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Project History

The Sangro Valley Project: Phase 1 (1994 - 1998)

See also the brief history at the University of Oxford, School of Archaeology.

The Sangro Valley Project, initiated in 1994 by John Lloyd with the aim of studying society, economy, and settlement change within the context of a Mediterranean river valley system, was modeled on Graeme Barker’s survey project in the Biferno Valley in Molise, the neighboring region to the south, one of the first major multi-disciplinary studies of a Mediterranean valley through time. The Sangro Valley Project sought to extend and refine Barker’s methods in order to assess human impact on, and transformation of, the Sangro Valley between the prehistoric and medieval periods. Three different environments were selected for testing by intensive field survey and other techniques: the mountainous area of the upper valley around Opi; the complex hilly landscape of the middle valley around Monte Pallano; and a more lowland environment around Fara. Based on the results of intensive field survey, a wider program of extensive judgmental reconnaissance was implemented to identify sites outside the study areas.

The field data collected in this first phase of the Sangro Valley Project suggested that important and sometimes unexpected transformations in society and economy took place from the Iron Age through early medieval times. These transformations included the expansion and contraction of farming and settlements, the development of long-distance exchange, and the emergence of the powerful local warrior-aristocracy in the Archaic period that maintained contacts with Etruscan, Campanian and southern Italy (as seen from the rich funerary evidence from sporadic tomb discoveries in the middle valley and more extensive excavations in the upper valley). The inter-relationship between the sites identified in field survey for the Sangro Middle Valley was analyzed in a pioneering GIS spatial analysis (Lock, Bell & Lloyd, 1999; Bell, Wilson & Wickham, 2002).

The Sangro Valley Project: Phase 2 (1999 - 2010)

From 1999 - 2010, an Anglo-American team sponsored by the Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford (UK) and Oberlin College (USA) continued operations in the region under the co-direction of Edward Bispham (Oxford) and Susan Kane (Oberlin).The Phase II Sangro Valley Project sustained both a research program in the Sangro Middle Valley, using John Lloyd’s survey dataset as a starting point for further investigation, and a didactic field school for undergraduates with excavations centering around Monte Pallano and its territory. Between 1994 and 2004, a substantial complex of public buildings was excavated on Monte Pallano by the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Abruzzo. These discoveries showed that Monte Pallano was a fortified hill-top settlement site (oppidum), as well as the political and religious centre of a substantial community dispersed across the hinterland (a pagus) in the Samnite period (c. 400-100 B.C.). The site remained an important administrative centre into high empire, when it seems to have been abandoned.

In 1999, the Sangro Valley Project uncovered part of the precinct (temenos) of a sanctuary of unexpected wealth and sophistication adjacent to this complex. Five seasons of excavation work (1999-2004) in this area revealed three phases of terracing, of which certainly the first phase (late third century B.C.?), and probably the second, are associated with the sanctuary complex, which may have extended into the area excavated by the Soprintendenza. The existence of a late-Hellenistic sacred building or buildings is demonstrated by the large amount of architectonic debris (largely architectural terracottas from the sanctuary buildings) incorporated into the second-phase terrace, itself held up by a large, late second century B.C. terrace wall of substantial polygonal masonry. The area appears to have been rebuilt in the Augustan period with another phase of terracing wall, and there were further later phases of rebuilding. In 2003, the recovery of a complete stratigraphic section across the site was completed. The deposits are now being characterized in order to prepare the final publication of this site.

The materials found during excavation of the second terrace fillarchitectural terracottas, ceramics, coins, glass, small finds, plant and faunal remainsseem to be associated with religious deposition (offerings or sacrifices). The most remarkable finds are a large number of very high-quality architectural terracottas (some of the finest found to date in the Abruzzo). These include fragments from statuary and high-relief plaques decorated with both figural and floral designs that adorned the sanctuary’s building(s).

The majority of the terracotta plaques belong to a type of mould-made Hellenistic plaque decorated with a pair of dolphins confronting a central floral ornament. This unusual and lovely plaque has as yet only one proper stylistic parallel, recently discovered in a late second century B.C. terracing fill at the Middle Valley temple site of Quadri. The dolphin is a resonant symbol in ancient art and literature as well as a delightful decorative device. The imagery of dolphins confronting a floral ornamentan iconography perhaps linking mountain and sea and this world to the nextis a potent cultural symbol, one fitting to the aspirations of the Samnite patrons who commissioned the building. Rural sanctuaries have been shown to be an important part of Samnite territorial organizationthe ongoing analyses of these terracottas and associated sanctuary materials will elucidate not only the building(s) and the regional culture to which they belong, but also reveal the wide range of the site’s cultural and commercial contacts.

Monte Pallano and environs: archaeological survey (ongoing)

The survey work conducted by the first phase of the Sangro Valley Project showed that Monte Pallano is the lynchpin for understanding the area that it dominates. John Lloyd’s legacy data have been used as a base to create a new research program of archaeological survey work in the area surrounding Monte Pallano. These new investigations currently include: field survey; geoprospection; in-woods survey/shovel testing; and terrace mapping.

Acquachiara (2002 – 2009)

Ground-proofing of the 1994-1998 field-walking survey data at Acquachiara has resulted in the discovery of one important new site as well as the validation and characterization of a site identified through survey. The first (ACQ 10000), excavated in 2002-2003 and 2006-2007, is part of an imperial farm complex that was engaged both in industrial or agricultural processing, and in commercial redistribution of some of the products, as shown by the volume calibration marks on the sides of the storage vessels (dolia). Re-examination of the site in 2006-7 showed that the building was probably put up in the Augustan period, and remained in use at least to the end of the first century A.D.; pottery from another part of the complex suggests that production continued into the fourth or even fifth centuries Other Roman agricultural complexes have been postulated for the area, based on evidence from the earlier survey, but this is the first such excavated example in the greater Monte Pallano area, and moreover was a site which was not identified in survey. The second site (ACQ 8000) found in 2004 and excavated for four seasons (2004-2007) contains a rare agricultural processing site of archaic (6th century) date. These sites will add substantially to discussion of the nature of rural settlement and its development across time, which is still poorly understood in the Abruzzo.  The archaeobotanical and faunal evidence from both sites is suggestive both of correlation with wider known trends (as in sizes of cows raised) and of an unusual diversity of cultivars being processed.

The data from the work at Acquachiara show changing patterns in settlement as well as in land usage. These patterns in turn shed light on the impact of the area’s engagement with systems of production, storage and redistribution of commercial goods, the growing scale of transhumance in the later Hellenistic and Roman periods, and the area’s participation in a wider Mediterranean market.

The Sangro Valley Project: Phase 3 (2010 - )

In 2010, Edward Bispham decided to concentrate his efforts on the publication of the 1999 – 2009 excavations and to take a leave from participation in the ongoing summer field school. Phase 3, now under the direction of Susan Kane (Oberlin) started the excavation of a new site in the Middle Valley at San Giovanni (Tornareccio) in 2011. In 2012, the SVP will continue work in the Middle Valley as well as begin a new survey and excavation project at Val Fondillo (Opi) in the Upper Valley, the latter to be directed by Rob Witcher of Durham University (UK) in collaboration with Nicholas Wolff of Boston University (USA).

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