itself took a sudden drop toward the northern end of the locus. In addition, we began to notice a number of interesting features associated with the structure of the bedrock itself. To the north and east there seems to have been a packing of rubble pushed up against the bedrock as some sort of leveling course for the construction of the second phase of the building. Also of note was an area where the living rock of the mountain was split by a natural fissure several meters deep. In the area of the fissure, a number of rocks had been placed against the bedrock in what appeared to be an attempt to fill in the gap. However, once Jess Galloway added the stones to our plan and Adrian removed them, we discovered that there was a deposit of soil underneath rather than a packing of rocks. Within this soil Adrian began to discover sherds of pottery and mudbrick intentionally placed so as to create a pit full of votive ceramics in the area of the fissure.

Equally exciting was the discovery that one of the blocks that bordered the pit had a moulding identical to those uncovered by the Italian excavations of 1968-1972. The most interesting part about the discovery of the block is the fact that it is securely sealed below the level of Stratum 4, denoting a Phase I context for the block. We are thus able to draw a number of conclusions concerning the original use and subsequent reuse of moulded blocks within the site. These implications will be further discussed in the final report for Trench PC 23 next week.

We continue to work in the area to the north of these discoveries, and hope that the standard rule of excavation at Poggio Colla will apply to our last day of digging tomorrow. The best finds and most information always turn up on the last day and in the scarp.


Sarah Houlihan holds the string taught for taking levels.

 



Christa de Zoete and Stephen Mills.

 


Jeroen Oosterbaan and Sarah Houlihan.

 


A bone (or lead?) find excavated by conservators in PC 23.

Week 7:


Left to right: Bradley Schneider, Adrian Ossi, Charles Sauvin, Jeroen Oosterbaan,
Robert Vander Poppen, Stephen Mills, Chirsta de Zoete, and Sarah Houlihan.

This week marked the last few days of our time at Poggio Colla this season. Actual excavation ended on Friday of last week while this week was occupied by the activities associated with the closing of the site and the lab. The week began with the job of backfilling the trenches with all of the soil we had removed in this and past years in order to protect both architecture and unexcavated layers from the often harsh weather conditions of the fall and winter in the Mugello Valley. Backfill, itself backbreaking physical labor, was complicated by the fact that the first days of this week were three of the hottest in memory here in the valley. Temperatures reached 100+ degrees each afternoon as dirt was returned to the site via wheel barrows and a bucket brigade. All of the students worked admirably under the adverse conditions and the entire site was backfilled in two and one quarter days, far quicker than the expectations of any of the staff.

Now that all of the trenches are refilled and the students begin to pack up the lab and the excavation house, it is time to begin to piece together the information gained from this year's excavation, and to integrate it into our narrative of the site constructed from our own past excavations at Poggio Colla and those of the Italian team that excavated from 1968-1972.


View of Trenches PC 17 (lower right) and 23 from the southeast.

I wish to consider the information gleaned from this year's excavation chronologically, beginning with evidence from the first phase of occupation atop the arx of Poggio Colla. Thus far, the Western portions of PC 23 represent the deepest excavations anywhere within the interior of the monumental foundations of the later phases of the building. It is clear from the alignment and position of the phase I blocks discovered in PC 8 that these later foundations do not necessarily correspond to those of the earlier building. As a result much of our information is based on the stratigraphic sequence rather than on the presence of architecture. It appears that a natural layer of brownish yellow soil covered the top of the hill in its earliest phase. The top of this layer of soil represents the activity surface of the site during phase I. This layer contains small fragments of very early bucchero, often beautifully incised or stamped, allowing us to place a secure date on the soil to the Late Orientalizing or Early Archaic period. At this time, what appears to be a posthole was hollowed out of the bedrock in the southwest portion of PC 23. Unfortunately the feature lies with 1/3 of its outline and volume within PC 17 that we were not able to bring down to as low a depth as that of PC 23. In order to be certain about the structure we will have to complete excavation of the feature next year.


Left: Posthole hollowed out of bedrock in southwest PC 23.

At the end of this period of occupation the site seems to undergo a violent destruction by fire, evidenced by the presence of a very dark black soil filled with carbon and bucchero. In PC 23, this layer is only paper-thin and borders only the very northern scarp of the trench. It appears that either the destruction was limited to the northern edge of the hill, or that the destruction debris from the center of the hill was intentionally cleaned up and redeposited along the northern portion of the plateau. Along with this layer of very black soil a patch of bright red soil containing a number of pieces of mudbrick testify to the destruction of some type of structure in the northwest portion of trench PC 23.


Stratigraphy of Trench PC 23.

One final element of the stratigraphy associated with the earliest phase of occupation is left to consider. Either at some time during the building's use, or immediately after its destruction another interesting series of actions took place. In the southern portion of PC 23, someone dug into the natural soil of the hill and inserted a moulded block near a natural fissure in the bedrock. This block was then used to create the northern border of a votive pit, which was, in turn, sealed by a series of small flat rocks. Into this pit was cast a soil similar to that of the earliest depositions atop Poggio Colla along with a number of beautiful pieces of stamped and incised bucchero.

