EXCAVATIONS IN SICILY 2018
THE GERACE PROJECT
The setting of the Roman archaeological site of Gerace, in the orchard in the foreground
A fifth season of archaeological excavation is planned to take place at the site of Gerace (province of Enna) between mid-May and early June 2018, co-sponsored by the University of British Columbia’s Centre for the Study of Ancient Sicily and the Soprintendenza ai Beni Culturali Ambientali di Enna. The proposed excavation will last four weeks, commencing on Monday 7th May and ending on Saturday 2nd June 2018. An excavation permit from the Sicilian Regional Government has already been obtained for 2018, as has permission to dig from the landowner. Application for funding has been requested from the Social Studies and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the outcome of which will not be known until April 1st 2018.
- The excavation site
The site is that of a Roman villa in the heart of Sicily, situated in fertile agricultural land surrounded to the north by an amphitheatre of gentle hills. It was discovered by accident 23 years ago when a drainage ditch burst its banks and cut through one corner of an ancient structure, exposing a mosaic. Subsequent limited excavation discovered the ground plan on the surface of a small villa with five rooms and an irregular L-
shaped corridor. Trial trenching descending to floor level suggested that there were geometric mosaic pavements in at least two rooms, well preserved beneath a tile fall at the time of the building’s destruction. This building was further partially investigated in 2007, but still has not been completely uncovered. It was partially uncovered in the 2013, 2015 and 2016 seasons, when a new chronology for the building was established: the villa was built c. AD 370/80 and destroyed a century later by fire. There were signs that it had never been completely finished. An important deposit of several hundred seeds (including different species of wheat, barley and lentils) in a storeroom in this villa, carbonized because of the fire, was discovered in 2015. Over 230 tiles marked PHILIPPIANI (for one see the photo on p. 4) have been found in the 2013–2017 excavations, his name occurring in ten different versions. The kiln where these were made was excavated in 2017: the bricks used to build the kiln bore the same name. Philippianus was clearly the owner of the Gerace estate who was active in the second half of the fourth century AD.
In 2012, preliminary investigations at the site, in the form of a geophysical survey, were conducted by a team from the British School at Rome. This research defined the location of further buildings apart from the small villa structure. One (A2 M1 on the plan, p. 3), 50 m long, has been partially excavated and found to be paved with an intact stone floor; built c. AD 300/50, it served as a storehouse for grain and other agricultural produce from the estate. It collapsed, probably in an earthquake known to have shaken Sicily in AD 361/3, and was never rebuilt; it was partly covered by structures belonging to the late Roman villa. The discovery of a further building (M2) in the geophysical survey, and the location of five kilns (M4 and M5), added greatly to our knowledge of the site. Further geophysical work will take place in the winter of 2017/2018, aimed at discovering with more precision the plan of buildings in the northern part of the site.
The excavation of the bath-house in full swing in 2017
An African red slip lamp found in 2017
In 2016–2017, excavation investigated building M2 for the first time. Part of a freestanding bath-building was discovered, with heated rooms, cold and hot pools, mosaic pavements and marble lining on the walls. The impressions of the hollow tubes which conveyed hot air vertically up the walls were still clearly visible in the apse of the hot room (caldarium). It was roofed by creating a semi-dome of interlocking terracotta tubes, of which 212 intact examples were found. The baths were probably built c. AD 380/400 and decommissioned perhaps fifty years later, when the building was stripped of its tiles and its bricks, for use elsewhere – an interesting instance of late Roman recycling (mosaics being smashed in order to get at them). The abandonment of the baths was associated with what is possibly further earthquake damage sometime in the second half of the fifth century, after which the baths were filled in and the ground level raised. A series of Byzantine structures, overlying late Roman features, arose on the site in the sixth century’
The aims of the project in 2018 are:
(a) to excavate the Roman structures more extensively, especially the bath-house, and in particular to uncover the rest of the frigidarium mosaic and its accompanying inscription, only partly exposed in 2017.
Detail of the mosaic in the frigidarium, uncovered at Gerace in 2017. The accompanying inscription reads ‘May you build more, may you dedicate better things. Asclepaides may you grow old with your family.’
Left: The bath-building, part of a heated room (tepidarium 2)
Right: The heated pool in the apse of the caldarium
(b) to investigate whether a further residential building (the villa of Philippianus?) lies alongside it; and
(c) to continue to excavate a tile kiln with possible secondary evidence for charcoal making.
The project will continue to recover and study ceramic remains (pottery, lamps, amphorae, tile), with a view to understanding both local ceramic circulation in the Roman period, and to evaluate the extent of imported ceramics, so as to understand better Gerace’s trading links with other parts of Sicily and of the Mediterranean during the Roman period. It will also continue to recover faunal and carbonized seed remains in order to establish the range of plants grown and animals raised (or at any rate consumed) by the inhabitants of Gerace.
