Category Archives: Archaeology

Civitates in annalibus regni Francorum

The Annales Regni Francorum are a (rather boring) official chronicle of the early Carolingians, covering the years from 741 to 829. I remember studying the historiography of this period in the two classes of Medieval Latin Literature I’ve been following in my college years. What I could not remember, however, is that the Annales cite Populonium, supposedly a settlement not far to Vignale, also known from the Late Antique Tabula Peutingeriana.

The passage is the following:

In Tuscia Populonium civitas maritima a Grecis, qui Orobiotae vocantur, depraedata est. Mauri quoque de Hispania Corsicam ingressi in ipso sancto paschali sabbato civitatem quandam diripuerunt et praeter episcopum ac paucos senes atque infirmos nihil in ea reliquerunt.

Annales Regni Francorum, an excerpt from the 1561 edition. Note the misspelling of magna for maritima, and the fine Greek typing of Οροβιῶται.

It seems that Populonium was not a humble village, nor a dead city, but a civitas maritima. This small piece of history couples nicely with two documents from the year 770 that were written at the ecclesia S(an)c(t)i Uiti in Cornina, again not far from Vignale. There was a vibrant life, focused around possibly small centres, that were nevertheless part of a very large network, mostly ecclesiastical.

However, words alone do not tell a story. What was a civitas at the time of Charlemagne? Consistency isn’t perhaps the best quality of a text that could have been composed by ‘cut and paste’ during the late 9th century. On the map below are all the civitates mentioned as such in the Annales.

There are 40 civitates mentioned in the Annales. Most of them are in Italy and France, the heart of the Kingdom of the Franks, with some also in Germany, Croatia and Spain. Constantinople is a striking presence in this list, being the largest city in the world at that time (possibly together with Harun al-Rashid’s Baghdad). Therefore, it looks like size was not one of the qualifying criteria for defining a civitas. In fact, it becomes clear that they are more of a political body when we find peoples associated with a civitas, as for example the Autosiodorum civitatem where Charlemagne spent some time in the year 778 (if I am not mistaken).

So maybe it’s the episcopus who grants the title of civitas to Populonium. After all, the notion of civitas in Roman Latin is opposed to other terms defining the physical settlement such as urbs or oppidum, as in this excerpt from Rutilius Namatianus:

Agnosci nequeunt aevi monumenta prioris:
Grandia consumpsit moenia tempus edax.
Sola manent interceptis vestigia muris,
ruderibus latis tecta sepulta iacent.
Non indignemur mortalia corpora solvi:
Cernimus exemplis oppida posse mori.

‒ Rutilius Namatianus, De reditu suo, I, 409-414

I like to cite this passage because it refers to Populonia, the Etruscan and Roman city that ruled the same territory I am discussing. Rutilius wrote his poem in the years 415 or 417, almost four centuries earlier than the texts presented above, so no direct links are (chrono)logically allowed. Whatever happened during those four centuries is a matter for archaeological research.

The problem with archaeology is that we can assess the rough date when a villa or village were abandoned or founded, but it is more difficult to follow people when they moved, especially if the move is from larger to smaller.

Excerpt from the 19th century edition of the Annales

Making the map

In the second part of this post I will describe how the above map was made, starting from the historical source.



It should be clear that in the recipe there is a lot of hand-made work.

First I converted the HTML to plain text with html2text. The resulting file, that I called annales.txt for convenience, was then parsed with grep to identify all the occurrences of the term civitas. The command is:

$ grep -C 1 annales.txt "civita"

and allows to match all possible variants of the word, depending on the syntactical context. From the output of grep, I compiled by hand a list of the 40 places shown in the map. With 400, it would have been better to devise a semi-automated procedure, but in this case I preferred to concentrate on the results. A list of place-names is perfect for geocoding, except that there is no geocoding service for the 9th century! My list became a table (in a CSV file), and in a second column I added the modern name of the place, together with the country and the ZIP code to make geocoding more reliable.

Enter geopy, a Python library for geocoding, that supports several backend services, including GeoNames. A short script, and we have a set of coordinates for our Early Medieval civitates, ready to fit on a map. I loaded the CSV file in QGIS, added a background from Natural Earth, tweaked the labels and the map was ready. All done? Not really.

Creating a dataset

I want to have a small but solid dataset for this map, so I thought the best thing would be to find the corresponding Pleiades place. Pleiades has a blurred definition of Antiquity, but being a derivative of the Barrington Atlas there is very little Early Medieval knowledge in it. That’s where Regnum Francorum Online (RFO) comes in: thanks to the one-to-one mapping between places in RFO and Pleiades, I could look for the corresponding Pleiades URI for most places. In some cases, this is not possible (there is no RFO nor Pleiades place for Rota and Venice, yet, but I used Torcello as a convenient compromise for the latter) or it is difficult (as in the case of Smeldingorum, to be found in Germany without a more detailed location).

Humans make mistakes. When the map was ready, I checked again that everything was in place. The combination of RFO and Pleiades was very helpful: for example, I mis-attributed Tarvisium to modern Tarvisio whereas in fact it is Treviso and I found out that Rota is not modern Roses but the smaller inland village of Roda de Ter (a detailed account of the siege is on the Catalan Viquipèdia).

