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Chronology

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Season

    • The restoration of the so-called villa of Poppea, sumptuous imperial residence, is being carried out by the architect Bruno Sammarco. The project is aimed at the preservation and mise en valeur of the monument. It includes the consolidation of parts of the structure, the replacement of some of the roofs, the checking and reordering of the guttering and the repair of damage provoked by the infiltration of rainwater, The stuccoes, mosaics and paintings will be consolidated and cleaned, while the principal causes of their deterioration, principally infiltration, will be eliminated (Lorenzo Fergola).
    • We present the results of the Oplontis Project's first two seasons of field work. The Oplontis Project is conducting a systematic study of Villa A at Oplontis (Torre Annuzianta, Italy). Although numerous articles and guide books have been published on the villa since its initial excavation (1964-1980), to date no comprehensive publication has appeared. The Oplontis Project seeks to provide the first full publication of the villa. This study considers construction history, social function, material culture, and ensembles of decoration. The project addresses several questions raised by the remains of the villa: 1) what is the exact chronology of the villa, and how did its appearance change over its history? 2) Did this villa have direct access to the sea, and if so, was it built on an artificial platform, or did it take advantage of the natural topography? 3) Was this complex always used as a villa, or did its function change during its later history? 4) How were the villa's spaces used and experienced by its owner(s), invited guests, clients, freepersons, and slaves? The team completed an initial season of study in January and May of 2005 and conducted a full season of work in May and June of 2006. This initial fieldwork, which included excavation, masonry analysis, and a comprehensive wall painting study, has discovered new evidence for the history of villa's construction and decoration. (J.R. Clarke, M. Thomas)
    • In 2007, we expanded one of these restoration trenches and designated it as OP3. This trench, located at the SW corner of the swimming pool, produced further ceramic evidence as well as numerous fragments of the same cocciopesto pavement found in the swimming pool. Excavation here also discovered a significant deposit of demolished wall painting, architectural stuccos, and a segment of a brick column. One of the more remarkable finds from OP3 was fragment of a Third-Style painted frieze that we know came from room 8. On the basis of visual analysis, John Clarke had noted in his earlier study (Clarke, 1987) that the existing painted decoration of room 8 consists of an original phase decorated in the Third Style of 1-15 CE on the north and south walls with a careful imitation of the Third-Style scheme on the east and west walls. The fragment from OP3 was indeed a piece of that demolished Third-Style wall decorative scheme. Despite the fact that room 8 is 100 meters from our trench and the fragment emerged at the depth of 1.5 m, it is clear now that workmen filled this area to the south of the pool with the plaster from walls dating back as far as 1-15 CE. In 2007 we also excavated a small (1x1 meter) trench inside the southern wall of the pool (OP4) in order to study the pool’s pavement and sub-pavement. Interestingly, this trench found a Fourth-Style painting fragment below the pavement of the pool\'s south end, suggesting that at the very least the pool was repaved after 45 CE.
    • The 2008 season focused on the excavation of OP5, located to the south of OP3. This trench sought to further explore the southern area of the pool and attempt to date the foundation wall of room 87, the large diaeta to the SW of the swimming pool. The finds here were similar to those from OP1 and OP3 with extensive evidence of demolition. Of great significance here was the documentation of a beaten earth work pavement which coincided with the top of the shuttered section of room 87’s eastern foundation wall. Above the level of the beaten earth pavement the foundation’s construction was in opus reticulatum. The importance of this discovery lies in the presence of a foundation trench for the reticulate section that cut into the beaten earth pavement. Therefore we believe that the material below the beaten earth pavement was deposited before the construction of the reticulate wall. Though the ceramics from below the beaten earth pavement are still undergoing study, numerous pieces of Fourth-Style painting provide a terminus post quem date of 45 CE for this pavement and the reticulate wall. It is also worth noting that the foundation wall went down to a depth of just under 3 meters.
    • The Oplontis Project continued its systematic study of Villa A at Oplontis in 2009. This was the most prolific season to date, due largely to the funding provided by the National Endowment of the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant and the University of Texas at Austin. Teams from the University of Texas (OP trenches) and the Kent Archaeological Field School (OPK trenches) excavated a total of 15 trenches between May 2009 and June 2010. A particular focus of these trenches is the hydraulics of the villa, including supply, fountains, drainage, and pools.
