Research Aims of the Project

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The Rutgers University Archaeological Field School in Italy conducts work to further the research goals of the Upper Sabina Tiberina Project. Our team’s ultimate aim is to assess archaeologically a select cluster of Roman villa sites in the Upper Sabina Tiberina, focusing on the Republican and early Imperial period (third century BCE to second century CE) in order to investigate regional patterns of rural habitation and agricultural exploitation. Our villa sites are situated in an area defined by the Tiber on the east, mountains separating the region from Umbria to the north and the Reatine valley to the East, and the edge of the Galantina torrente to the south. We seek to substantiate archaeologically the point at which the historical characterization of the Sabina in the late Republic and early Empire is perceptible in the rural built environment, providing evidence of agricultural intensification and subsequent economic development. To this end, we are excavating one villa site in the area (Vacone), while conducting geophysical survey at other known villa locations.

The first part of our strategy is to excavate the villa near the town of Vacone (the “Villa d'Orazio") as the cornerstone for a comparative regional project assessing the Roman rural habitation in the area in terms of its scale, mode of agricultural exploitation, and diachronic development. This selective excavation at Vacone will be combined with a geophysical survey of the immediate environs of this villa and other villas in the subject group. Research goals include estimating the size of both the villas and the surrounding land they exploited, assessing the choice of villa locations from the standpoint of topography and ecology, and incorporating a GIS database with detailed physical and chronological information about the group villas.

Our team has selected Vacone for excavation based on information derived from earlier interventions by the office of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio and our own GPR survey of the central area of the villa. The villa has two standing criptoportici (underground chambers/corridors) built in opus incertum style masonry, which would date it to the late Republican period. The interventions supervised and published by Giovanna Alvino of the Soprintendenza in the 1980s shored up these substructures and carried out limited excavation in the area above each criptoportico. The work on the lower criptoportico uncovered a mosaic floor running along the length of its roof. Several thresholds were also unearthed that appear to open into mosaic-floored rooms in the area between the two criptoportici, presumably part of the villa’s domestic quarter. Our GPR survey of this area, conducted in October 2011, confirmed the presence of anomalies consistent with room walls. Exploration of the upper criptoportico revealed a space for the pressing of wine or oil adjacent to the end of the criptoportico, with a channel running down to a collecting basin in the criptoportico itself. Today the portion of the site between the criptoportici, where we have begun excavation, is on publicly owned land, and the remainder of the villa site would seem to be under local farmland and associated privately owned buildings.

Villa at Vacone Site Prior to Excavation


Excavations at Vacone in 2012

Our project’s summer 2012 season concentrated in the area immediately north of a mosaic-floored porticus discovered in 1986-7 atop the lower cryptoporticus, where threshold blocks found during the Soprintendenza’s intervention suggested the presence of rooms facing the porticus. Our excavations identified six rooms with mosaic floors along the porticus. We also uncovered a child burial in Room III and found decorative stucco collapse in Room VI.

To view official report click here.

Excavations at Vacone in 2013

This season's work continued the excavation trenches of the previous year. We also began a new trench along the upper cryptoporticus (which has now been identified as a cistern) which revealed more rooms and mosaic. Another new trench in the upper section alongside the cistern continued the previous work of the Soprintendenza in the so-called "work area." In the lower trenches we also found what seems to be a passageway to the (lower) cryptoporticus. These trenches reveald more mosaic and painted wall plaster (some in situ) as well as small finds of bronze implements, nails and two more post-occupation burials.

To view official report click here.

Excavations at Vacone in 2014

Excavations continued the trenches of the previous year. More of the upper work area was revealed, and two large ceramic assemblages were discovered, one in what was possible another work area or storeroom, and another in the passageway from the upper area to the lower cryptoporticus. A few more burials were uncovered, raising our number of burials to five on the site--this would seem to confirm that the site became a cemetery in later periods. More of the "earlier" villa phase was uncovered and explored. A channel cutting across eastern end of the site seems to have been installed with the building of the "later" phase.


To view official report click here.



For a more images of the site and the project, "like" our Facebook page "Villa Romana di Vacone."