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  • Vignale
  • Vignale
  • loco ubi dicitur Viniale
  • Italy
  • Tuscany
  • Provincia di Livorno
  • Piombino

Credits

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Periods

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Chronology

  • 300 BC - 1800 AD

Season

    • The toponym Vignale indicates a locality in the hinterland of Piombino on the southern edge of the alluvial plain of the river Cornia which in antiquity was situated on the edge of the western marshes on the Piombino plain and guaranteed links with the nearby port of Falesia. From the middle of the 3rd century B.C.onwards, the construction of the via Aurelia/Aemilia Scauri intensified this area’s connective role, which probably led to the birth of a large settlement in the middle Republican period and its development in the early imperial period, known from 19th century excavations. The investigations, which resumed in 2003, have so far brought to light a large building complex, overlying a number of pre-existing structures probably belonging to a rural settlement. The building under excavation, which extends uphill from the present provincial road 39 (ex SS 1 – Aurelia), stood by the ancient road. Internally it was divided into an area of large service rooms with rough floors and a residential area characterised by better quality wall facings and floors (fine opus signinum with lozenge-shaped coloured marble inserts and painted plaster). To the west the building was delimited by a portico with brick columns facing onto a large basalt paved courtyard. The courtyard was entered from what was probably a branch off the via Aurelia (partially investigated). Within the complex there appeared to be part of a _mansio_, probably associated with a residential villa overlooking Piombino’s lake system, a very productive area. In fact, downhill from the modern road the remains of a large productive complex came to light. To date at least two large kilns for the production of tiles, amphorae and coarse ware pottery have been uncovered. They appeared to have been active between the 1st century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. Numerous bricks/tiles stamped by _M. Fulvius Antiochus_, probably an officinator of the _figlinae_ of _M. Fulvius_, were present on the site and would seem to have been produced by this production complex. The presence of a homogeneous corpus of brick/tile stamps and of the kilns, together with the first archaeometric data which seems to indicate that the clays used did not come from the Tiber valley or Campania, suggests that the material stamped by _Antiochus_ was produced at Vignale. In the late antique period the building uphill from the road underwent significant restructuring. More huts were probably built on the part of the site that continued to be residential, occupying sectors of the building that were still partially standing. In the area to the north the first burials begin to appear, cut into the layers obliterating the floors. To date over 50 burials have been identified, both of adults and children, arranged in irregular rows with the heads to the west. The inhumations were in single earth graves without any grave goods. This was probably a very large cemetery linked to a settlement of some size which in the meantime may have been built over the remains of the Roman villa or elsewhere. To date no evidence of any substance has been documented for the medieval phases at Vignale. The toponym is attested in documents written at the end of the 10th century and a turris “called S. Vito” is known from the same period which may represent the first nucleus of a fortified settlement, whose topographical location remains unknown. The position of the “castro et burgo et curte de Vignale”, attested for the first time in 1055, also remains unknown. It was only towards the end of the 13th century that a fortified settlement took shape on the hill known as ‘of the Castle’, of which substantial remains survive among the thick vegetation. Following the castle‘s abandonment at the beginning of the 15th century, the territory of Vignale became part of a large estate which encompassed all of the southern part of the marshy plain of the river Cornia. It was exploited for free-range stock-raising and forestry until the mid 18th century. From this period onwards the large agricultural concern, whose centre was the farm which still stands on the hillside, gradually began to take shape. The management of such a vast estate led to the birth of farmhouses scattered throughout the territory and of the first nucleus of the village of Ritorto, whose origins are linked to the necessity of providing lodgings for the farm workers.
