Press Release

The Foundation for Calabrian Archaeology

In August, 2008, The Mamertion Foundation, a non-profit corporation, has become The Foundation for Calabrian Archaeology. Between 1994 and 2001 The Mamertion Foundation supported archaeological research at the Italic site of contrada Mella, near Oppido Mamertina, in southwestern Calabria. The new name reflects the corporation’s broader objectives. The Foundation for Calabrian Archaeology’s chief goals are to explore and excavate archaeological sites in the Calabria region of southern Italy, under the authority of Italy’s Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali and of the Soprintendenza Archeologica della Calabria, and to gain an understanding of the economy, the material culture, and the socio-political organization of the peoples of Calabria in antiquity.

The 2008 Excavations at Monte Palazzi (Croceferrata Pass, Grotteria), in south-central Calabria

Located atop a thickly forested mountain rising to 1,215 meters above sea level, on one of the mountain chains that form the spine of the Italian peninsula, the site of Monte Palazzi lies about 25 km. from the Ionian coast of Calabria. After architectural remains and Greek ceramics were found on this mountaintop, Italian archaeologists suggested that the ruins belonged to a fort of Locri Epizephyrii, the closest and most powerful Greek city on the Ionian coast. Locrian involvement with territory across these mountains had begun in the 7th century BCE, when Locri founded the colonies of Hipponion and Medma on the Tyrrhenian coast. A Locrian stronghold on Monte Palazzi could have controlled an overland route linking the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts. It could also have kept watch upon the movements of Lucanians and Brettians, indigenous populations who threatened Locrian territory before the Roman conquest.

Our investigations are aimed at casting new light upon the architectural history, the functions, and the phases of occupation of the Greek settlement at Monte Palazzi.

The 2008 campaign was conducted in late May and June by Dr. Paolo Visonà of the University of Kentucky. Sara Palaskas of UCLA was Assistant Director, and Jennifer E. Knapp of the University of Missouri-Columbia served as Ceramic Specialist. Dr. Massimo Betello of SUNY-Buffalo, Andrew Cohee, and John (Craig) Stewart of the University of Kentucky were Field Supervisors. James R. Jansson and John Svoboda supervised logistics and sifting in addition to participating in the excavations. American volunteer excavators and a group of students from the University of Kentucky comprised the 2008 field team. In addition, Professor Michael Kennedy of the Department of Geography of the University of Kentucky visited Monte Palazzi to collect data for GIS mapping.

This year’s investigations had three main objectives. First, we intended to explore a breach in the perimeter wall on the northeastern flank of the site to unearth the wall’s foundations and to obtain evidence that would help date the wall’s construction. This area was heavily disturbed, since the wall appeared to have been robbed out. We also planned to extend the excavations towards the central area of the complex in order to uncover remains of floors or surfaces. Finally, by opening new excavation units along the southwestern flank of the site we sought to locate a section of the perimeter wall that would help determine the boundaries and size of the settlement.

The excavation of the breach in the northeastern perimeter wall revealed that the lowest courses of this wall had been laid out flatly upon bedrock. While several ceramic fragments from this context can be dated to the 5th century BCE, it is still uncertain when the wall was built.

One of the most interesting finds inside the perimeter wall was a miniature olpe (a pitcher) datable to the early to mid-4th century BCE. Miniature pottery served no practical function and was used for votive offerings. Even though no traces of a continuous surface could be discerned, finds of other fragments of different miniature vessels found in the same area in previous seasons suggest that ritual activity may have taken place near the wall.

In contrast, a new square excavated at a distance of 10 meters from the northeastern perimeter wall yielded a sequence of soil layers with many ceramic inclusions, possibly representing episodes of habitation. This evidence includes a large number of fragments of Locrian transport amphoras with an almond-shaped rim profile, made in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, as well as cookwares; the most recent pottery can be dated to the first half of the 3rd century BCE. Other finds include the tip of an iron javelin, an unusual bronze implement, and two bronze coins of Dionysius I of Syracuse, minted between 405-367 BCE. Dionysius I and his son were allies of Locri in the first half of the 4th century BCE, and these coins are found at Locri in stratigraphic contexts datable between 350-250 BCE. Therefore, they may have arrived at Monte Palazzi within a broad period of time, but probably not after the mid-3rd century. A posthole cut into the bedrock, similar to one located in 2007 near the wall, raises the possibility that large timbers may have supported a shelter covered with tiles, to which several fragments of rooftiles from this area may be related.

On the opposite flank of the site, where we opened three adjoining excavation units, we were able to uncover a segment of the southwestern perimeter wall that seems largely undisturbed. Its width of 2.5 meters and its construction technique resemble those of the northeastern wall, and its location suggests that the entire complex may have enclosed at least 1,000 square meters. Significantly, all the ceramic materials overlying the southwestern perimeter wall date between the 5th and the mid-3rd centuries BCE, and include examples of Locrian amphora rims.

As a result of this year’s excavations, the record of Locri Epizephyrii’s links to Monte Palazzi has become more substantial. Even though it is still unclear whether the settlement was primarily a military outpost, or whether it may have served other functions, the increased number of fragments of Locrian amphoras datable to the 5th and 4th centuries attests to the presence of Locrian Greeks at the site throughout the 4th century BCE. The absence of pottery made after the mid-3rd century in all the areas explored thus far, tentatively suggests that the site ceased to be occupied after 250 BCE. In addition, there is evidence that the Greek settlement at Monte Palazzi may have been connected to the exploitation of an important natural resource. Analyses by Professor David Moecher of the University of Kentucky have revealed that the materials found in the 2008 excavations include slag obtained by smelting hematite, or iron ore. The production of iron near the site could also help explain the strategic relevance of this mountain to the Locrians