Alberese Archaeological Project

Diaspro stone intaglio portrait of Bonus Eventus (2nd-3rd c. AD, Picture by Paolo Nannini SBAT)

The Alberese Archaeological Project (AAP) has been established in 2009, with the main focus on identifying Roman settlement trends in coastal South Tuscany.
The chosen area to be investigated is located in the territory at the mouth of the river Ombrone, in the modern Commune of Grosseto. The area of Alberese represents the main part of the Regional Park of Maremma, established in 1975, and covering a surface of approximately 10.000 hectares, while the Azienda Regionale Agricola of Alberese is the owner of the land.
Archaeologically, the area is situated inside the Roman ager Rusellanus, the territory of the ancient Etruscan-Roman city of Rusellae, located on a hilltop 10 kms far from Grosseto. The mountain chain of Uccellina represents its southern edge, dividing the district of Rusellae from the nearby ager Cosanus. One of the most important and richest Etruscan cities is few kms north of Alberese: Vetulonia, with its economical settlements, such as ports and harbours, facing the disappeared Lake Prilus.

The project was set around four key historical questions, crucial to a greater understanding of Roman settlement and economy:

  • a. What, in terms of landscape exploitation and settlement change, was the impact of the Roman conquest of South Etruria from the 2nd century BC?
  • b. What kind of economic infrastructure came into being – in particular, the relationship between cities and the rural settlements in their territories, and the distributive systems including cabotage ports and harbours?
  • c. How did economic patterns change after the 2nd century AD economic crisis, especially in terms of local production versus long-distance trade?
  • d. How did the economic and social system change at the fall of the Roman Empire (5th/6th century AD), and what was the impact of these changes on the urban, rural and maritime settlements?

In order to find some answers the project focused its attention on two sites: the temple area at Scoglietto and the Roman river port at Spolverino.
Excavations at the temple area finished in 2011, after having uncovered more than 85% of the settlement.

The project is directed by the University of Sheffield in partnership with the John Cabot University at Rome and funded by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship.

The river port and the industrial quartier

The discovery and excavation of the Roman cabotage port of Rusellae has been the focus of the last 3 years of activities of the project.
The site is located at the last bend of the river Ombrone, in a landscape where alluvial plains are predominant. In 2010, before the beginning of the excavations, few data were available to understand the nature of the site. First, two blocks of Roman masonries were known and after recorded, coming from a 2.5m high natural section, and ending into the river. These walls are built in opus mixtum and were misrecognised as the remains of a Roman bridge. Second, a geo-archaeological study led in 1999 brought to the conclusion that the seacoast line in the Roman period was some 4kms backward, putting the site at only 400m from the mouth of the river Ombrone and the Tyrrhenian sea. Finally, local people witnessed the presence of possible Late Roman burials in this area, found during the construction of the embankment of the river Ombrone in the ‘50s/60s of the last century.
From the historical point of view, instead, we had two important pieces of information: first, in the Tabula Peuntingeriana a place called Umbro flumen is located exactly where we started the excavations. Second Rutilius Namatianus, in his sea travel back to Gallia in AD 417describes the Umbro flumen mouth revealing the existence of a safe harbour.

Glass game pieces from the lararium at the River Port of Rusellae

The excavations led from 2010 have revealed the presence of a massive industrial quartier related to the cabotage port set on the final part of the river.
A series of workshops have been brought back to the light: glass- and metal-working infrastructures as well as a bone atelier, in fact, witness the hectic, economic activities since, at least, the second half of the 1st c. AD when the complex was built. The alluvial clay, covering the settlement for more than 2 meters, allowed a perfect state of preservation of the structures and material culture.
After a crisis in the late 5th c. AD, the settlement was reused as a necropolis, before being sealed by the first floods of the nearby river. Sometimes after the mid 6th c., however, the area was occupied by agricultural fields, before being completely abandoned.

Fieldwork activities

The excavations at the river port and the industrial quartier at Spolverino (Alberese – GR) take place in August and September of each year.
Students from the University of Sheffield are welcomed to apply to join the fieldwork in the month of September. Food and accommodations are provided within the working days (Monday to Friday; accommodation is guaranteed for the entire period).
During the month, students will be trained in archaeological field methodologies such as excavating and recording contexts, complete stratigraphic documentation, while seminars are provided for material culture analyses in the laboratory: coins, amphorae, bronze and glass vessels, common and kitchen pottery, animal and human bones and everyday life tools are all studied during the excavation season in order to support the stratigraphic data.

Please address your request to join the project to:
Dr Alessandro Sebastiani

Deadline for request/application is set on the 15th of May 2013. There are only 3-4 posts for the excavation. In case the number of applicants is higher, interviews will be conduct to select the participants.

Selected bibliography:

Chirico, E. and Sebastiani, A. (2010) L’occupazione tardoantica del promotorio dello Scoglietto ad Alberese (GR). Acheologia Medievale 37: 333-46.

Cygielman, M., Chirico, E., Colombini, M. and Sebastiani, A. (2010) Dinamiche insediative nel territorio della foce dell’Ombrone. Il porto di Rusellae. Notiziario della Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici della Toscana 6: 10-29.

Cygielman, M., Chirico, E., Colombini, M. and Sebastiani, A. (2012) Alberese. Loc. Spolverino, Porto fluviale di Rusellae: indagini 2011. Notiziario della Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici della Toscana 7: 357-361.

Cygielman, M., Chirico, E., Colombini, M. and Sebastiani, A. (2010) Un tempio sullo Scoglietto. Archeologia Viva 140: 50-54.

Sebastiani, A. (2012) Spolverino (Alberese – GR): relazione alla II campagna di scavi archeologici. Fasti Online, FOLD&R Italy Series 272

Sebastiani, A. (2011) Foce dell’Ombrone. Tempio di Diana. Archeologia Viva 145: 12.

Sebastiani, A. (2011) Paesaggio romano della Maremma Grossetana. Forma Urbis April: 19-25.

Sebastiani, A. (2011) Nota su due strutture produttive tardo romane nell’ager Rusellanus: la bottega di un maestro vetraio a Spolverino (Alberese – GR) e l’officina metallurgica a Rusellae (Grosseto). Fasti Online, FOLD&R Italy Series 221 

Sebastiani, A., Cygielman, M., Chirico, E. and Colombini, M. (2010) Dinamiche insediative nel territorio della foce dell’Ombrone: nuovi dati dagli scavi presso l’area templare dello Scoglietto (Alberese – GR). Notiziario della Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici della Toscana 5: 35-92.

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