    • The excavations were extended in the area uphill from the Provinciale 39 road bringing to light the remains of a large _mansio_. The complex was characterised by the reuse of earlier structures, to which others were added that were identified by the different building techniques used for each phase. The following settlement sequence has been identified thus far: 1. A first settlement linked to pottery production, attested by traces visible in the areas where modern interventions have removed the Republican and imperial levels. 2. A second phase, both residential and agricultural, characterised by the construction of a rectangular building, perhaps with a porticoed courtyard, facing south onto a stretch of _via glareata_. The chronology was suggested by an exclusive concentration of mid Republican coins in this area, recovered from the plough soil excavated over the entire surface. 3. In phase three, a building with _opus reticulatum_ walls and cement conglomerate foundations was built a few tens of metres to the north. The quality of the build, size of the rooms and the presence of monochrome mosaic floors with small tesserae seems to indicate that this was the _pars urbana_ of a villa, which continued to exploit the earlier structures as the _pars rustica_. The remains of the baths documented in the locality of Vignale at the time when the via Aurelia was built (c. 1830) can be related to this complex. This phase is dated to between the end of the 1st century B.C. and beginning of the 1st century A.D. 4. Phase four, was characterised by the construction, in the western part of the area, of a rectangular courtyard, surrounded by a _quadriporticus_ with columns of broken tile, which occupied the open space between the second and third phase buildings, joining them together to form the _mansio_. The presence of tile stamps with the name M.FVLVI.ANT links this phase with the creation of the kilns found on the other side of the modern road, where the same stamps were also found. This phase dates to the first decades of the 1st century A.D. 5. During phase five, the _mansio_ was altered and remained in use until the second half of the 4th century A.D. There also seems to have been some spatial reorganisation within the complex in this phase (construction of baths by the southern entrance to the courtyard; division of one room into _cubicula_). 6. Phase six, saw a change in the structure’s function. The walls and roofing in perishable materials, postholes and hearths and the abandonment of the small baths suggest a transformation of the settlement. A community of farmers settled close to this still privileged place linked to the ancient consular road. The creation of a necropolis, extending from the north-eastern corner of the _mansio_ portico as far as the remains of the villa appears to date to this phase. Discoveries of numerous late antique coins in the abandonment layers date the settlement’s transformation to the beginning of the 5th century.
    • The 2013 excavations foresaw the continuation of work inside the fenced-in area and the digging of four _sondages_ in the immediately surrounding area aimed towards gaining a better understanding of the overall topography of the archaeological site. Three _sondages_ were dug in the field immediately east of the enclosed area, aligned with the _via_ _glareata_ that skirted the construction to the south, in order to see whether the road continued. The presence of the road was checked to a distance of c. 15 m from the fence. There were no traces of the road in the next _sondages_, but substantial remains of what appeared to be the enclosing wall of a productive structure were revealed, perhaps a tile kiln. Given the explorative nature of the trenches, it was decided to wait until the next campaign before undertaking a detailed excavation of the productive complex, which appears to be of great interest for the study of settlement transformation on the site. Another _sondage_, put in on the same alignment about 40 m further east confirmed the absence of traces of paved road surface. This means that further thinking is necessary regarding the way in which the structures found to date were linked to the road network connected to the Via Aurelia/Aemilia Scauri, the line of which remains unknown in this area. A fourth and larger _sondages_ (c. 5 x 5 m), was dug immediately west of the enclosed area, in line with the south wing of the porticoed courtyard of the _mansio_. The aim of this trench was to check the development in this area of the structures of the courtyard entrance. The courtyard lies within the enclosed area and is in the course of excavation. What the trench revealed was unexpected: the ancient and late antique stratigraphy was heavily damaged by modern interventions, but what remained presented alignments and levels that did not correspond exactly to what had been expected based on the remains investigated in the adjacent area. The trench was completely flooded following heavy rain and so excavations were limited to what was strictly necessary for the documentation of what had been exposed. More extensive excavation will be undertaken in a future campaign. Inside the enclosed area, excavation concentrated on the structures of the southern entrance to the _mansio_. Here, a corridor paved in _opus_ _signinum_ was completely exposed. Excavations also took place in the south-eastern corner of the porticoed courtyard. In the latter sector, there was evidence showing that a work area had been set up in the late antique period probably for the recovery and melting down of metal taken from the villa/_mansio_ and for glass production, as suggested by the presence of glass slag.