Here you can find the resulting dataset in CSV: civitates-arf.csv. It is in the public domain under Creative Commons Zero.

Finally, an interactive map is available below if you just want to look at the map in your browser. It’s made with MapBox.

New Planning Policy: cambia anche l’archeologia inglese

L’archeologia italiana ha un debito nei confronti dell’archeologia inglese, maturato nel corso degli anni 1970 e ancora in crescita, anche se ad un ritmo non paragonabile a quello del periodo 1970-1990. Per questo, e forse anche per altre ragioni, quello che succede nell’archeologia inglese è importante. Oggi è successo qualcosa.

David Cameron e Nick Clegg hanno proposto una riforma della Planning Policy, cioè della legge che regola le costruzioni sul territorio. La legge attuale prevede la ricerca archeologica preventiva (la Planning Policy Guidance 16 ‒ PPG16 ‒ che nel 2010 è stata sostituita dal Planning Policy Statement 5). La riforma proposta è in pratica una deregulation, di durata limitata nel tempo che consentirebbe alle imprese costruttrici di uscire dall’attuale periodo di crisi (BBC, Guardian #1 e #2, commento negativo sul Telegraph).

Cameron ha promesso molti posti di lavoro come risultato di questa riforma, e in ogni caso i costruttori l’hanno presa bene. Gli archeologi (e non solo loro) un po’ meno, e nella giornata di oggi c’è stata una levata di scudi su Twitter, per il timore di una ulteriore perdita di posti di lavoro nell’archeologia preventiva (che già attualmente non gode di buona salute ed è sensibilmente ridotta rispetto a pochi anni fa), la possibilità che siti archeologici noti e ignoti siano messi a repentaglio dallo sviluppo incontrollato. Qui di seguito alcuni degli interventi più salienti.

L’archeologia nell’archivio Luce

9452 balli, 7700 gambe, 5608 miss, 33813 sfilate, 20451 sport, 8326 pasti … insomma, c’è veramente di tutto nei 29537 video che l’Istituto Luce ha messo a disposizione tramite YouTube. Ma quanta archeologia c’è? Senza dubbio, tantissima, vista l’importanza che l’Impero Romano e le sue vestigia hanno ricoperto per il regime fascista e non solo. Senza dimenticare l’intreccio tra archeologia e imprese coloniali nel Mediterraneo.

Quindi, sulla scia della curiosità, ho iniziato a raccogliere i video che trattano, direttamente o indirettamente, di archeologia. La playlist è questa, ma non mi risulta che sia possibile gestire collettivamente una playlist su YouTube. Allora, per mettere una pezza e fare qualcosa di più di una goccia nel mare, ho pensato che chi vuole mettere la sua “goccia” insieme alle altre può segnalare nei commenti i video che vuole segnalare per la playlist, in attesa di un sistema più smart, social, duepuntozero.

Ten days in Athens, part 1: Levantine Ceramics

I am currently based in Amsterdam until sometime in mid-2012, but in February I have been in Athens for ten days, doing a few interesting things.

During the first weekend of February I’ve been attending the First Workshop on Levantine Ceramic Production and Distribution, organised at the Danish Institute of Archaeology in Athens. It has been incredibly interesting, first and foremost because bringing together ceramic specialists from the Bronze Age to the Ottoman period is priceless: the patterns of raw source materials, regional geology, spatial distribution of workshops, archaeological investigation of wares and fabrics are only artificially divided into rigid chronological grids and, for once at least, it was clear to everybody that it’s necessary to go beyond closed gardens in favour of a true longue durée (that was actually called for by the organisers on the workshop website).

First Workshop on Levantine Ceramics

The Athens workshop was the first one in a series. Future workshops will take place once a year in different places.

Instead of presenting notes from each talk, I have gone a bit further, summarising the topics that I found most interesting. I hope this results in a more readable account of the workshop.


This section comprises summaries about some specific wares, based on all the presentations and the following discussion.

Fine tablewares of the Hellenistic period

Eastern Sigillata A (ESA) is the most prominent fine tableware in the (Northern) Levant in the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman periods, and it is widely found at Mediterranean sites in a much broader area. However, it is not alone. There is a variety of less widespread wares that share a lot in common with ESA.

The so-called Black-Slipped Predecessor (BSP) is an earlier production than ESA, but there is a significant continuum between the late types of BSP and some early types of ESA that were fired in a reducing atmosphere, therefore black-slipped rather than red, and there is also evidence for half-red and half-black pieces resulting either from experiments or uneven firing conditions. However, there are differences in the manufacturing of the two, e.g. in how the slip is applied to the ceramic body: while BSP follows the standard Hellenistic approach of painting only the visible parts of the surface, ESA pieces were completely dipped in the slip-paint.

Regional wares in the Levant include the Northern Coastal Fine (NCF), the Dry Red-Slipped (DRS) and Dry Brown-Slipped (DBS) and the Brown-Slipped. The classification of some or all of these wares is problematic, especially based on macroscopic observations of fabric, slip colour, surface treatment and finish.

