VRPG is located about 6 km from Lugnano in Teverina in Umbria, on a steep hillside overlooking the Tiber river. It was first excavated by Daniela Monacchi of the Soprintendenza Archaeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio dell’Umbria, between 1982 and 1984, and again between 1987 and 1994 by David Soren, of the University of Arizona, in collaboration with the Soprintendenza Archaeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio dell’Umbria. While most of the site has not yet been uncovered, these initial excavations exposed large sections of the living quarters of the villa. Soren’s findings suggested that the villa was first built during the late-first century BCE. By the late first or early second century AD, the site’s hilltop setting destabilized the south side of the villa, causing it to collapse. While supports were constructed in the third century to prevent further damage, the use of the villa waned during the third century, and by the fifth century the villa had fallen into disrepair. The site was not fully abandoned until the sixth or seventh centuries, though, and the tens of infants uncovered at the site so far date to the mid-fifth century.
I worked at VRPG between June 24th and July 26th 2019. While the five-week excavation certainly helped me develop my shovelling and pick-axe technique (as you can see in the picture above), it also gave me a behind-the-scenes view of archaeological research. The excavation at VRPG was a complex collaborative effort between a large group of researchers, including field archaeologists, ceramicists, zooarchaeologists, osteologists and conservators, all of whom worked together in order to excavate, catalog, and interpret the wide array of materials found on the excavation, from potsherds to human remains. During my time in Lugnano, I was able to gain some basic experience in these various sub-disciplines, and, by watching specialists at work, I learned to appreciate the great variety of skills necessary to carry out archaeological excavations.
After five weeks in Italy, I came home with a little bit of a tan, more than a few aches and pains, and a fresh perspective on the study of the past. Given my interest in ancient landscapes, I appreciated the opportunity to work directly with the natural environment of VRPG, to stand on the same hill and take in the same (or similar) view of the Tiber river as the site’s late Roman occupants centuries ago. Unlike most historians, archaeologists also work in close proximity to modern communities. Throughout the excavation, I was inspired by the level of interest our research received from the local community, who were not only supportive of our investigation into their local history, but also incredibly hospitable and patient to a bunch of foreigners, some of whom, myself included, could hardly string together a sentence of Italian.
Bryna Cameron-Steinke is a PhD student of Environmental History at Georgetown University. Her research focuses on the development and use of marginal landscapes in early medieval northwestern Europe. She is interested in how climate and disease influenced the cultures and economies of marginal regions, namely marshlands and woodlands.
J. Inwood, Identifying Malaria in Ancient Human Remains: A Molecular and Biochemical Approach. PhD diss., Yale University, 2017.
R. Sallares and S. Gomzi, “Biomolecular archaeology of malaria,” Ancient Biomolecules 3 (2000): 195-213.
D. Soren and N. Soren, A Roman Villa and A Late Roman Infant Cemetery: Excavations at Poggio Gramignano (Lugnano in Teverina) (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 1999).
D. Soren, “Can archaeologists excavate evidence of malaria?” World Archaeology 35.2 (2003): 193-209.