Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.07.18 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.07.18

Carl Nylander, Börje Blomé, Lars Karlsson, Angela Bizzarro, Giuseppe Tilia, Stefano Tilia and Alessandro Tilia, San Giovenale, vol. 5, fasc. 1: The Borgo. Excavating an Etruscan Quarter: Architecture and Stratigraphy. Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Rom, 4, 26:5,1.   Stockholm:  Svenska Institutet I Rom, 2013.  Pp. 189, 43 p. of plates.  ISBN 9789170421808.  SEK 636.00.  


Reviewed by Flavia Morandini, Università Ca’ Foscari (flavia.morandini@unive.it)

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The site of San Giovenale was excavated by the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies at Rome between 1956 and 1965. It is in the Comune of Blera, near Viterbo, about 20 km east of Tarquinia and about 27 km north-east of Cerveteri. The ancient city is placed on a tufa mountain comprised of two hills: the western plateau (Acropolis) and the smaller eastern plateau (Borgo).

This volume deals with a small area of the Borgo, the northwest corner where Etruscans built a small metalworking quarter surrounded by defensive walls. The excavation was directed by Carl Nylander with contributions by a large number of people through the years. He is the main author of the volume, together with other scholars.

The “Preface” (pp. 11-12), by Lars Karlsson, gives the geographical framework of the site. San Giovenale is the name of the bishop and saint of Narni to whom a chapel on the Acropolis was dedicated. The ancient name remains unknown. The structure and purposes of the book are clarified by Karlsson in a short summary.

Nylander in “Personal Prolegomena” (21-28) reminisces about the start of the excavation, when he was a young student more interested in Near Eastern archaeology. He introduces all the protagonists of the San Giovenale campaign during those years from a friendly and informal point of view. He speaks about himself using “he” because

"…the author, at the age of 80 and at the end of his archaeological career, at times feels very much the father of that distant young student and inexperienced excavator of the Borgo, sad and severe at his mistakes, yet not lacking sympathetic understanding and benevolence in view of the young man’s honest and at times quite respectable efforts to handle, according to his limited lights, a rather difficult field situation…"(27).
This intimate view allows consideration of the responsibilities of an archaeologist, in particular his ability to foster knowledge, but also to destroy historical evidence.

Chapter One (29-40) introduces the topography of the Borgo, which was occupied without interruption from the Protovillanovan age to medieval times. The earliest find, a fragment of an early Protocorinthian kotyle (late 8th century B.C.), and the latest one, a spouted jug (6-7th century A.D.), testify to the long settlement of the area. This chapter also covers the geology of San Giovenale, whose origin is attributed by Sheldon Judson to the third stage in the development of the landscape. Here, streams began to erode the earlier volcanic deposits, modeling the narrow promontory between the Fammilume river on the north and the Vesca and Pietrisco on the south. A list of building materials at the site follows, offering useful definition of tufa and its variations (“tufo rosso”, “tufo grigio” and “peperino”).

Chapter Two (41-49) covers the history of the Borgo excavation. The site was already mentioned in reports of the years between 1870 and 1880 but the first real excavation took place in 1956 thanks to Erik Wetter and Axel Boëthius of the Swedish Institute in Rome, encouraged by Renato Bartoccini, the Soprintendente of south Etruria, and King Gustaf VI Adolf. Unfortunately no reports about the first two years of the campaign exist. In 1961 research was led by Nylander for four seasons. In 1965 the area was protected by a huge metal roof, called Capannone, replaced in 2002. The first report appeared in a 1969 paper by Börje Blomé ("Un inedito insediamento arcaico etrusco in San Giovenale (Viterbo)", in Palladio, 139-154). In this paper he presented the excavation area and a new working method based on the photogrammetric technique, bringing out even then the complexity of the stratigraphy. The project was reactivated in the late 1970s, when a team of scholars began to study the documentation, organizing a symposium (1983) and the exhibition Architettura etrusca nel viterbese. Ricerche svedesi a San Giovenale e Acquarossa (1956-1986). In the following years many scholars participated in the study of the Borgo. This volume contains the examination of the structural remains, while analyses of the pottery can be found in the work published in 2009 by Ingrid Pohl (San Giovenale. Vol. V, Fasc.2. The Borgo. The Etruscan habitation quarter on the north-west slope stratification and materials).

In Chapter Three (50-57) Lars Karlsson offers an overview of the excavation area, phases and stratigraphy. It was possible to establish three pre-house periods (late 8th-late 7th c. B.C.) and five building periods (late 7th B.C.-early 7th c. A.D.) with an interruption due to a possible earthquake around 550-530 B.C. A general stratigraphy of 11 strata is briefly described together with the most important information about position, composition and finds. All data are organized in a useful table that shows concordances between the different layers and their attribution to a specific period.

Each following chapter analyzes a different developmental phase:

