San Felice Excavation
The recovery and study of the artifactual assemblage at the site of San Felice is an ongoing process. We aim for 100% recovery by screening all excavated sediments through a 5mm mesh. Since 2005, we have recovered approximately 300,000 distinct finds, including sherds of pottery, glass, iron farming implements, ceramic loomweights, a small number of bronze coins, bone spindles and spindle whorls, bronze spatulas, and fragments of several rotary hand querns.
Most of these finds come from a substantial (5 x 7 meters east-west x north-south and approximately 1 meter deep) late first century AD/early second century AD midden deposit within a large, central peristyle area. Finds from the rest of the excavation are more sparse, although they do give us some insight into activities during the villa’s last phase.
Taken as a whole, the assemblage is quite suggestive with respect to economic activities within the villa, the site’s connection to regional market centers, and the residents’ food-ways, particularly during the late first and early second centuries AD. To begin with, it is evident that textile production was an activity within the site during this period, an activity that is not attested at this time in the vicus at Vagnari. There are also clear indications that the villa was a site of commercial activity based on the presence of two complete stone weights (one 20 Roman pounds and the other 10 Roman pounds) and fragments of two other stone weights. The evidence for commercial exchange comes principally from pottery recovered in the aforementioned midden deposit. While pottery from as far away as Tralles in modern Turkey is present, most of the pottery—including fine-bodied table wares, Italian Terra Sigillata, cookwares, and transport amphorae—are of local or regional manufacture. Among the ITS, we have a series of stamps, including “CREP” and “NOTH” which Philip Kenrick has asserted were manufactured at workshops in or near Venusia (modern Venosa); based on fabric analysis, we have also identified a new planta pedis stamp, “CAI”, which is made in the same fabric as pots with “CREP” and “NOTH” stamps, and so is likely evidence for another workshop or potter working within the conjectured Venusian workshop. Much of the unslipped fineware was likely produced within the Basentello Valley, along with some of the cookwares and amphorae. Other cookwares may have been manufactured near the volcanic complex of Monte Vulture, within the territory of Venusia, again evidence for a regional commercial network through which pottery and presumably other commodities were circulated from producers to consumers throughout the Basentello Valley.
We are currently engaged in detailed study of the site’s artifactual assemblage in preparation for a final site report. A preliminary report, which includes discussion of the artifactual assemblage, will appear shortly in Mouseion 11.1 (2010).
Environmental studies are an integral aspect of the Basentello Valley Archaeological Research Project (BVARP). The objective being to focus interdisciplinary methods gathered from the hard sciences to better understand the role of flora, fauna, and geology on site formation, climate, diet and ancient economy. Current researchers include: Fauna – Dr. Michael MacKinnon, University of Winnipeg; Flora – Dr. Robyn Veal, University of Sydney, Dr. Peter Wigand, Desert Research Institute (Reno, Nevada), Anthony Taylor, University of Nevada (Reno).
Macrobotanical or macrofossil analysis involves the study of floral remains that can be seen with the naked eye or under slight magnification (10 to 20x). Sediment samples are subjected to water based separation process known as “flotation”, whereby light organics or “light fraction” is removed and sorted. These remains often include charcoal, seeds, twigs, and terrestrial gastropod mollusks (snails shells), which can be quantified to determine local floral composition and resource utilization. The finds are photographed added to a computerized reference collection and compared to comparative reference collections housed at the University of Nevada (Reno) and Desert Research Institute.
Archaeological charcoal can be collected by hand, recovered by dry sieving, and also through flotation of soil samples. Archaeological wood is sometimes also found in excavation but it is generally rare unless preserved through anaerobic conditions. Wood and charcoal can be used in a variety of ways to assist archaeological investigations.
Firstly it is used as an alternative, or complement to, dating of excavations from coins and ceramics typologies (i.e.‘carbon dating’). Secondly it assists in palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, where it is evaluated in conjunction with other botanicals including pollen and charred and mineralised seeds/nuts. Lastly it forms the cornerstone for understanding the economics of ancient timber and fuel consumption. In particular it can tell us about cultural practices relating to wood use, forest management, cropping methods and cycles, artefact manufacture from wood, building practices, and questions of sustainability and the fuel supply in general.
Following collection in the field, post-excavation activities are normally carried out in a laboratory where the wood or charcoal is sectioned and analysed microscopically. Cellular structures in charcoal still closely resemble those of raw wood usually enabling identification of the tree of origin by comparison with wood atlases and modern reference material.
Palynology is the study of pollen, a substance containing male floral gametophytes (complex reproductive cells). Much like macrofossil analysis pollen grains are subjective to a special chemical flotation, involving a series of spins within a center fuse and drying processes which remove pollen grains, often only a few macron in diameter, from collected sediment. These samples are place on glass slides and meticulously counted and quantified. The resulting records are useful indicating shifts in regional vegetation over time, including deforestation, crop utilization, and climatic variation.
To date samples collected from direct archaeological contexts have proven highly degraded due to constant wetting and drying and high concentrations of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Future work will focus on designating moderately stable areas to sample in the hopes of increased preservation.