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Activities of the Foundation for Calabrian Archaeology between 2010-2014

(1) In June, 2010, the Foundation for Calabrian Archaeology helped to sponsor its fourth and last season of archaeological fieldwork on the summit of Monte Palazzi, in southern Calabria, where remains of a Greek fortification attributed to Locri Epizephyrii had been uncovered in 2005, 2007, and 2008. Located on the right bank of the Allaro River, which separated the territory (or chora)of Locri from that of Kaulonia, a rival Greek city, this fort was occupied from the mid-6th to the mid-3rd centuries BCE. It appears to have played a major role in a complex system of defense that guarded both the northern and eastern flanks of the Locrian chora and an overland route which linked Locri to its subcolonies Medma and Hipponion on the western coast of Italy. The results of a geophysical survey, directed by Prof. George M. Crothers of the University of Kentucky, show that a large structure, identifiable as a fort, occupied the entire summit. Its irregular plan, covering a surface of at least 1300 m², seems to have been designed to follow the contour of the mountaintop. Linear anomalies along the eastern and western walls suggest the presence of interior structures, possibly barracks or storerooms, that enclosed an open-air courtyard. The entrance of the fort was on its southern side. Significant finds from the 2010 excavations include pottery, coins, bronze and iron projectile points, and stone utensils. They cast light upon the material culture and the chronology of this outpost, which was destroyed and abandoned in the 3rd century BCE, when Locri was threatened by the Brettians, an Italic population. Generous funding for the 2010 investigations was provided by the Falkenberg Foundation, the University of Kentucky, and private donors. Preliminary information on these findings was given at the 113th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Philadelphia; the field report is available at

(2) An exhibition illustrating the results of the Monte Palazzi archaeological project was held at Lexington’s Public Library between March and May 2011. It was made possible by a grant from the Archaeological Institute of America to the AIA Kentucky Society. In June, 2011, this exhibit traveled to the town of Grotteria (in Calabria, Italy), which has jurisdiction over the site of Monte Palazzi, and was presented to the general public; it was donated subsequently to the village of Cassari located at the foot of the mountain.

(3) The Foundation for Calabrian Archaeology also contributed to the exploration of a Roman site buried under farmland near Tezze di Arzignano, a village to the northwest of Vicenza, in the Veneto region of Italy. Extensive remains of this settlement were uncovered in 1795 and 1882 after catastrophic flooding by the Agno-Guà River, but they have since disappeared. Sporadic finds of Roman materials in a private estate at località Valbruna hinted at the presence of underground structures. After fieldwalking in the summer of 2010 and 2011 yielded eroded fragments of Roman roof tiles and a cluster of mosaic tesserae, a geophysical survey was conducted in July 2012 by a team from the University of Kentucky under the direction of Prof. George M. Crothers. Gradiometer and GPR data revealed distinct anomalies belonging to a rectangular structure that was interpreted as a portion of a substantial Roman building. Another series of anomalies could represent an ancient roadway. The Roman building may have been a farmhouse which stood near a burial ground, as finds of Roman tombs in its vicinity would suggest. Pottery and roof tiles recovered from the survey area indicate that the site was occupied from the late Iron Age until the 3rd century CE. Funding for the study of the Roman materials from Valbruna was provided by the Foundation for Calabrian Archaeology. Preliminary data on the results of these investigations were presented at the 114th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle, Washington; a field report is available

(4) As a result of our archaeological investigations, it seems possible that the Locrians established a series of control points at regular intervals of 10-12 km along the borders of their territory. This defense network, consisting of small outposts and strategically important landmarks, would have originated in the archaic period (c. 600-480 BCE), a time of Locrian expansion on the Tyrrhenian coast and of intense political rivalry between Locri and its Greek neighbors.