Full details of the 2013 and 2015 excavations are available in published reports in the journal Mouseion, available on-line. In addition a paper on the stamped tiles found in the 2013 excavations was published in Journal of Roman Archaeology 27 (2014) 472–86. Excavation did not take place in 2014. A brief summary of the principal results of the 2016 excavations can be found at https://cnrs.ubc.ca/for-undergraduates/ archaeological-field-schools/sicily-2016/ and for 2017 the same link except for the last digit (7 instead of 6).
- Training excavation
This will be a training excavation, and two site supervisors, experienced archaeologists, will be employed to supervise the excavation and the recording. Training will be given in such skills as trowelling; stratigraphy; context sheets; surveying; planning; interpreting, recording and drawing archaeological sections; identifying and handling small finds; pot-washing and marking; photography. It is intended that excavation will take place for 6 days each week, a total of 24 days. There will be opportunities for two students to stay for a week longer, at no extra cost, helping with post-excavation work after the conclusion of actual digging. Any student who wishes can enrol on the UBC fieldwork courses, CNRS 335 for undergraduates, CNRS 535 for graduate students: for details of these courses, see https://cnrs.ubc.ca/people/rja-wilson/ and then choose ‘Teaching’. The tuition fee for this is not included in the cost stated in section 7 below.
Accommodation, within walking distance of the excavation site (approximately 10 minutes), will be in a bed and breakfast (agriturismo) called Il Mandorleto: see www.ilmandorleto.it. Dinner will also be provided there; lunch will be a picnic, eaten under shaded cover in the garden of Il Mandorleto after the conclusion of each morning’s work. Among other amenities, Il Mandorleto has a swimming pool. Internet access is severely constricted; cell-phone coverage does not normally reach Gerace, although patchy contact in certain locations is possible. You have been warned! Successful applicants must expect in advance to be largely without internet or phone contact for the four weeks’ duration of the project.
- Daily routine
Work begins on site at 0700. Pause on site for ‘second breakfast’ at 0930. Digging stops at 1400. After lunch, siesta until 1615. 1630–1830: one group will wash and mark the day’s finds near the potshed; a second, larger group will return to site for further excavation. Dinner 1930. Bed: 2200. We will be working a six-day week. On the seventh day there will be optional excursions (at no extra charge) to other archaeological sites in Sicily, to Agrigento, Syracuse, Morgantina, and to the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina.
Part of the geophysics plot at Gerace, mapped in 2012. Blue shows still buried walls, red floors or tile falls, yellow tile scatter, and green kilns. In 2017 building M2 and part of M4 will be further investigated
Detail of mosaic pavement in the frigidarium uncovered in 2017. On the far left Philippianus’ name appears in monogram form on the mosaic, suggesting that he commissioned and owned the baths
One of roof tiles stamped ‘Philippiani’, and (right) a brick with his monogram found at Gerace
The garden at our base, Il Mandorleto (left); the swimming pool (right)
The group will consist of approximately 23 people, including the director, a draughtsperson, a palaeobotanist, an archaeozoologist, a ceramicist and two site supervisors. There are vacancies for up to 15 UBC students. Preference will be given to those with prior archaeological experience. No application for a period less than the full excavation season of four weeks will be considered. Applications are invited on the attached form, which must be filled out and handed in to the CNERS office, Buchanan C 227 (for placing in my box), not later than 12 noon on Wednesday 17th January 2018. Alternatively, if you have access to a scanner, your signed application form can be sent by e-mail attachment (as a pdf) to email@example.com. If you have any questions before you apply, please contact the Director, Roger Wilson, at that e-mail address or by telephoning him at 604-221-9407. You are encouraged to apply, however, well before the closing date. Interviews of applicants will probably take place in the second and third weeks of January. I hope to let applicants know whether or not they have been accepted by Wednesday 31st January 2018. The Director’s decision is of course final.
The cost for the four weeks will be CDN$2995. All meals and the accommodation are included in this price, except for lunch and dinner on Sundays (see below). GoGlobal offers a grant to support you ($1000 in 2018), provided that you
- Additional note
Excavation is exhausting and often tedious work, and the Sicilian heat is intense and oppressive in May and June. Every member of the team is expected to be in reasonable physical shape and capable of sustained manual labour. Excavation is an expensive business, and extracting the maximum possible results within the time and limited resources available will be our unswerving goal. There will be a lot of fun, certainly, but the regime will be a tightly disciplined one. Complete dedication to the excavation programme, and constant and consistent hard work, will be expected. Any intending volunteer who has doubts about this, or who thinks that the expedition to Sicily will be an excuse for a holiday in the sun, should not apply.
This application form is also available in paper form in the CNERS office (BUCH C 227)