The Mamertion Foundation 2007 Excavations at Monte Palazzi

The 2007 campaign at Monte Palazzi (c. 20 km. inland of Gioiosa Jonica, in the Calabria region of southern Italy) was conducted between May 22 and July 1st with the participation of David Companione, Sylvia Hernandez, James Jansson, Ed and Lorie Mihelich, Elizabeth Middlemist, Nanette Philibert, Giulia Prestia, Anthony Scott, Craig Stewart, John Svoboda, Marian Visonà, and Jessica Wang, under the direction of Dr. Paolo Visonà of the University of Kentucky and in collaboration with Dr. Claudio Sabbione of the Archaeological Superintendence of Calabria. Sara Palaskas from UCLA was assistant director and field supervisor; Jennifer Knapp from the University of Missouri-Columbia served as ceramics specialist. The Falkenberg Foundation of Denver, Colorado, provided generous funding for the project.

Located at 1,215 meters of elevation near the Croceferrata Pass in the highlands between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, Monte Palazzi is believed to have been an important outpost in the frontier territory of the Greek cities of Locri Epizephyrii and Kaulonia. Our archaeological investigations are aimed at testing this hypothesis and at reconstructing the phases of occupation and the architectural history of the settlement.

One of the main goals this summer was to uncover the full width of the perimeter wall found in 2005 on the summit of Monte Palazzi. We also wanted to learn how and when this structure was built. Removal of 12 cubic meters of rock tumble showed that the outer face of the wall was still preserved to a height of six courses. Its remaining upper section was found to have shifted and to be leaning outwards (perhaps because of the pull of gravity, or of seismic activity in this area of Calabria since antiquity). The wall was dry-built across the ridgetop and consists of two curtains of roughly hewn stones encasing a rubble core of smaller stones. Its foundations rest directly upon the granitic bedrock, and its maximum width ranges between 2.3 and 2.5 m. Preliminary calculations suggest that this wall may have reached a height of 4 m. and may have had a defensive function. Its construction date is still uncertain. Charcoal and a bronze arrowpoint (with a fragment of the wooden shaft still attached!) were found in the debris layer overlying the remains of the outer face. However, there is no conclusive evidence that the wall was destroyed in a violent conflagration.

Clear signs of an internal organization of space have not yet been detected in the areas explored inside the wall. Recent disturbances possibly caused by pothunters may have destroyed much of the archaeological stratigraphy. A pit associated with a thin layer of soil containing cultural material, a pit interpreted as a possible posthole, and some charcoal lenses are the only traces of occupation found above bedrock thus far. The ceramic evidence from these contexts dates predominantly to the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Fragments of miniature vessels (possibly votive), of a terracotta draped figurine holding a caduceus, and of a pantile, are among the most significant finds. Even though it is unclear how this tile was used, the presence of permanent roofing material inside the perimeter is very intriguing.

Two test units excavated on the southern edges of the site also produced new items of interest. The deepest probe yielded numerous fragments of Ionic cups and other finewares datable to the late 6th – early 5th centuries BCE, fragments of early 5th century Locrian amphoras, and two bronze arrowheads. All these artifacts come from a layer of soil directly above bedrock which may represent the earliest phase of Greek occupation of Monte Palazzi. The second test unit was excavated in an area suspected to be a modern robber trench. It yielded both late archaic and classical pottery and a bronze coin of Locri datable between 300-215 BCE , in addition to a corroded Italian coin minted between 1946-1950, which may have been lost by pothunters. More fragments of miniature vessels were found in both test units.

On the whole, the results of our second field season have confirmed that a Greek settlement existed at Monte Palazzi near the end of the 6th century or in the first half of the 5th century BCE. Present evidence suggests that its occupants may have come from the city of Locri Epizephyrii on the Ionian coast of Calabria. While the perimeter wall excavated in 2005 and 2007 could be a fortification, the ubiquitous finds of miniature ceramics and the growing quantity of finewares, particularly drinking cups, also raise the possibility that the site may have been frequented as a frontier sanctuary. We still do not know if Monte Palazzi was occupied continuously until the end of the 3rd century BCE, and whether it was destroyed or abandoned.