In addition, between June 2010 and May 2014, volunteers associated with the Foundation for Calabrian Archaeology conducted several reconnaissances in the environs of Monte Palazzi and across the Locrian chora. There is evidence that Locri and the neighboring city-states of Rhegion and Kaulonia built permanent fortifications in their mountainous borderlands as early as the 6thcentury BCE. The goal of these investigations was to understand the topographical characteristics and the strategic potential of sites and landmarks presumed to have been used by the Locrians as control points along the boundaries of their territory, for intersignaling, or for overland communications with the Tyrrhenian coast. The areas of interest included, from east to west, the lower and middle course of the Allaro River, the upper Torbido River Valley, and the Passo del Mercante. Locri and Kaulonia built forts with massive fortification walls at Monte Palazzi and Monte Gallo, on the opposite banks of the Allaro River. An inspection of Torre Camillari and Monte Castello, two coastal sites near the estuary of the Allaro said to have been fortified by Kaulonia, revealed no similar defensive structures. Torre Camillari could have been a Locrian settlement, since it lies on the right bank of the river, but there is no conclusive evidence that it was fortified. A reconnaissance of the summit of Monte Granieri, a mountain overlooking the right bank of the Allaro to the east of Monte Palazzi, did not yield traces of ancient occupation. Fieldwalking in the upper Torbido Valley at 10 km to the southwest of Monte Palazzi, at Poggio Pilazzo and Monte Limina (where a scatter of ancient roof tiles was found) determined that intersignaling with Monte Palazzi would have feasible from both locations. An alignment of stone blocks along the summit of Poggio Pilazzo may belong to a defensive wall. Greek rooftiles and a fragmented iron projectile point were also found during a survey of località Palazzo on the Piano Melìa near Passo del Mercante, on a terrace overlooking the town of Cittanova and the chora of ancient Medma. These finds are indicative of the presence of an ancient fortification or observation post (possibly a watchtower). Località Palazzo lies on the most direct route between Locri and the Tyrrhenian coast, at 10.5 km to the west of Monte Limina. An adjacent site, where fieldwalking yielded Neolithic stone tools, architectural remains, and Greek ceramics, is even more intriguing, since it may have marked the boundary of the Locrian chora; it probably was visible from Locri itself.


P. VISONÀ, University of Kentucky Archaeological Investigations at Monte Palazzi

(Passo Croceferrata, Grotteria, Calabria) and in the Locrian chora in 2010-2012, in:

P. VISONÀ, A Forgotten Roman Settlement in the Veneto. University of Kentucky

Geoarchaeological Investigations at Tezze di Arzignano (Vicenza, Italy) in 2012, in:

2010 Study Season

Campaign at Monte Palazzi, a Mountain Fort of Locri Epizephyrii

After three seasons of fieldwork aimed at reconstructing the Greek settlement’s plan and occupational history (see ), the University of Kentucky’s final campaign at Monte Palazzi was focused on two excavation units near the SE perimeter wall, whose inner face was fully uncovered. A geophysical survey of the mountaintop (involving the use of a fluxgate magnetic gradiometer and electrical resistivity) was also conducted to determine the extent of the defensive perimeter and the possibility of interior structures. However, while the fort’s outer walls could be easily detected, interior architecture proved more difficult to discern. Dry-built and 2.5 m in width, the SE wall was constructed with blocks of local granite and of a garnet chlorite schist (a rock similar to soapstone) from an outcrop located at a distance of 500 meters from the archaeological site. This may be the first example of a quarry of chlorite schist used for building purposes by the Greeks in southern Italy. The foundations of this wall rest upon a layer of charcoaly soil that yielded Greek ceramics seemingly confirming a late archaic date for the arrival of Greek settlers at Monte Palazzi, and for the construction of the defensive walls.

Finds of stone slingshots inside the SE wall wall, along with three bronze arrowheads found in 2007, and two iron javelin points found in 2008 and 2010, corroborate the importance of the site from a military standpoint. Radiocarbon analysis of a fragment of wooden shaft (from silver fir) found inside one of the arrowheads has yielded calibrated dates of 544-510 BC and 538-482 BC. Monte Palazzi’s fort may have come under attack during the classical period, since no typically hellenistic pottery has yet been recovered in appreciable quantity. The most significant finds other than ceramics and projectiles in the 2010 season include two bronze coins of Dionysius I of Syracuse with Head of Athena l. / Hippocamp l. (405-367 BCE) and a Locrian bronze issue with Head of Herakles l. / Pegasos l. (300-250 BCE?), and several stone utensils made from a soft-grained micaschist. In addition to the numismatic evidence, the preponderance in the ceramic record of Locrian amphoras of the type with rim ‘a cuscinetto rigonfio’ from the lowest soil loci supports attributing this fort to Locri Epizephyrii. Located across the border from Kaulonia’s territory and near the main overland route to Hipponion, the phrourion on Monte Palazzi must have played a significant role as a control point and an observation post throughout the 5th and 4th centuries BCE.

2009 Study Season

As a scheduled component of the Monte Palazzi Project submitted to Italy’s Ministry for the Preservation of Cultural and Environmental Resources, a study season was conducted in Calabria between May 25-June 24, 2009. Its main objective was to complete the inventory, drawing, and photography, of all the archaeological finds from the 2005, 2007, and 2008 campaign, in preparation for full publication. This entailed several visits to Locri’s Museo Archeologico Nazionale, the main repository for the materials from Monte Palazzi. Dr. Paolo Visonà of the University of Kentucky, Principal Investigator and Field Director, and Jennifer Knapp, Doctoral Candidate at the University of Missouri-Columbia and ceramicist of the Monte Palazzi Project, were responsible for all primary data collecting. Dr. Jeffrey Lamia, an experienced ceramicist, assisted Ms. Knapp in late May and early June.