    • The 2014 campaign foresaw the continuation of excavations inside the fenced in area and the opening of three _sondages_ in the surrounding areas, aimed at gaining an understanding of the site’s overall topography. The trench opened to the east of the fenced area, in correspondence with an anomaly recorded by the magnetometer, revealed a quadrangular structure. This was only preserved where it lay beneath the ancient ground level and appeared to be the remains of a latrine belonging to the _mansio_. In the late antique period, following a series of alterations/transformations, the structure was occupied by hearths used for melting down ancient lead piping. A second trench was opened to the west of the fenced area, in correspondence with the presumed position of the south-west corner of the _mansio_ colonnaded courtyard, in order to check for the existence of ancient structures at that point. The excavations uncovered remains of the courtyard’s stone paving and surrounding colonnade, badly damaged by modern interventions. The third trench was also dug to the west of the fenced area, close to the provincial road (ex-Aurelia), in order to check the entity of the remains of a structure for housing agricultural machinery. This is clearly visible on an aerial photograph taken in 1944 and local oral sources say that it contained traces of mosaic (and therefore of ancient walls) within its structures. The excavation confirmed that the modern structure was razed to floor level and therefore nothing of the ancient wall remained legible. The removal of the modern floor paved with local stone revealed a large mosaic. Overall, about 40 m2 of the surface was preserved, large patches of which missing. The mosaic was probably laid in the 4th century A.D. The decorative scheme uncovered to date is formed by three adjoining carpets, two of which had a motif of interlacing squares and one a figurative decoration. The latter presents a scene that probably shows Aion sitting on a celestial globe, in the usual act of moving the wheel of time surrounded by the figures of the Four Seasons. In a subsequent phase, the chronology of which is still being studied, the mosaic appears to have been substantially restored, with a new version of the Four Seasons and Aion, the addition of volutes decorated with birds and the substitution of the original emblema with simpler ones in the carpets with the interlaced motifs. Inside the enclosed area, the excavation concentrated on the southern area in correspondence with the _mansio_ entrance. Here, the corridor paved in _opus_ _signinum_ forming the entrance was uncovered. A limited extension towards the west identified the west wall of the entrance and the large reused threshold leading into it.
    • The 2015 excavations continued work inside the fenced-in area and the extension outside it, where in 2014 a large late antique mosaic was uncovered. Inside the enclosed area, the excavations were concentrated in the north-western corner, in order to investigate the topographical and functional relationships with the room in the antique and late antique villa with the mosaic. Like the rest of the site, this area was damaged by deep ploughing which has reached the ancient floor levels. The remains of a room decorated with a mosaic of small white and black tesserae was uncovered. The mosaic was not exposed completely as a precaution prior to consolidation. The mosaic’s typology dates it to the 1st century B.C. and it seemed to be part of the _villa_ _maritima_ of this period, as it presented very close similarities with the other mosaics uncovered in various parts of the excavations. To the north of the room with mosaic, in earth disturbed by ploughing, there were substantial remains of _opus_ _signinum_ faced with marble, possibly part of a floor built on _suspensurae_ that would therefore suggest the presence of a bath complex in this area. At present, the state of preservation of these remains prevents any hypothetical topographical and functional reconstruction, which will have to await the results of further excavation. Also in this area, and again within stratigraphy disturbed by ploughing, two patches of polychrome mosaic with a plait motif and large tesserae, suggests that the hypothetical baths continued in use until the late antique period. The external trench was opened in order to completely excavate the late antique mosaic floor and determine the perimeter of the modern agricultural shed which having been built on top of the ancient walls, had protected the mosaic from plough damage. The shed covered an area of 12 x 12 m and inside it the mosaic was better-preserved in the third to the north (the part excavated in 2014), while the two thirds to the south were more fragmented. The preserved parts, together with the traces left in the mortar make up, made it possible to reconstruct a mosaic with plaited motifs that continued the decoration of the part excavated in 2014. The new evidence adds further support to the hypothesis that this was a _triclinium_ belonging to the late antique phase (4th century A.D.) of the villa’s occupation. The remains of a marble pool surrounded by a mosaic of small white, grey, and black tesserae, stylistically attributable to a 1st century B.C. production, was discovered at the centre of the room in a contemporary pit dug in order to rob the ancient architectural elements. Based on the pool’s position, it may be suggested that the room was originally an atrium with an _impluvium_, which was later transformed into a _triclinium_, although the stratigraphic sequence needs further investigation.