    • This past summer the Oplontis Project began its own study of Oplontis B. As with our work in Villa A, here we will excavate below the 79 CE levels. In collaboration with the Swale and Thames archaeological team from Britain, Ivo van der Graaff of the Oplontis Project, supervised the opening of trench, OPB1 in the courtyard area of Oplontis B (in green on the plan). The goal of the trench was to document stratigraphy of the courtyard, with the hope of finding further information about the building’s chronology and function. The trench stretched the entire width of the courtyard from the southern colonnade foundation to that of the northern. We discovered the original pavement of the courtyard, made of large basalt boulders filled in with amphora sherds and topped with a layer of concrete to create a smooth surface. The pavement rested on a pyroclastic flow datable to the last Bronze Age eruption of Vesuvius. In fact the northern profile of the trench revealed a sequence of alternating paelosols and eruption strata, the earliest of which dates to the Avellino eruption of 1700 BCE. Of interest is a particular paleosol datable to circa 1500 to 1000 BCE. This level preserves what appear to be plough and cart- or sledge-marks along with scattered remnants of mudbrick; all of these point to Bronze-Age activity in the Oplontis B area. Up against the colonnade foundations at the north and south ends of the trench, we discovered interesting details of construction. The foundations consist of a thick tufa stereobate atop spaced tufa blocks, laid perpendicular to the stereobate. Within the foundation trench for these blocks at the south end, we found several sherds of Campana A Black Gloss ceramic, whose broad range of production includes the entire 2nd century BCE, a range consistent with our preliminary estimates for date of the courtyard building. Under the colonnade, at the northeast corner of the courtyard, we excavated another smaller trench where Ground Penetrating Radar had shown a clear anomaly (OPB 2, also in green on the plan)., this trench was labeled OPB 2. Excavations revealed that the anomaly was a drainage conduit or perhaps an aqueduct. A pit abutting it to the south was filled with amphorae fragments, further evidence of the great number of amphorae used at this site.
    • The 2013 excavation at Villa B included six trenches aimed at investigating various aspects of the complex. Much of the work primarily concerned clean-up operations aimed at reaching and understanding the original level of 79 CE. The units focused on a sewer system in the SW corner of the central couryard (OPB3 and 8), rooms to the west of the courtyard (OPB4), a street and town houses to north of the courtyard building (OPB5 and 7), and the potico on the south side of that building (OPB6). The units revealed a much more complicated sequence of events than we discerned last year. The two distinct floor levels in the peristyle were perhaps the most important discovery of the season. They correlate to at least three distinct phases of occupation. The second floor level in particular existed for some time before the insertion of the water system uncovered in units opb3 and 2. Although difficult to quantify, a measure of accumulation suggests that the floor was in use for a considerable amount of time before the insertion of the water feature. The channels themselves also seem abandoned by the time of the eruption, but only further excavation and analysis of the artifacts can assess any dating sequences. It may very well be that the earliest floor level we discerned is related to the first construction of the complex. In this case it may correlate to the original floor paving of the courtyard, whereas the second floor level associates with the accumulation lying above it we discerned last year. Only further excavation, however, can ascertain this sequence. A thorough review of the GPR results is necessary to assess whether we can plan out the water supply system without much more excavation. If anything the trenches this year have shown a highly sophisticated drainage and supply system brought in after the first construction of the building. A further expansion of OPB 3 would help clarify the nature of the channels. An interesting proposal would be to chase the southern channel and explore the area just east of the so-called latrine. A number of questions remain regarding this area of the peristyle. A thorough clean-up of the entire southeastern corner would help to gain a better understanding of the peristyle, its use, and any associated phasing.
    • This season the work concentrated on five units (OPB 9,10,11,13, and 14) and the cataloging of stored materials that remain from previous excavations. We cataloged some 600 amphora, and the boxes also yielded fresco fragments, plaster casts, part of an inscription, and_tegulae_ _mammatae . OPB 9 The primary aim of this unit was to understand the entrance on the eastern side of the peristyle. We recovered two pavement levels, a possible mechanism for a gate closing the peristyle, and wheel ruts resulting from cart traffic. The wheel ruts were so distinct that their presence almost seems purposeful. Inside them we distinguished a thick incrustation of crushed pottery; it may represent a re-paving or may be the result of usage and accumulation. OPB 10 The aim of this unit was to determine the presence of a well in the north western corner of the peristyle. Here the foundations of the colonnade were deliberately cut to follow the wellhead. During the final phase of the building the well was clearly filled in as the structure went out of use perhaps in conjunction with the construction of the water system. Its depth and the confined space impeded us from reaching the bottom. The well did not preserve any sort of lining suggesting that it was robbed out in antiquity or decayed. OPB 11 This unit investigated the western side of the peristyle. Room 22 revealed a shallow floor (B11003) covering a drain (B11011, B11012) that had collapsed and was abandoned in antiquity. The drain ran north-south and likely connected to the one running east-west which we previously recovered in units OPB 2 (B02010) and 3 (B03014) on the south side of the peristyle. Room 22 displays a walled up entrance on the western end suggesting that it was reorganized after the drain collapsed. In the southern corner of the unit excavations recovered the remains of the drain that ran east-west through the peristyle (B11028, B03014, B02010) and a small settling tank that was completely filled with amphora fragments. Its bottom was broken through, suggesting that it was deliberately put out of use in antiquity. We also discovered the remains of two pilasters (B11005) that once supported the second floor. OPB 13 and 14 These units recorded the full extent of the holes in the floor of rooms 26 (unit 13) and 41 (unit 14) in antiquity. The clean-up revealed an abandoned cistern at least 2.5 meters high x 1.5 wide and some 15 meters long. Unit 14 preserved the eastern edge of the cistern which contained with a broken amphora neck once channeled water into the cistern (B14036). To the south are the remains of a small wellhead (B14004) which allowed water to be drawn from the cistern. The wall separating spaces 17 and 41 (B14007) truncates the structure indicating that the cistern was abandoned well before the eruption. Conclusion The sum of the evidence points to at least three distinct phases associated with the complex. The storage rooms on the southern side of the building are a late addition. They truncate a cistern that likely functioned together with the well in unit OPB 10. The well and the cistern probably ceased to function with the introduction of the water channels recovered in units OPB 2, 3, 9, and 11. In a further phase part of the water system went out of use. In the courtyard we recovered at least two pavements and a thick incrustation stratum which suggests long period of accumulation associated with the final phase of the building.
