Duke in Vulci: Archaeological excavations in 2017. The Vulci 3000 Project

Monday, July 24, 2017

Duke in Vulci: Archaeological excavations in 2017. The Vulci 3000 Project

The dynamics of urban transformations in Italy across the first millennium BCE is one of the most interesting research topics in classical archaeology because it reveals social and political dimensions of several ancient societies through the comparative analysis of material culture and architectural monumentalization. Transformation and evolution depend on social and political changes that deeply influence cities’ layouts, monumental buildings and the organization of public spaces, which was well demonstrated in other case studies such as Veii, Cosa, Gabii and Tarquinia.

This project enhances this field of inquiry through a detailed study of the multistratified archaeological site of Vulci (in the province of Viterbo, Italy, fl. 10th-3rd cent. BCE). The city was one of the largest and most important cities of ancient Etruria and one of the biggest pre-Roman cities in the 1st millennium BCE in the Italian peninsula. Because the inhabitation site is located in an urban context, uniquely stratified and mostly untouched, Vulci provides us with a unique window into the social, cultural and political dynamics that have shaped urban land-use in the Mediterranean through the ages. The site’s occupation spans four distinct phases that include the Iron Age, Etruscan, Roman and Medieval settlements in the same general area. At its largest it covered ~ 126 hectares and had an estimated population of thousands of inhabitants in the Classical period (6th-5th cent. BCE). In 280 BCE, it had to abandon a large part of its territory, and this was the beginning of its decline (exacerbated by the nearby Roman colony of Cosa, which was founded in 273 BCE). In the intervening centuries, remnants of the Etruscan city and the later Roman occupation succumbed to scavenging for building materials and the slow burial under layers of soil that such sites face.

Reconstruction and re-interpretation of Vulci can be achieved by an innovative methodological approach able to integrate the application of latest state-of-the-art technologies, such as airborne remote sensing (LiDAR, photogrammetry, multispectral image processing) and geophysical prospections with extensive archaeological excavations (started by Duke University in 2015 and continuing in 2017).

In the excavation season the Duke team found a monumental complex equipped with four niches for statues and decorated with opus sectile, marble tiles imported from Asia Minor. The monument is open to the Roman decumanus and connected with other complex buildings, still unexcavated. The building can find preliminary parallels with other similar structures dedicated to the worship of Roman emperors, such as Augustus in the first century AD. The excavation of the decoration of a wall, collapsed after the abandonment of the building, shows a decoration with red frescos, frames decorated with lotus flowers and marble tiles. We assume that several statues were decorating the building on the three open sides and they were all visible from the decumanus (E-W road). A first analysis of the finds and of the “slices” coming from the georadar shows a long-stratified life of this part of the city, with a significant overlap between the Etruscan city (6th–3rd century BCE) and the Roman one (2nd BCE–3rd CE Under the travertine floor of the Roman building a well-cistern was found in situ, very likely belonging to the earliest Etruscan water system. A gallery, going to the Southern part of the site, was connected with the well and it was obliterated with tiles and mortar before the construction of the travertine building. The gallery and the well were presumably connected with other similar structures still visible in the Vulci’s plateau but never documented before.

It is the first time in the archaeological investigation of Vulci that a Pre-roman well-cistern is found in situ and in a chronologically stratified archaeological context. This finding, once complete excavated, will be able to show the complexity and the extension of the Etruscan water system, later integrated in the Roman urban plan.
The 2017 excavations are also revealing important information about the latest phase of the Roman forum with archaeological material dating back to the IV-V century AD. This chronology reviews substantially the state of the art of the last phases of life of the city of Vulci.

In the so called Western Forum of Vulci (southern part of the Park) a large-scale identification of the Roman forum is possible by aerial and drone photography. Crop-marks and soil marks show clearly the presence of a basilica and a possible odeion (a small theater) and, more generally, they display the typical Roman grid of the Forum. Additional prospections by drone and ground penetrating radar made by Duke University demonstrate the existence of very thick archaeological deposits (over 2.5 m deep from the topsoil), very likely related to the superimposition of Etruscan and Roman layers and buildings.

The methodological approach of the project involves: 1) non-invasive technologies for a predictive interpretation of the site; 2) archaeological excavations (single context method) in the most important urban areas of the site; 3) accurate, 3D digital documentation of the landscape (macro-scale) and of the excavation trench (micro-scale); 4) lab analyses on archaeological finds and deposits; and 5) digital archiving and dissemination by collaborative Web-GIS and virtual reality applications. The combination of all these methods is able to create a new research template for the study and interpretation of ancient cities, applicable to other contexts and sites. 
At the end of the 2017 season, the Bass connection team of Duke University released to the Vulci Park a new digital app. concerning the virtual reconstruction of the archaeological landscape. This will help the visitors to plan in advance their visit and to see very accurate and new scientific data collected by Duke University with geophysical prospections, drones and remote sensing systems.