Petrographic and chemical analysis bring more data to facilitate a classification, but they are not always consistent between each other, and neither with the macroscopic classification, which is however a necessary first step.

In Kinet-Höyük, for example, the 6 fabrics identified at a macroscopic level show little or no differences when analysed by petrographic means: there is no distinction between ESA and local tablewares (DRS, DBS). Results of neutron activation analysis (NAA) are consistent with this lack of distinction in the chemical composition of the various wares, but highlight differences in their homogeneity. BSP is for example less homogeneous, while ESA is at the other end of the spectrum being the group with less internal variability. Whether the degree of chemical homogeneity can be traced to the degree of standardisation in the production of these wares is a matter of debate. With regard to homogeneity, it should also be emphasised that it is generally invisible to the naked eye, and therefore it would have no meaning to the consumers of such products.

Brittle Wares

The definition of Brittle Ware is usually reserved to the cooking, and more generally kitchen ware of Syria. The term is however not more suitable for the Syrian cooking ware than for other Levantine wares, which are sometimes thinner. It’s therefore advisable to speak of Brittle Wares in a more general fashion. There is for example a possible local production of Brittle Ware in Kinet-Höyük.

Syrian Brittle Ware has specific types and fabrics, made in few workshops or production areas, and illustrated by a series of standard shapes mainly distributed in Syria (including Southern Anatolia and Southern Syria).

There are different levels of information about Syrian Brittle Ware, resulting from the different degree of detail is has received at the sites where is was found. The most important sites, for which there is a large corpus of samples, are a small number: Apamea, Andarin, Dibsi Faraj, Hadir, Qalat Semaan. A distinction of the fabrics and of separate workshops is necessarily based on a combination of chemical, petrographic and binocular analysis, in a continuous integration among them. Furthermore, combining fabric analysis and distribution patterns of shapes has given an insight of the location of the production areas.

Based on fabric analysis, four main production areas were identified among a larger number. These workshops ‒ or clusters of workshops ‒ are not all active at the same time; some are short living and some last for a long period. These four groups are:

  • Group 1: 1st-10th AD, from Antioch;
  • Group 3: 1st-5th, from the Euphrates region;
  • Group 5 (or 4?): 1st-14th, from Apamea;
  • Group 6: Early Islamic-Byzantine, has a highly chromed fabric.

From the study of distribution patterns, it can be seen that the further from the production centre Brittle Ware goes, the lower the variability is in the distributed forms (i.e. standardised cooking sets travel farthest).

Late Roman Amphora 1

Late Roman Amphora 1 (LRA1) is a transport amphora made in Cilicia, Cyprus and other parts of the Levant. A first survey of 13 kiln sites for this type was published in 1989 by Empereur and Picon, but it’s now outdated and it should include not only more sites but also other regions like the Dodecanese and Egypt.

A number of workshops and kilns have been studied recently, including Elaiussa Sebaste, Sole-Pompeiopolis (Cilicia), Paphos, Zygi and Amathous (Cyprus). These workshops provide a more solid basis for the definition of fabric groups rather than finds from consumption sites. In Paphos and Amathous, the LRA13 type was produced at the same kilns.

However, there are more fabric groups that are still unidentified, like the so-called “X fabric” (not to be confused with “workshop X” producing cooking pots, mentioned below), and as a result the correspondence between kiln sites and fabric groups is not always clear, or easily defined. At the same time, for the same amphora shape (i.e. a subtype of LRA1) we have a lot of variability in terms of petrographic properties. In Cyprus 5 fabric groups have been defined, only 3 of which correspond to kilns.

The analysis of chemical data shows a difference between Cilicia (Yumurtalik/Ayas, Soli, Karatas, Arsuz) and Cyprus (Paphos, Amathous, Kourion). In this specific case, the comparison used was Sr (ppm) vs MgO (%). Overall, there are three main groups visible in any ternary diagram: mafic-basic, acidic-basic, bioclastic (with fossils). The mafic group is quite homogeneous, while instead the Ca-rich group is the most variable.

LRA1 is usually assumed to be a wine amphora, based on knowledge about agricultural production in the regions where is was made. However, residue analysis performed on LRA1 body samples gave controversial results, in that only 2 amphorae had residues of wine, but 14 had traces of vegetable oil, and 23 of pitch.

A correlated and interesting problem to the production of LRA1 is the relationship between amphora kilns and fine ware kilns, for which there is no conclusive hypothesis so far. Some petrographic analyses on samples from Kinet-Höyük gave results very similar to samples of other types from the same site.

Pinched-handle amphora (Agora G199)

The Agora G199 “pinched handle amphora” is widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean. A novel research project, based on chemical, petrographic and archaeological evidence, identified 3 main fabric groups for this type:

  • a fabric with red-brown mica, from Cilicia;
  • a calcareous fabric, from Cyprus ‒ Paphos in particular;
  • a second calcareous fabric, with red decoration on the rim, from sites in Lycia like Xanthos and Myra; this is a new proposal.


John Lund showed a distribution map of micaceous and non-micaceous fabrics, based on chemical, petrographic and archaeological evidence.