    • The operation carried out in the two week 2015 season aimed to investigate the phasing and the development of the complex. As a result we concentrated our efforts in three main areas: The houses on the north side, the rooms around the peristyle, and the barrel vaulted rooms on the south. On the north side the situation is different to the rest of the complex because the rooms here are independent housing units that lined a roman street. A simple visual survey in room 46 indicated that an original doorway into the room was walled up in antiquity. At the same time a wall to the adjacent room 47 was opened indicating that the two independent housing units were merged into one. In order to better understand the sequence and date the structure we opened OPB 16 in room 46. A major factor to understanding the complex is to identify any previous phasing in the rooms around the peristyle. To this end we targeted a few areas that would give us a better insight. Starting on the northern wing we opened OPB 17 to straddle the demolished wall that once separated rooms 2 and 3. On the southwestern side a visual survey highlighted how the division walls between rooms 21, 39 and 18 were demolished in antiquity. Room 18 in particular, preserves a walled up door on its northern end. For these reasons we opened unit 18 to investigate any phasing in the area. A similar situation exists on the eastern side of the peristyle where a door walled up in antiquity once opened directly onto the peristyle. In order to get a better sense of these rooms and their relationship with the courtyard we excavated OPB 18 in room 18 and trench OPB 19 in room 16. The southern side of the complex constituted our third main area of investigation. In particular, a visual survey of room 49 (10bis on the old plan) indicated the presence of various phases in the walls including evidence that the barrel vault of the room represented the latest addition of the area. We decided to sink OPB 15 here to understand its sequence and retrieve datable evidence from the wall foundations. Outside of the rooms we reopened trench OPB 6 to gain a better understanding of the complex of drains, surfaces, and wall features we recovered at the end of the season in 2013. Though the findings and materials from the 2015 campaign are still under study, the initial results point to several different phases—up to four—in the complex. A full report of the findings will follow.
    • The aim of our 2016 excavations was to continue to record and clean up the site, as well as better understand the development of the various sections of the excavated complex. The results of the past seasons had made it clear that the excavated site had three main areas: the northern town houses, the central courtyard and its dependencies, and the barrel-vaulted storage spaces on the south. The main conclusion reached this season is that each area seems to have undergone a different development. Work during the 2016 season focussed on the excavation of 6 trenches. Trench OPB 15, Space 49 We decided to re-open this area because of the number of foundation walls we recovered last year. In principle most of our early conclusions did not change very much, with the exception that we found an even earlier phase in the form of a cross-wall (US 15141) that acted later as a foundation for another wall (US 15131). The results indicate that Space 49 received a number of reorganizations. However, it seems that the spaces to the north (Spaces 34, 15bis, 15, and 14) were distinctly separate; some sort of dividing line must exist because the stratigraphy is so entirely different. Trench OPB 19, Space 16 We only re-opened a part of this trench in order to check for further floors and their relationship to trench OPB 20. We also intended to look for the remains of any possible foundations or drains that could continue from trench OPB 15. We purposefully kept the trench only to the very western edge of what we opened last year. The trench did not reveal any further foundations. However, we did recover at least two previous occupation levels. As a result we have now documented four to five phases of occupation. Trench OPB 20, Space 36 The aim of this trench was to find more of the drain that runs through the latrine feature in the southeast area of the courtyard and to see where it met up with any further conduits. We were also seeking to understand its relationship with the drain in OPB 15 and any possible previous wall foundations or phases. A further aim was to understand the little wall extending from the adjacent space 16. Trench OPB 21, Space 35 The primary purpose for this trench was to clean up and record the remains of the house associated with space 35. Unfortunately we discovered that the area was disturbed during the reconstruction of the 90s: about half of the space included a modern foundation trench for the southern wall. The clean-up did reveal that space 35 is almost a mirror image to space 48. In particular we documented a base composed of upside-down roof tile. It undoubtedly served some sort of utilitarian function perhaps for cooking or washing. Together with this feature we recovered a hard floor level which covered most of the space where it survived

FOLD&R

    • Michael L. Thomas, Ivo van der Graaff, Paul Wilkinson. 2013. The Oplontis Project 2012-13: A Report of Excavations at Oplontis B. FOLD&R Italy: 295.