Dr. Visonà also inspected the site of Monte Palazzi and photographed the stone quarry located near the hamlet of Cassari in 2008. Petrological analyses carried out at the University of Padua have established that the stone mined at the quarry was steatite, a metamorphic rock similar to soapstone, which was used in antiquity to carve vessels and a variety of implements. Numerous fragments of this stone have been found at Monte Palazzi, where it may have been worked by the Greek occupants and re-distributed to the Ionian coast in the form of finished products. A rock collector also showed Dr. Visonà a Neolithic stone axe found in the environs of Cassari within the last ten years. This confirms a prehistoric frequentation of the area, which is attested by a chert artifact, (possibly a micro-burin?) found in the 2008 excavations at Monte Palazzi. Similar axes have also found in Greek contexts at Locri and Hipponion. It is still uncertain whether several stone tools made out of a gray schistic stone, found associated with classical Greek pottery in different excavation units, are also prehistoric.

A preliminary analysis of the carbon and soil samples from the 2005-2008 campaigns has yielded remains of different species of wheat and beans in stratified contexts, while a tentative examination of some of the bone fragments has revealed the presence of Pig and Sheep or Goat. Complete results are expected in the next few months. Select charcoal and faunal remains will be used for radiocarbon dating.

Following the publication of the 2005 excavation report, an interim report on the 2007 and 2008 field seasons will be submitted to RendLinc (= Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Classe di Scienze Morali, Storiche e Filologiche. Rendiconti ) in the Fall. A volume on the results of the archaeological investigations conducted at Monte Palazzi thus far is also in the works. Its main contents will be the following:
1. The Monte Palazzi Project’s Intellectual Background: Paolo Visonà
2. The Stratigraphy of the 2005-2008 Excavations: Paolo Visonà
3. The Pottery: Jennifer Knapp
4. The Terracotta Figurines: Rebecca Miller Ammerman
5. The Lithic and Metal Finds: Massimo Betello and Paolo Visonà
6. The Coins: Claudia Perassi
7. The Fauna: Bruce L. Manzano
8. The Slag: David Moecher
9. XRF Analysis of Steatite Samples: Henry Francis
10. Other Analyses of Steatite: Silvana Martin
11. A Neolithic Axe from Cassari: Massimo Cardosa
12. The Cassari Cross: Vincenzo Naymo
13. Paleobotanical Analyses: Lanfredo Castelletti and Elisabetta Castiglione
14. Chemical Analyses of Mortar: Laura Rampazzi
15. GIS Mapping: Michael Kennedy
16. Topographical Survey: Paolo Mazzaglia and Emanuele Sapienza

Part of the 2009 Study Season was also devoted to processing and inventory of the materials from the 1987-2001 excavations at Contrada Mella stored in Oppido Mamertina’s Museo Civico, particularly the commonwares. Randall T. Nishiyama from NOAA spent the last week of May in Oppido working on the brick and tile from this site; Jennifer Knapp continued her study of the finewares. In addition, Stephanie Pryor, of the University of Missouri, began to work on the Pompeian Red ceramics from Contrada Mella. Randy also made some critical observations on the basalt millstones from Mella which solved an old puzzle: he helped to identify one of the fragments in the Oppido Museum as the symmetrical half of the meta of a Hellenistic hourglass rotary mill, of which a complete example was found in the excavations. This type of grain mill appears to be unique.

We are grateful to the Administration of Oppido Mamertina for providing lodging and facilitating access to the finds in Oppido’s Museum throughout the study season. As a result of this summer’s work, nearly 1,000 diagnostic fragments of commonwares from Contrada Mella have been singled out for publication. We plan to begin drawing and photography of this pottery in the Spring of 2010.


Neolithic axe from Cassari, environs. Sporadic find, 1990-2000.
Granitic stone. Dimensions: L 10,97 cm.; W 3.2 x 3.81 cm.; oval section
Munsell: N6


Iron javelin point, 5th-3rd centuries BCE.
Monte Palazzi 2008; square B2.9.  Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Locri, inv. 146746
Dimensions: L 5.32 cm.; W 1.7 cm.; quadrangular section


Greek bronze implement, 5th-4th centuries BCE.
Monte Palazzi 2008; square B2.6. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Locri, inv. 146745
Dimensions: L 8.95 cm; W at top 8.5 mm.

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

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.