Above and below: upside down moulded block creates northern boundary of votive pit.


Two views of the fissure in Trench PC 23.

After the destruction of the phase I structures, a massive project of terracing and leveling took place across the central portion of the hilltop. Here a layer of yellow soil heavily included with decomposing sandstone was spread across the site on top of the destruction debris of the first phase building. This very dense and well packed soil provided a very solid surface for the occupation of the second phase. The only extant remains of the wall of the monumental structure found within our area of excavation consist of a number of beautifully squared blocks located within PC 17. These large blocks would have in turn supported walls of perishable material, probably mud brick as in the first and third phases upon the hilltop, for which we have much better evidence.


View from the southeast of Trenches PC 17 with large blocks (foreground),
PC 22 (upper left), and PC 19 (upper right).

Three other features likely belong to this second phase of the building. In PC 23 a group of large blocks, one of which may have been intended to carry a moulding, seem to have preformed a common function within the phase II building. This season we removed a number of smaller stones from on top of the structure to discover large piles of ash and animal bones, confirming our suspicion from last year that the structure served as an altar of some sort. In the area of the stones we also discovered a number of large fragments of very thick terracotta that may have once served as the casing for the structure. Also of interest is this season's discovery that the pit of bronze-working byproducts associated with the phase III covers an earlier version of itself probably associated with this second phase. Finally, in 2002, we excavated a fire pit directly to the north of the large blocks. The fill of the fire pit contained dense carbon inclusions and also a bucchero rocchetto (a spool used in ancient wool production). The fire pit also sits partially on top of an odd schist block whose function is currently unknown. It is, however, possible that this fire pit was a feature associated with a period of disuse of the site between the second and third phases.


View from the east of Trenches 17, 23, and 25 at the end of the 2003 season.
Large blocks forming an altar appear at lower left; fire pit at lower right.

At the end of the second phase another floor level was created for the building. Here the buildup of the floor was allowed to continue for a considerable time before the demise of the structure. Associated with the creation of this new slightly raised floor level is the slight enlargement of the building to the South and the addition of the storage spaces contained in PC 19 and 22. This enlargement of the building is evidenced by the southernmost wall within PC 17. Here the wall consists not of the nicely squared blocks of its predecessor, but is instead built using a rubble technique. This section of wall, at the south of PC 17 takes a distinct dip in level midway through the trench. My current guess is that the wall is missing a course in this area, but no definite solution to this problem has presented itself.


PC 24 (lower left), PC 22 and 19 (upper left), PC 17 and 23 (upper right), and PC 24 (lower right).

Regardless of the reasons for the missing wall courses, the situation of the floor level in this area also requires explanation. It appears that the area within PC 17 and 23 represent the most well preserved section of floor level within the building. Here due to differential burning, possibly due to the spill of an organic compound the latest layers of the floor are remarkably well preserved in the form of a thin black stain of charred earth. This floor extends all the way to the second phase wall, located approximately 50cm to the north of its phase III counterpart. At that point the floor stops, abutting all of the blocks but the westernmost, which it covers partially. The phase II wall then was visible raised above the phase III floor and may have served as a platform for the display of objects or vessels. In between these structures, a packing of large fragments of coarseware, loom weights, and tile was laid. It would then appear that the phase III wall was laid into a trench cut to the South of the Phase II wall, and that then the space between the structures was filled with a packing that served to fill up the northern portion of the foundation trench.

Evidence for the destruction of this layer is also spectacular. Aside from the dark patches of burned floor, there is considerable evidence for the events surrounding the destruction of the last building. A number of vessels setting on the floor were smashed by falling mud brick. The complete vessels were then preserved in their smashed state beneath the burnt and preserved mud bricks. In two cases, the exact sequence of events surrounding the destruction of the building were perfectly preserved. A pair of vessels, one in PC 17 and one in PC 23 were smashed onto the floor in a collapse that occurred before or contemporary with the burning of the mud bricks that crushed them. The broken sherds of the vessels were then heated by the fire to the point of vitrification. Their edges were melted and turned into a swollen glass-like substance preventing an accurate rejoining of the vessels.

This season was a highly productive one at Poggio Colla. With each year's new excavations it appears as though the strikingly complex structure atop Poggio Colla fits the label of a sanctuary. This season's work was largely the product of a number of enthusiastic and intelligent students eager to work, learn, and understand. To Brad, Christa, Jeroen, Sarah, Steve, and Charles, and to my assistant Adrian Ossi, you have my heartfelt thanks for a fantastic season, and best luck in whatever endeavors life presents before you. I have thoroughly enjoyed spending the summer with all of you.

VP
______________________________________________________________
1. lack of a direct relationship of the block with the destruction layer found in only the Northern end of the trench prevents any more detailed chronological assessment of the feature.
2. Prof. Ingred Edlund-Berry has suggested this hypothesis based on the size of the block and the apparent beginning of a cutting on its northern and southern faces.

 


Courtney and Robert Vander Poppen during Courtney's 2003 visit.