Fig 1 : An abandoned ruin nestled within an olive grove at Roccarainola
The Apolline project
This post is intended as a brief overview of my experience in Naples in September 2012 it is not intended as an extensive entry into the project, however I will be posting more on aspects of Pompeian archaeology purely for self interest.
I was fortunate enough to participate in the excavation and post excavation work at Roccanola church and Pollena Trochhia, both excavations are part of a much larger project bringing together several disciplines including archaeology, all under the directorship of Girolamo Ferdinando de Simone and his team of archaeologists and academics, who seek to study the area around the northern slope of mount Vesuvius ( De Simone 2011). This area has often be overlooked in favor of the now world famous Pompeii (more of which i hope to write in a series of posts), Herculaneum, Stabiae and Boscoreale.
The sites location is athmospheric and is located serenely within an olive grove on the Cammarano Hill, it has a unique feel to the place much unlike any site I have ever worked on. Excavations had been carried out for several seasons and have revealed, re-used Roman material within its construction, burials have also been recovered in the vicinity of the church ( De Simone 2011) aswell as Medievil potsherds.During the short period I was there we were able to trace the end of one of the walls of the church, little was found in the way of finds as the excavation was almost complete however the number of burials which had been recovered was considerable. The church itself was small in size. According to De Simone (2011) the construction was probably undertaken in the early Medievil period.
Fig 2 : The church at Roccarainola
Lying close to the town of Pollena on the foot of Mount Vesuvies lies the recently discovered Roman Baths named Pollena Trocchia, the site lies next to a block of flats and was discovered in 1988 by construction workers and was later used as a rubbish dump by local residents( De simone 2011). It was luckily saved from further damage by a local heritage officer, and excavations have been carried out for several seasons.
Fig 3: Pollena Trocchia bath complex ( showing the volcanic deposits on the right )
It appears that the baths were built sometime after the eruption of AD 79 perhaps in the late 1st of early 2nd century ( De simone 2011), the eruption of AD 79 covered an earlier 1st century villa. There is an area next to the site near to the flats which have yet to be excavated but may contain the villa or other buildings related to the bath complex. Pollena Trochia was occupied even after several eruptions up until 505 or 512 AD at the latest (De simone 2011). This Terme is relatively large and contains remarkable preservation due to the volcanic activity and has preseved many plants, which can now give us and idea of what the vegetation was like within the vicinity of Mount Vesuvius in the Roman period. The baths contained suspensorae which raised the floor and thus alowed the heat to circulate around the building. To sustain the heat neccesary for these baths there were two furnaces located in two separate rooms , where wood was burnt by the slaves ( which must have been laborius). There are five rooms ( four of which have been excavated), in one of floor tiles of the baths a stamp was shown to me, with an inscription in Latin, this stamp has also been found on tiles in Egpyt, showing the long distance trade between Italy and Egypt in the Roman period.
Fig 4: The Roman baths lying next to a block of modern flats
Tiles were not the only objects which were traded, North African Red Slip ware has been found all around the vicinity. But were the baths an isolated entity? or were they part of a much larger site, perhaps a villa ? An unexcavated section of the site holds tantazlizing clues to what may lie beneath the volcanic remains.
As many human remains were recovered from the medievil church, one of my tasks was to clean and sort these bones, something which was quite new to me. For example a high level of water intake had an impact on bone structure as was visible on some of the remains.
Charcoal Analysys and Plant identification
An incredible amount of fossilised plant remains were recovered from Pollena Trocchia, identifying these plants was possible by comparing with several reference books on the subject of plants and also by the size and individual details. I had not come across anything like this before. I was also shown the process of identifying charcoal remains, using a microscope and comparing with reference books.
The ubiquitous pottery sherd or in this case amphorae were found in abundance around the site of Pollena Trocchia, these consisted of local wares, amphorae and also North African red slipped ware. These were identified, cleaned, bagged and labeled.
Author: Jeremy Hallatt
De Simone. G. F 2011 Appoline Project Availaible from (http://www.apollineproject.org) Accessed [20/10/2012].
All photos were taken by the author