    • Ivo Van der Graaff - University of New Hampshire, Nayla Muntasser, John R. Clarke University of Texas at Austin, Paul Wilkinson- Swale and Thames, UK, Michael L. Thomas, University of Texas at Austin, Jennifer L. Muslin - University of Texas. 2016. Preliminary Notes on Two Seasons of Research at Oplontis B (2014-2015). FOLD&R Italy: 362.
    • Ivo Van der Graaff - University of New Hampshire, Michael L. Thomas, University of Texas at Austin, Paul Wilkinson - Swale and Thames, UK, Jennifer L. Muslin - University of Texas, John R. Clarke University of Texas at Austin, Nayla Muntasser, Giovanni Di Maio. 2019. First Results of Three Seasons of Excavation at Oplontis B (2016-18). FOLD&R Italy: 430.

Bibliography

    • J.R. Clarke, M. Thomas, 2008, The Oplontis Project 2005-2006: New Evidence for the Building History and Decorative Programs at Villa A, Torre Annunziata, in P.G. Guzzo – M.P. Guidobaldi (a cura di), Nuove ricerche archeologiche nell'area vesuviana (scavi 2003-2006), Atti del Convegno Internazionale, Roma 1-3 febbraio 2007, Roma: 465-471.
    • A. De Franciscis, 1973, La villa romana di Oplontis, in La Parola del Passato 153: 453-466.
    • A. De Franciscis, 1982, Oplontis, in La Regione sotterrata dal Vesuvio, Studi e Prospettive, Napoli: 907-925.
    • Ae M. De Vos, 1982, Pompei, Ercolano, Stabia, Bari: 250-255.
    • L. Fergola, 1996, La villa di Poppea a Oplontis, in Pompei - Abitare sotto il Vesuvio, Ferrara: 134-141.
    • L. Fergola-M. Pagano, 1998, Oplontis-Le splendide ville romane di Torre Annunziata-Itinerario Archeologico Ragionato, Napoli: 20-70.
    • L. Fergola-P.G. Guzzo, 2000, Oplontis-La villa di Poppea, Milano: 15-25.
    • Thomas, Michael L., and John R. Clarke, 2009, “Evidence of Demolition and Remodeling at Villa A at Oplontis (Villa of Poppaea) after A.D. 45”, in Journal of Roman Archaeology 22: 201-209.
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    • Thomas, Michael L., and John R. Clarke, 2007, The Oplontis Project 2005-6: Observations on the Construction History of Villa A at Torre Annunziata, in Journal of Roman Archaeology 17: 223-232.
    • Thomas, Michael L., and John R. Clarke, 2011, “Water features, the atrium, and the coastal setting of Villa A at Torre Annunziata,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 24: 370-81.
    • Thomas, Michael L., and John R. Clarke, 2009, “Evidence of Demolition and Remodeling at Villa A at Oplontis (Villa of Poppaea) after A.D. 45.” Journal of Roman Archaeology 22: 201-209.
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    • Thomas, Michael L., Ivo van der Graaff , Paul Wilkinson . 2013. The Oplontis Project 2012-13: A Report of Excavations at Oplontis B. http://www.fastionline.org/docs/FOLDER-it-2013-295.pdf
    • G. Elaine, J.R. Clarke, 2016, Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii. Ann Arbor: Kelsey Museum Publication.
    • T.L. Michael, 2015, “Oplontis B: A Center for the Export and Distribution of Vesuvian Wine.” Journal of Roman Archaeology 28, 403-13.
    • J.R. Clarke, N.K. Muntasser, 2014, Oplontis: Villa A (“Of Poppaea”) at Torre Annunziata, Volume 1. The Ancient Setting and Modern Rediscovery. New York: ALCS.
    • T.L. Michael, I.van der Graaff , P. Wilkinson, 2013. The Oplontis Project 2012-13: A Report of Excavations at Oplontis B.