Polychrome sgraffito

Polychrome Sgraffito is typical of the Late Medieval period. Despite being usually called “Port St. Symeon ware” (PSSW), it was actually made in many workshops outside the Hatay region. Paphos is an example of such a workshop, even though there is no correspondence between the fabric of this medieval pottery and the LRA1 amphorae from the same region. However, it is possible to draw a very general distinction between Cyprus and Cilicia based on chemical analysis.

Polychrome Sgraffito is also definitely not “Crusader pottery”, as it is being used in Mamluk contexts.

Frankish wares

Written sources from the Crusader period mention pottery production in Beirut, Tyre, Jaffa and Acre. It is possible to draw loose links between the written sources and the archaeological evidence.

Acre Ware consists of simple, unglazed vessels made on the wheel. Vessels were dipped in salt water before firing, that made them more resistant to breakage and less porous. Bowls were mass produced and possibly linked to the Hospitaller knights and their care-taking of pilgrims and sick. No workshop was found for Acre ware. Its production stops abruptly in 1291, but instead the beginning of production is interesting, because there is a significant similarity of forms with the earlier Fatimid pottery, in what seems to be a continuous tradition. This brings the question of who were the potters.

Similar forms and surface treatments were found also in Caesarea, Apollonia and Jaffa. In Tiberias the jars are similar to Acre Ware, but in a different fabric. A similar production tradition, characterised by salt-water dipping, exists also in other areas, with different local fabrics.

The pottery from Jaffa seems largely similar to that of Acre. A few wasters of glazed pottery were found in a recent excavation found.

Apparently during the Frankish period two contemporary production traditions co-existed in the Southern Levant (Acre Ware, Beirut Ware) without any geographical distinction.


This section is a general summary of the methodological issues in the study of Levantine pottery, particularly from the point of view of the different techniques of analysis.


The basic aim of any analysis is the classification of pottery in discrete groups. Such groups can then be matched to known patterns of source materials, providing an attribution to a specific region. This can be done with a variety of techniques:

  • macroscopic archaeological classification (naked eye or lens);
  • petrographic classification (thin sections);
  • chemical classification (XRF, NAA, and others not mentioned during the workshop).

The main points of difference among all analyses are:

  • cost and amount of samples analysed;
  • qualitative, semi-quantitative or quantitative;
  • sensitivity to environmental conditions.

Macroscopic archaeological classification relies mostly on the technique of production, and therefore depends on manufacturing techniques and firing conditions. Chemical analysis depends solely on the raw material and then provenance, even though it is not always possible to directly match the former to the latter. Care should be taken with post-depositional alteration, as occurs regularly underwater due to anaerobic bacteria. Petrographic analysis can target both kinds. Furthermore, microscopy can be used to see the structure of the fabric. All techniques have limitations, and for this reason a combination of them is always to be sought.

The main problem is the comparison of results from different types of analysis, especially when there is an expectation to have similar results. Non-straightforward cases include:

  • when the archaeological classification doesn’t match the petrographic or chemical classification, with different wares having the same “signature”;
  • differences in trace elements without any correspondence at the macroscopic level.

Microscopic similarity among different productions from the same area, especially on a long-term perspective, is not necessarily the case. This can be explained by a variety of reasons, like changes in either the availability or the choice of source materials.

Data resulting from chemical analysis are usually consisting of classified by means of well-established statistical procedures, such as clustering, and principal components analysis (PCA). Clustering can be displayed as a dendrogram, based on the Euclidean distances or on other methods for calculating distance in a multi-dimensional space. PCA is typically displayed as a 2-dimensional scatterplot, with colours or symbols representing archaeological classification of the samples.

Sometimes there will be only a difference in the variability, i.e. the degree of homogeneity in one ware can be higher than in another, even though they were made using the same techniques and even source materials.

The limited amount of samples that can be submitted for analysis, either petrographic or chemical, is problematic especially when there is no re-examining of the samples from an archaeological point of view. As such, it is important to choose samples that are well characterised based on their shape, decoration, degree of conservation, because they will be more useful. It is then very important to have a drawing of all sampled sherds.

When available, a workshop should be the first step for defining a reference group, based on analysis of wasters and kiln furniture. If starting from scratch, it is advised to work on bigger groups first. Sometimes workshops are defined based on material from consumption sites, even before being identified in a specific region or site. However, consumption sites are more difficult to start with, especially in the case of large urban sites.

A necessary step is an extensive survey of clay materials from the entire region under study, not only looking at geological maps, that aren’t generally detailed enough. This type of survey has been done in the Balearic Islands, in Sicily, in Kythera and partly in Crete.

Concepts and terminology

Based on interaction between archaeologists and archaeometrists, and sometimes on different traditions of study, it is sometimes confusing to compare works showing an inconsistent glossary between them.

The description of fabrics at macroscopic and microscopic scale is the most critical. Not all specialists use the same standard for the description of fabrics and the photographs. This can cause dialogue problems between the archaeologist and the geologist.