    • Nella campagna 2016 è proseguito lo scavo all'interno dell'area principale e sono stati condotti due saggi nell'area immediatamente adiacente verso O, in prossimità dell’ambiente mosaicato scavato nel 2014-15 e in seguito ricoperto per precauzione. Nell’area principale si è realizzato un ampliamento verso N, finalizzato a una migliore comprensione delle strutture della villa antica e tardoantica. Anche quest’area appare intaccata da pesantissime arature moderne che hanno raggiunto i livelli delle pavimentazioni antiche, risparmiando però un ambiente decorato a mosaico a piccole tessere bianche e nere, tipologicamente databile al I sec. a.C. A N dell'ambiente mosaicato, nel terreno sconvolto dalle arature, sono stati recuperati resti consistenti di cocciopesto rivestito da lastre marmoree, che sembrano parte di una pavimentazione su _suspensurae_ o di una vasca. Lo stato di conservazione impedisce al momento qualsiasi ipotesi di ricostruzione topografica e funzionale, che dovrà quindi essere rimandata a un approfondimento dell'indagine. Ancora in quest'area sconvolta dalle arature sono ritornati alla luce due lacerti di un mosaico policromo a ottagoni, con grandi tessere, che possono suggerire una continuità di funzione di un'ipotetica terma fino ad età tardoantica. Nella parte più settentrionale dell’ampliamento, sono infine tornati alla luce i resti di alcuni grandi vani con muri in opera reticolata e pavimentazioni in cocciopesto, evidentemente anch’essi parte della villa maritima di I sec. a.C. L’ambiente più grande doveva essere in origine decorato da una pavimentazione a mosaico o a lastre di marmo, in seguito completamente asportata, ad eccezione di alcuni lacerti di mosaico di età tardoantica, pervenuti in pessimo stato di conservazione. Aspetto rilevante è l’assoluta mancanza in quest’area di stratificazione archeologica sovrastante i livelli pavimentali antichi e/o tardoantichi, a testimonianza del fatto che questa porzione della villa fu già scavata in precedenza, probabilmente intorno alla metà del XIX. I due saggi esterni sono stati finalizzati alla ricerca di una eventuale connessione topografica tra l’area del grande mosaico tardoantico e le strutture della villa nell’area principale. Il saggio nell’area immediatamente a E del mosaico tardoantico ha rivelato la conservazione di resti di muri in opera reticolata e/o pisé (rasati a livello delle fondazioni) e dei rispettivi pavimenti in cocciopesto arricchito da scaglie di marmo e di calcare colorato. Lo svuotamento di due fosse postantiche ha messo in luce la stratificazione presente sotto i piani di calpestio della villa, con presenza di muri e pavimenti pertinenti a una fase precedente. Il secondo saggio esterno, posizionato immediatamente a Nord dell’area del mosaico tardoantico, ha invece rivelato la presenza di un impianto termale, segnalato dalla presenza di robusti pavimenti di cocciopesto originariamente poggianti su _suspensurae_ e, almeno in una fase, decorati a mosaico. Le strutture sono pesantemente alterate dalle arature, e lo scavo non ha ancora condotto a una precisa definizione dei due vani riportati parzialmente alla luce. Considerata la natura dei resti e la loro posizione appare comunque del tutto verisimile l’identificazione con il complesso termale già parzialmente scavato nel 1831 e di cui si conserva una planimetria nell’archivio di Stato di Firenze.