—Pre-House Period I (late 8th c. to about 675 B.C.) ( Ch. 4 58-66): remains of cuttings in the bedrock to set up a wooden palisade and an oval hut (maybe two?);
—Pre-House Period II (ca. 675 – late 7th c. B.C.) ( Ch. 5, 67-71): extension of the palisade and construction of the rectangular House F and an irregular cellar called Cantina G;
—The Great Fill Project (late 7th c. B.C.) ( Ch. 6, 72-87): modeling of the landscape (cutting the bedrock, creation of a terrace wall with both defensive and static function, drawing a new drain and three soil levels) for the structures of the following period;
—The chapters on Period 1 (late 7th c. – 575 B.C.) and Period 2 (757-530 B.C.) do not follow a chronological order like the previous ones, but are discussed by areas: building of House A in the northern area ( Ch. 7, 88-103), Houses B, whose hypothetic reconstruction was presented in a 2001 work by Börje Blomé ("A tentative reconstruction of House B on the Borgo of San Giovenale", in From huts to houses. Transformations of ancient societies, J. Rasmus Brandt, L. Karlsson (edd.), Stockholm 2001, 241-243), and C in the central area ( Ch. 8, 104-128), Lane K, a sort of alley between Houses B, C and D ( Ch. 9, 129-130), the southern area D/E/F/G ( Ch. 10, 131-137);
—The earthquake that hit the Borgo between 550 and 530 B.C., dated by the pottery in the fill leveling the floor of the NW area ( Ch. 11, 138-141). This chapter starts with a very interesting introduction to the history of earthquakes in Italy that recalls a previous paper by Börje Blomé and Carl Nylander ("On Etruscan earthquakes and architecture", in From huts to houses. Transformations of ancient societies, J. Rasmus Brandt, L. Karlsson (edd.), Stockholm 2001, 233-239);
—Period 3, after the earthquake (530-400 B.C.), during which houses were rebuilt and restored. House A testifies to a metallurgical activity ( Ch. 12, 143-147);
—Periods 4 (4th – 2nd c. B.C.) and 5 (medieval) ( Ch. 13, 148-150), see the long, slow abandonment of the area, whose latest phase corresponds to two burials of late 5th - early 6th century A.D. ( Ch. 13, 148-150).

The discussion ends with a summary of the periods ( by Karlsson, 151-153). An interesting series of Appendices completes the volume.

The division into chronological phases is a development and a further specialization of the one presented a few years ago by Ingrid Pohl in her 2009 work (see above), where it was composed of 5 main phases (Pre-House strata, c. 800-650? BC; Building Period I, c. 650-530 BC; Building Period II, c. 530-/500-430 BC; Building Period III, c. 430/410 BC; Post-habitation Period, medieval period).

After an extensive bibliography of the archaeological research in San Giovenale (1877-2011) in Appendix 1 (by Kerstin Bellerba and Brita Alroth, 155-159), Appendix 2 ( 161-163) contains a discussion about building techniques, which Barbara Bellelli Marchesini considers as very important experimental phases gradually determining the passage from huts to houses in the Tyrrhenian area. The advanced skills of architects who planned the Borgo are confirmed by the analyses made by Marie Klingspor Rotstein and Daniel Kwiatkowski on the stone walls, which show that mortars were used to join the blocks (165-175). A typology of roof-tiles is discussed by Örjan Wikander, who updates his 1981 study, finding interesting parallels with Acquarossa despite the still limited availability of materials (178-181). The last Appendix (183-189), in both English and Italian, by Angela Bizzarro, clarifies the methods used through the years to document the excavation, from the pencil drawings to the latest digital elaborations.

The main strength of the volume is the accuracy of the documentation. The 160 figures, 43 plates and 2 fold-out plans, comprise photographs, drawings (also old sketches), reconstructions, photographic montages, digitalized plans and sections, and many useful re-elaborated photos. These photos, several of them in color, clarify and make understandable the complexity of the structures.

The reader might miss a general map placing the site within ancient Etruria. However, the specific nature of the topic, devoted to the presentation and interpretation of the architecture, implies a readership of scholars who already know the importance of San Giovenale for the study of Etruscan architecture. This book does not cover the development of the Etruscan house plan, of which the houses of the Borgo and the Acropolis represent a milestones (see Appendix 1 for the rich bibliography).

Since the presentation of the evidence is the main purpose of the volume, it fully accomplishes the mission of the archaeologist, according to Carl Nylander, the main person responsible for the excavation of San Giovenale:

"Every archaeologist knows that an excavation means not only increase of knowledge but also destruction of historical evidence. Thus it is the excavator’s inescapable obligation to save and to transmit that evidence in a new shape as fully and faithfully as ever possible." (21)

Table of Contents

(The main author of the volume is Carl Nylander, unless otherwise noted)

Acknowledgements
Ringraziamenti
Preface, by Lars Karlsson
List of Illustrations
Bibliography
Personal Prolegomena 1961-2005
Chapter One: Introduction to the geography and geology of San Giovenale
—The topography of the Borgo
—The geology and natural resources of San Giovenale, by Sheldon Judson
Chapter Two: History of the Borgo Excavations
Chapter Three: Excavation areas, periods and stratigraphy, by Karl Larsson
Chapter Four: Pre-House Period I (late 8th century to about 675 BC)
Chapter Five: Pre-House Period II (about 675 to the late 7th century BC)
Chapter Six: The Great Fill Project (late 7th century BC)
Chapter Seven: The Northern area A: buildings and stratigraphy of Periods 1 & 2
Chapter Eight: The central Area B/C/I/R. Buildings and stratigraphy of Periods 1 & 2
Chapter Nine: Lane K
Chapter Ten: The Southern Area D/E/F/G/H. Buildings and stratigraphy of Periods 1 & 2
Chapter Eleven: An Earthquake at San Giovenale in the 6th Century BC (?)
Chapter Twelve: Period 3 – After the Earthquake
Chapter Thirteen: Periods 4 & 5 – Later Developments
Chapter Fourteen: Summary, by Karl Larsson
Appendix 1. San Giovenale Bibliography 1877-2011, by Kerstin Bellerba and Brita Alroth
Appendix 2. Osservazioni sulle strutture murarie, by Barbara Bellelli Marchesini
Appendix 3. An investigation into ancient mortars, by Marie Klingspor Rotstein and Daniel Kwiatkowski
Appendix 4. The roof-tiles, by Örjan Wikander
Appendix 5. Documentation of architectural remains, by Angela Bizzarro
Plates 1-43
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