The term “ware” seems equally misunderstood. As such, it should be defined as a cultural term, based on either the fabric, the typology of shapes or the workshop. An optimal definition will be based on a combination of more than one aspect, but it is not always possible to obtain the desired level of detail. Petrographic and chemical groups do not necessarily match a ware on a 1:1 basis. When it is not possible to perform the necessary microscopic analyses, or their results are not conclusive, it is still appropriate to define a ware based on the typology of shapes, decoration and the manufacturing techniques, such as pot-making, surface treatment and polish, firing. The distinctness of a ware is a function of the local assemblage and not of the ware itself, so in different places a specific ware may be not distinct at all.

“Source material” is a complex concept, as the manufacturing may be located significantly apart from it (e.g. 15 km), and more than one workshop may be using the same source material. As such, an identity between a certain source material and a workshop is not necessarily the case. It should be also pay more attention to the property regimes of the land where the clay sources were, because it is not always obvious that potters had access to clays only because they existed and were good for making pots.

Strictly related to the definition of source material is also a classification of local, regional and imported products, a very important concept that is generally implicitly assumed as a standardised terminology. As an example, the following criteria were adopted for the Persian and Hellenistic Levantine Coastal Wares from Tel Kedesh.


1 day of travel


2-3 days


More than 3 days


It is important to give an explicit definition of these concepts when using them, especially if they are used as a basis for an assessment of the economic and cultural value of pottery trade and exchange.

Joining the Advisory Board of the Journal of Open Archaeology Data

I’m joining the Advisory Board of the Journal of Open Archaeology Data.

The Journal of Open Archaeology Data (JOAD ‒ @up_joad) is an open access, peer reviewed journal for data papers describing deposited archaeological datasets. JOAD is published by Ubiquity Press, that has a

flexible publishing model makes humanities journals affordable, and enables researchers around the world to find and access the information they need, without barriers.

Ubiquity Press began publishing at University College London (UCL) and is now the largest open access publisher of UCL journals.

JOAD aims at bridging the gap between standard publishing processes and the dissemination of open data on the Web, by following existing standards (such as DOI) and pushing altogether for a novel approach to the publication of datasets, based on data papers describing the methods used to obtain and create data, the way in which it is structured and its potential for re-use by others.

As its name implies, JOAD is not a data repository: your dataset should be already deposited with one of the recommended repositories that will take care of its digital preservation. As with most open access journals, it’s the author(s) who pay for the costs involved in the publishing process, not the readers. JOAD aims at being a low-cost and effective way to disseminate your data to a wide audience, without the limitations and slowness of pre-existing publication venues.

Rural population in the Early Middle Ages: again historians vs archaeologists!

On 24th February 2012 I attended a lecture by Frans Theuws (Faculteit der Archeologie – Universiteit Leiden) about The Free and Unfree of the Historians and the Rural Population of the Archaeologists. It was part of a day-long conference held at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, but all other lectures were in Dutch, so it’s possible that I missed some of the wider topics under discussion.

The following is a summary of the talk. Some parts are more elaborate, some others are patchy.

Theuws started recalling the common view by historians of peasants in the Early Middle Ages as either free or un-free, this being the major if not the only characterisation possible on the grounds of textual sources. The leader of this position is Chris Wickham, especially in his recent Framing the Early Middle Ages book. However, archaeologists have access to different types of evidence, and see different things. Theuws argues in first place that “rural population” is a better naming from the point of view of archaeology.

An example was made, from a charter of the early 8th century mentioned in the Liber Aureus, regarding a transfer of land properties by a rich woman named Bertilindis to Willibrord, abbot of Echternach and first bishop of Utrecht. The meeting where the charter was signed took place in Chalon-sur-Saone (Burgundy), but such places as Hapert in Brabant are mentioned. Among other things, there is an explicit reference to the rural population of those lands in the charter, being transferred together with the land:

mancipiis V et uxoribus et infantibus eorum

These people were not necessarily un-free, but only tied and dependent to the casata, according to Theuws. Should we call them house-tenants? Mancipia were certainly clearing land as part of their due obligations, but apparently there was nobody enforcing these obligations. Bertilindis herself refers to the lands in Hapert in a very generic fashion (“the lands I think I own”), and she probably never paid a visit to them.

Is freedom vs un-freedom a useful status indicator? We sure know a lot about tenants from such textual sources, but almost nothing about the rest of the population. And probably ‒ goes on Theuws ‒ the others were the majority, both because not all children could keep the same status as their parents, and because we know from archaeology that there was a large number of villages without any trace of what could have been the place where these mancipia dwelt.

Other common status indicators are e.g. weapons in male burials, but there has been a too easy association between weapons and freedom. How can we know that all armed men were actually free, asks Theuws.

Devroey’s Puissants et misérables (a review here) follows the same “dualist” social structure as Wickham’s book, starting from the title. even though in the book this concept is more nuanced.

There can be at least 3 differents points of view:

  1. status: objective and subjective right, Roman law, common law
  2. social condition
  3. economic condition

These 3 “variables” should be regarded as (roughly) independent, but they are not always recognised as being so.

In Dommelen, a female grave dating more or less to the same years of the Bertilindis charter (early 8th century). In Dommelen, graves are mostly female and children (only 1 man). Contemporary graves in nearby sites are almost devoid of grave goods. Here the village looks very poor and is made of very simple huts, but the burials in contrast are rich. A similar situation holds also in Geldrop, with male graves containing weapons. Without looking at the graves, these settlements would look very poor.