    • Following the important finds made in 2014-2016, in particular the large room with mosaic floor, the 2017 campaign concentrated on two objectives: a substantial westward extension of the main excavation area and the opening of a new area north of the room with mosaic, both aimed at contextualising the mosaic itself. The enlargement of the main area confirmed that this part of the site was already the object of the 19th century excavations, documented by a plan of 1831 housed in the State Archives of Florence. The presence in this area of fragments of polychrome mosaic, with medium-large tesserae in geometric motifs is of particular interest, and they seem to date a late antique phase of the complex. Also of interest were the remains of the make-up for a large _opus_ _sectile_ floor, which decorated a space, presumably open-air, at the centre of the complex. In some points, deep ploughing had cut the make-up for the late antique and antique floors and therefore it was possible to reach the underlying stratigraphy. A _sondage_ revealed the remains of a roughly square room, with walls of broken tile and an _opus_ _signinum_ floor, relating to an occupation phase that preceded the first _villa/mansio_, whose construction can be dated to approximately the 1st century B.C. In the second area, a large bath complex was uncovered, presumably of late antique date, which reused a substantial portion of the 1st century B.C. _villa_ _maritima_. The bath complex was formed by three hot rooms with the presence of _suspensurae_ and was closed to the north and west by two large semicircular pools, one definitely heated and only just visible, of a type similar to a pool shown in the plan of the 19th century excavations. Therefore, this appears to have been a large bath complex, which at some point during its long history included the room with the mosaic floor, although the latter’s function within it remains to be established. The discovery of this unexpected bath complex led to the re-examination of a structure situated in the central part of the field, a few dozen metres away from the main excavation area, seen in the trial trenches dug at the start of this research in 2004. At the time, it was interpreted as a collection vat for waters flowing down from the hill. A new trench opened in this area revealed the presence of a much larger structure than expected, characterised by robust cement perimeter walls, which seemed to indicate its use was related to water. The presence of apertures between the spaces forming the structure and an opening towards the exterior suggest that it could be an installation connected with fish farming, even though other suggestions cannot be excluded prior to the continuation of the excavations.
    • The 2018 campaign concentrated on the area of the late antique baths, in the north-western part of the site, and on the imperial baths in the south-eastern part. In the area of the late antique baths, the excavations were extended to the north, where the large semicircular pool identified last year was completely exposed. The pool appeared razed to the level of the ancient floor surface, but the heating system of tubuli within the semicircular wall, the hypocaust structures, with suspended floor resting on pillars, and the mouth of the _praefurnium_ were all visible. A wide pit cut in the floor in correspondence with the _praefurnium_ seemed to relate to the removal of a part of the water heating system, perhaps a _testudo_, which may have occurred following an overall restructuring of the way in which the baths functioned. A thick rubble layer was partially excavated outside the pool, which did not seem to be directly correlated with a structural collapse, rather a dump of materials resulting from the functional reorganisation of this part of the site. In the south-western part of the site (trench 37) the baths were almost completely uncovered. The complex seemed to be organised in the canonical sequence of rooms from north to south: vestibule/_apoditerium_, _tepidarium_, _laconicum_ and _caldarium_, with two _praefurnia_ on the east side to heat the _caldarium_ and the _laconium_ (Fig. 4). None of the functional structures were preserved, except for a few traces showing where the hypocaust pillars abutted the perimeter walls. Some of the rooms contained a uniform fill, in which complete artefacts, reconstructable or in large fragments were present. This seemed to be material dumped within the abandoned and robbed structure, which came from areas that were occupied for a long period of time, indicatively from the Augustan to full imperial period. The area of the _caldarium_ did not appear to have been filled, or it could have emptied in a later period. In fact, there was a small kiln (probably for tiles, but the investigations continue) in the eastern part of the room, which made use of the mouth of the _praefurnium_ as a draw flue. Other traces, probably relating to postholes in the original floor, suggest that a small production area was set up in this part of the abandoned and robbed baths, whose type and chronology remain to be determined.

Bibliography

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