2003 TRENCHES PC 17,
23, & 25
Robert Vander Poppen, Field Supervisor
Robert Vander Poppen.
Field School Students:
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
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.
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
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.
Oosterbaan and Sarah Houlihan.
A bone (or lead?) find
excavated by conservators in PC 23.
Left to right: Bradley
Schneider, Adrian Ossi, Charles Sauvin, Jeroen Oosterbaan,
Robert Vander Poppen, Stephen Mills, Chirsta de Zoete, and Sarah
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.