It should be stressed that these are normal rural settlements. There may be a social stratification internal to these groups of population, but they are as a whole the lower stratum of the population in the region.

Theuws proposed a three-fold social pyramid, refusing to call “peasants” the rural dwellers for whom archaeology provides evidence:

  1. aristocrats (textual sources)
  2. dependant peasants (textual sources)
  3. dwellers (archaeological evidence)

In later periods, there are large estates (manorial system) that comprise these settlements, but it may be that such settlements were independent before the establishing of such estates. A crucial point is that most textual evidence dates from the 9th century and not earlier.

Dwellers within an estate might be free or not, dependent or nor, but archaeology is not able to see these differences. Instead, it’s the economic condition that can be understood from archaeological evidence.

Wickham argues that the rural population was not sufficient to sustain an economy of scale (like the Roman one). Steuer (1997) describes a model of top-down and peer-to-peer exchange, and they can coexist in the same world system.

Grave goods are not local products: they include objects like rings, fibulae and belt fittings. What or who moved these objects? Were they traded or were people carrying them? Whatever the case, these rural populations had access to distribution networks ranging as far as the Alps, as is shown by the example of a specific type of belt buckle.

In a very short period, these belt sets spread all across north-western Europe. Why? Abundant production is not sufficient as an explanation, because people also have to accept, buy and use a certain model. This is especially true for jewellery and belts.

Pottery and other goods need to be part of this exchange model: rural population had a key role in economy as consumers, and this role was not limited to the elites. There was a complex European distribution network: no economy is exclusively international or regional.

Rural population did lots of activities that are artificially thought as separate like trade, fishing, agriculture, etc. We should move towards models of an eclectic economy of the Early Middle Ages, asks Theuws.

There is little archaeological evidence (especially when it comes to grave goods) for the 8th and 9th century.

Rural society was important for demand. Estates were probably created to exploit the existing and flourishing rural production, and not the other way. The creation of estates took away surplus and blocked the flow of goods to the lower levels of society.

I liked this lecture, because in many ways this debate is familiar with other things I’ve studied, so it was not entirely terra incognita. But my knowledge about this part of Europe is scarce if anything.

However, what I would have liked even more was a more detailed examination of the archaeological evidence.

Società Ceramica Italiana di Laveno

Probabilmente in molte case italiane ci sono piatti simili a questo.

Piatto da frutta, Società Ceramica Italiana

La cosa che però forse solo pochi fanno è voltare il piatto sottosopra, leggere il marchio di fabbrica e cercare di saperne qualcosa di più. OK, le produzioni ceramiche di massa del XX secolo non saranno particolarmente eccitanti, ma credo che proprio questa loro diffusione le renda degne almeno di uno sguardo.

Fondo di piatto da frutta, Società Ceramica Italiana

Il reperto in questione è un piattino da frutta, presente nella collezione di famiglia in 7 esemplari. Secondo mia nonna provengono sono stati acquisiti tramite una raccolta di punti fedeltà. Secondo mia madre erano di una delle sue nonne e non hanno niente a che vedere con una raccolta punti.

Quindi? A quando risalgono i piatti da frutta con il bordo arancione? Sono un cimelio o una banalità? A quante generazioni sono sopravvissuti?

Società Ceramica Italiana di Laveno

Il marchio di fabbrica rimanda esplicitamente alla Società Ceramica Italiana di Laveno (VA).

La Società Ceramica Italiana di Laveno, fondata nel 1856, va incontro alla fusione con la Richard-Ginori nel 1965, e per questo motivo si trovano alcune informazioni sulla sua storia sul sito web del Museo di Doccia. Altre informazioni storiche sono pubblicate da Roberto Conti nel suo Archivio della Ceramica Italiana del ‘900 (ripreso, purtroppo senza nessuna aggiunta, dal blog Il Piatto Antico). I punti salienti sono:

  • viene fondata nel 1856, da parte di ex-dipendenti della società Richard;
  • nel 1883 assume la denominazione di Società Ceramica Italiana (S.C.I.);
  • negli anni 1920 e 1930 sotto la direzione artistica di Guido Andlovitz eccelle nella produzione di servizi da tavola;
  • nel 1956 entra a far parte del gruppo Richard-Ginori;
  • nel 1965 avviene la definitiva fusione.

Questa cronistoria è di per sé sufficiente a collocare entro il 1965 la produzione dei nostri piatti da frutta. Infatti, sulla stessa pagina web del Museo di Doccia indicata sopra, è evidente che dopo la fusione lo stabilimento di Laveno continuò a produrre ceramiche, ma con il marchio Richard Ginori.

Il terminus post quem è il 1883, ma sembra a prima vista un po’ troppo indietro.

Raccolta punti si o no?

