Sunday, July 23, 2006


Sometime last spring, while Googling San Venanzo, I found information about an excavation just outside of San Venanzo. Florida State University was bringing a group over to Italy in July, so I sent an email to the address listed, asking about the excavation itself, if we could visit, and if we could help.

Eventually I received a reply telling me the name of the director, and also the name of the Italian contact. The Italian director was based in Orvieto, and the email told me to contact the geological museum to find out how to contact the FSU people. Orvieto was a little too far to drive just on the off chance that I’d catch anyone in the office, assuming I could even find the office, so the idea just kind of faded away…….

Until Thursday, when Art heard a group of young women speaking English at the local bar one morning. He spoke to them and when he came home he told me they were doing some sort of excavation. HELLO!!! These are the people we’ve been trying to find, I told him!!! Did you ask where the site is? Did you find out how to contact the director? Do you know where they’re staying? NO…no….no.

Okay, return trip to the bar, and just as he’s approaching the group, a woman drives up who turns out to be the director! And Art finds out that the geological museum they’re working in is the one in San Venanzo, NOT Orvieto! They’ve been here for a few weeks and we haven’t even known about them!

Art spoke with the director and she told him they were in the volcano museum, working up on the third floor, every day. She told him we could stop by, holler up, and they’d drop a key down so we could get in. As I’ve mentioned before, this museum seems to be open only for school groups, and only on rare occasions to the general public.

I walked up to the piazza the next morning, shouted up to the third floor, and Ceil, the director appeared at the window with a small basket containing the key. I made my way up to the third floor and Ceil filled me in on the excavation. Eventually information about this site and the artifacts from it will be displayed here in San Venanzo.

The site in question is on a high hilltop….It’s possible to see Perugia, Todi, and Chiusi from the site. Because these are all important Etruscan cities, and because Orvieto, also an Etruscan city, is the only city NOT visible from the hilltop, it’s thought that this location was used by Orvieto as an outlook, and the site also seems to have been an important crossroad between all the cities. An aerial photograph shows the ancient road quite clearly, as well as showing that the site is the only hilltop that’s been completely cleared.

The site appears to have been occupied all the way back to the Bronze Age, then fell into disuse sometime in the 4th century A.D. I’m a little confused, because the information I have says that the Bronze Age ended about 600 B.C., but I’m sure I was told that this site was occupied from the third century B.C. Oh well……..I’m just off by a few hundred years. Maybe I can get this cleared up next week.

The college students who work on this excavation (thirteen this summer), alternate working in the field (read: HOT SUN) and working in the museum cleaning previous finds. A well is being excavated this season, and it’s full of many large clay pots that were just dropped into the well….meaning that many of them will be able to be pieced back together.

Ceil showed be various artifacts…a bone needle, a pair of tweezers, a shard of beautiful blue glass from a Roman perfume bottle. Many, many bones were also found on the site, mostly cattle bones. Whether the cows were used for sacrifice is unknown.  Although the site was originally occupied by the Etruscans, eventually it was taken over by the Romans. Quite often the Etruscans groups realized that it was better to live WITH the Romans than to die trying to hold them back.

The site itself has been terraced, a fact that’s quite evident as you approach it, which is exactly what we did on Saturday morning. We left the house early, and based on Ceil’s directions, I was almost certain I knew exactly where the site was. After a false start we eventually did find the entrance to the site, exactly where I thought it would be.

In addition to the well, another trench is also being excavated, and the foundations of a house have been found as well as part of an ancient road. This sort of work has GOT to be tedious and boring 99% of the time….gently scraping and brushing away at a pile of rocks for hours on end??? And what appears to be just another rock could, at some point hours later, turn out to be just a small part of a bigger structure I guess. I’m glad there are people with the knowledge and patience to do this important work.


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