Proseguiamo l’indagine con la raccolta punti. Si tratta di un argomento su cui non è facile reperire informazioni storiche in rete, anche a causa della promiscuità dell’argomento con le raccolte attuali. In Italia la diffusione di massa avviene negli anni 1950 con le celebri raccolte Mira Lanza, anche se non va dimenticata la raccolta Buitoni-Perugina degli anni 1930 (centrata sulle figurine). Non esplicitamente, ma questo documento descrive per sommi capi alcuni aspetti del fenomeno. Tra i premi della raccolta Buitoni-Perugina (anni 1930) figura anche “un servizio da tè o caffè per 12 persone”: non sembra essere il nostro caso, ma ci si avvicina. Senza un elenco di possibili raccolte, e senza una indicazione cronologica anche generica, è difficile stabilire questo aspetto.

Marchi di fabbrica

Nonostante i piatti siano solo 7, ci sono due gruppi con rispettivi marchi di fabbrica. La forma del marchio è la stessa, un’aquila sormontante un cartiglio. In un caso in la scritta recita Società Ceramica Italiana – Laveno mentre nell’altro al centro si legge Verbanum Stone e intorno Società Ceramica Italiana – SCI – Laveno.

Marchio “Verbanum Stone”, Società Ceramica Italiana

Perché due marchi diversi se i piatti sono uguali tra loro? Una cronologia dei marchi della Società Ceramica Italiana aiuterebbe a capirlo, ma non sono riuscito a trovarne una. Le ipotesi sul piatto sono due:

  • i marchi sono relativi a due diversi stabilimenti;
  • i marchi sono relativi a periodi diversi.

Per inciso, queste sono le due classiche alternative dello studio delle produzioni ceramiche in archeologia: variazione nello spazio o nel tempo.

Vediamo cosa è possibile stabilire su questi marchi basandosi sulle risorse disponibili in rete (il volume Laveno e le sue ceramiche: oltre un secolo di storia non è facilmente reperibile, anche se si trova in alcune biblioteche pubbliche). Verbanum Stone sembra più semplice da cercare, perché non corrisponde al nome della società, quindi inizieremo da quello.

Il catalogo LombardiaBeniCulturali contiene una collezione di 516 oggetti prodotti dalla Società Ceramica Italiana, quasi tutti conservati nel museo di Laveno. Questo marchio propagandistico contiene la dicitura Verbanum Stone ed è datato tra il 1900 e il 1924. Ne esiste uno precedente, di stile molto diverso. Il tipo con aquila e cartiglio però non è molto significativo dal punto di vista cronologico perché è rimasto in uso anche dopo la fusione con Richard-Ginori, come si vede nella pagina già citata sopra del Museo di Doccia. Il marchio Verbanum è presente anche su alcune tazze e un piatto nella collezione del Berghof di Adolf Hitler, parte di un servizio donatogli da Benito Mussolini. Una versione finemente dettagliata del marchio fa la sua comparsa su questo piatto nella collezione della Wolfsonian–Florida International University.

La cronologia dei marchi di fabbrica rimane difficile da stabilire con certezza.

Poiché le schede di catalogo di LombardiaBeniCulturali contengono, nella versione dettagliata, sia la datazione sia la descrizione del marchio di fabbrica (dove presente), ho pensato che uno spoglio delle schede di catalogo potesse dare qualche indicazione. L’inizio è stato promettente, perché ha indicato che il marchio Verbanum Stone non va oltre gli anni 1930, ma ho voluto avere il conforto dei grandi numeri e controllare tutte le schede di catalogo. E il risultato è stato migliore del previsto.

Ho trovato 128 schede su 516 che attestano la presenza del marchio “VERBANUM STONE”, ma alcune riportano anche questa spiegazione completa:

La  presenza  della marca  in  verde  con  aquila  ad  ali  spiegate  e  la scritta  VERBANUM  STONE  indica  una  datazione  entro  il  primo  quarto  del  Novecento,  considerato  che  intorno  al  1925 Guido Andlovitz fece sostituire tale marca con quella con la scritta Lavenia.

Ecco dunque una indicazione cronologica sicura, anche se non abbiamo ancora capito il rapporto con il secondo marchio, la cui presenza su piatti del tutto uguali potrebbe indicare l’utilizzo di più marchi in contemporanea, magari in stabilimenti diversi, oppure la produzione continuata di un servizio molto semplice anche dopo il cambio del marchio.

Il tipo del piatto è molto semplice, e comprensibilmente non fa parte del catalogo LombardiaBeniCulturali, ma potrebbe essere un sottoprodotto molto elementare di questo servizio decorato da Piero Portaluppi negli anni 1920. C’è una denominazione precisa sulle forme dei piatti e dei servizi, ma non sono riuscito a trovarne una che corrisponda ai nostri piatti.


Sembra che in fondo i piatti fossero veramente di una mia bisnonna, e che abbiano ormai almeno 90 anni. Un bel traguardo per questi superstiti di un servizio da tavola più numeroso.

Non è l’età anagrafica a rendere questi piatti interessanti ‒ e ci sono certamente cose più vecchie, in grado di raccontare una storia più intima di questa ‒ ma credo che dovremmo praticare un po’ più spesso queste “spigolature” sulla cultura materiale dell’altroieri: ho imparato qualcosa di nuovo sulla storia di una industria italiana, sul suo funzionamento e ho scritto una piccola storia su sette piccoli piatti che continueranno a stare nella credenza con gli altri, ma da oggi sono un po’ più interessanti.

C’è in Italia un pensiero post-colonialista dell’archeologia?

Appunti presi sulla spiaggia di Preveli a Creta il 17 luglio 2011 e scarsamente rielaborati in seguito. Il discorso merita di essere approfondito.

C’è in Italia un pensiero post-colonialista dell’archeologia? Mi pare di no. Non credo che l’archeologia colonialista abbia necessariamente a che fare con il fascismo: lo precede (in alcuni casi di diversi decenni, come peraltro il colonialismo in generale) e gli è sopravvissuta. Probabilmente questa identificazione contribuisce ad azzerare il problema coloniale e l’ipotesi post-colonialista come una questione già risolta.

Eppure il problema c’è. Riesco a pensare ad almeno tre punti di partenza:

  1. il metodo di scavo, sia in relazione all’uso di manodopera locale, sia più in generale nelle tecniche e strategie;
  2. il rapporto con l’agenda culturale locale e la ricerca archeologica, storica, etc. del paese/paesi ospitanti;
  3. il rapporto con l’esotico e collocamento del luogo dove si opera in una dimensione “altra”, l’identificazione del presente con il passato e innamoramento temporaneo dell’esotico.

Il punto 1 è forse quello più semplice da sviscerare e modellizzare: grandi aree o sondaggi, scavi pluridecennali o di breve durata, pochi archeologi e molti operai oppure pochi operai e molti archeologi, scavo oppure ricognizione. E ancora: approccio oggettivo, antichistico e definito oppure cangiante, riflessivo. Un sottoproblema è anche da ravvisare nelle forme gerarchiche del lavoro: pochi capi con precisi obiettivi e ampie conoscenze possono essere seguiti da giovani studenti e ricercatori in formazione con interessi specifici, anche di dettaglio, oppure essere semplicemente al seguito, in un luogo come un altro (e da qui la sciocca attesa di un metodo universale, buono per ogni contesto). Temo che questa situazione sia molto diffusa, non solo nell’ambito della ricerca italiana. In termini generali, può essere descritto come una mancanza o carenza di consapevolezza, che peraltro è tipica del post-colonialismo “per necessità”: il colonialismo vero conosce la lo storia passata e recente anche perché ha bisogno di essere a stretto contatto con il potere. L’ignoranza della storia recente, che è strettamente legata all’“appiattimento” del punto 3, è un punto piuttosto importante, che fa anche capire come un approccio binario al problema non possa essere esaustivo.

Ritornando sul rapporto con il fascismo, mi sembra importante rimarcare una accezione ampia del concetto di colonialismo, in cui la ricerca delle origini (dalla remota preistoria alle innumerevoli “albe della civiltà”) o del mediterraneo impero antico non sono gli unici svolgimenti del tema. Come collocare altrimenti l’archeologia delle crociate o delle potenze mercantili, e il militarismo che studia fortificazioni d’ogni epoca?

Amsterdam, here I come

The excavation campaign in Vignale is over, and a new season of study and research is just beginning for me. The next 12 months are the last year of my doctorate. To get a wider picture of ceramic studies beyond the traditional chronological limits of Late Antiquity (or, to put it more smartly, to follow Peter Brown’s own definition of it), I’m heading to Amsterdam today for a 3-days conference on “Fact and fiction in medieval and post-medieval ceramics in the Eastern Mediterranean”, organised at UvA by Dr. Joanita Vroom.

As usual, I will share my notes from the conference on a shared notepad (here).

By the way, this is the reason why I’m not going to Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw. Good luck to all the friends there!

Eleutherna: first week of excavation on the Acropolis

On the 23rd August Elisa and myself came back to Crete for another week of archeological excavation, this time in Eleutherna with the University of Crete.

Eleutherna: Sector II - Acropolis

Dr Christina Tsigonaki came to visit our excavation in Gortyna last month and she was very kind to invite us in Eleutherna. The excavations here are one of the best in Greece, also for the very good quality of publications. The work of Christine Vogt and Anastasia Yangaki on the ceramic finds from Eleutherna is a point of reference for my research, even if mine is based in Gortyna and the ceramic evidence is quite different, also judging from what I have seen in these first days.

Eleutherna: Pyrgi - the tower

The excavation team is directed by Dr Tsigonaki and the people, all students from the University of Crete, are very nice ‒ it’s a pleasure to work with them and to learn some more Greek from their mouth. We start working at 7:00 am until 2:30 pm and finds washing takes place at the local school (now unfortunately empty) from 5:30 pm until 9:30 pm. The documentation system is based on SYSLAT, the one developed on the French site of Lattara/Lattes, and it’s not so different from others I have used before. Everybody is doing their own bit of everything (washing, keeping records, writing short descriptions of sherds, etc), there’s not much specialisation but it’s an effective way of teaching the basics of how to run an archaeological excavation.

The Acropolis of Eleutherna is also an ideal archaeological context for looking at the development of “hilltop” settlements from Antiquity into the Byzantine era: this is in a few words Elisa’s research topic.