Cetamura del Chianti: new archaeological discovery
Found grape seeds dating back to the first century AD

The recent discovery of grape pips in a well at Cetamura del Chianti on the property of the Badia a Coltibuono (Gaiole in Chianti) promise to reveal new insights regarding viticulture and the history of the landscape in the Chianti area, according to Emanuela and Roberto Stucchi, proprietors of Coltibuono.

The archaeological work is conducted under the auspices and with the supervision of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana in Florence (inspectors Silvia Goggioli and Giovanni Roncaglia). Deborah Montagnani, Vice Mayor of Gaiole, is the liaison for cultural and educational development of the site of Cetamura.

A collaborative team of American universities and Italian scientists, excavating in May and June of 2012 in the Roman levels of the well, have retrieved nearly 100 samples of grape pips, along with numerous other indications of plant and animal life 2000 years ago. The director of the excavation, Nancy de Grummond of Florida State University, credits the Italian firm of Ichnos: Archeologia, Ambiente e Sperimentazione for the vision of the possibilities of the project as well as for the successful conquest of the challenging conditions at a depth of 30 m below ground level. “Francesco Cini, the president of Ichnos, told me two years ago that one of the most important objectives in this well would be to find scientific evidence of the grapes grown in Chianti in antiquity, “ said Professor de Grummond, “and now our wishes have come true.”

The wet conditions in the well favor the excellent preservation of all sorts of organic matter and allow for types of analysis not usual for excavations at land sites. “In fact, grape pips have been discovered before at Cetamura,” said de Grummond, referring to burnt examples found in a sacred Etruscan offering, “but they were carbonized and did not allow investigation into the variety of grapes. With all of these new samples, there is the chance that scientists may be able to identify DNA and tell us a great deal about the vineyards and the consumption of grapes in the Roman period.” The samples have been entrusted to the laboratory of Prof. Gaetano de Pasquale at the University of Naples, where Mauro Buonincontri, a doctoral student and member of the Ichnos team, will carry out the appropriate analysis.

The pips were found associated with Roman artifactual evidence of a date in the first half of the first century A.D. , including smashed vessels and an abundance of animal bone ranging from pig, cow, and sheep/goat to tortoise, chicken and other as yet unidentified birds, under study by Dr. Ornella Fonzo of Cagliari. Also found were remains of barley, olive and walnut and several substantial samples of wood. Especially intriguing are the fragments of a ceramic pitcher that seem to be smeared with resin, suggesting that the Romans of Cetamura may have been drinking a kind of retsina, not unusual in antiquity when containers for shipping wine were often sealed with such material. Much of the identification and collection of organic material is achieved through a system of sieving the soil from the well through a water flotation basin devised by Cini and his collaborators. FSU graduate student Jordan Samuels marshals the forces of undergraduate students who laboriously extract the tiny seeds and other organic remains, and at the same time process enormous amounts of debris from the well, such as fragments of brick, tile and large storage vessels such as amphoras and dolios.

A good bit is known about Roman activities at Cetamura. Alvaro Tracchi of San Giovanni Valdarno, who first discovered Cetamura in 1964, already identified Roman ceramics at that time. Professor Cheryl Sowder of Jacksonville University, currently the supervisor of finds as they come out of the well, recalls digging in the adjacent Roman villa when she was a graduate assistant in the 1980’s. The villa featured baths with an under-floor heating system (hypocaust) and much of the debris found in the well above the level of the grape pips belongs to the various kinds of brick, tile and ceramic pipes (box-flue tiles) dumped after the dismantling of the baths in a later period. Dr. Randall Nishiyama of Boulder, Colorado, assists with the processing of hundreds of pounds of such ceramic material, much of which must have been created at Cetamura.

Sowder noted materials from the Roman usage level of the site that relate to many aspects of daily life, but may be especially relevant for understanding Roman banqueting practices at a rural hilltop site. Thousands of artifacts have been processed by Professor Lora Holland of UNC-Asheville, director of the Cetamura lab at Coltibuono, and await restoration and analysis. FSU collaborates closely with the conservation wing of Studio Art Centers International (SACI) in Florence, and many items are under the care of SACI expert conservator Nora Marosi, who collaborates in turn with the Centro di Restauro della Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana.

Florida State University, working with collaborators from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and New York University in Florence, among others, has been studying the whole chronological arc of activities from Etruscans of the 7th-2nd centuries B.C. to Romans of the time of Augustus down to at least the 2nd century A.D. There are also remains of a medieval fortified village on the site, contemporary with the founding of the abbey at Coltibuono in the early Middle Ages. Dr. Charles Ewell, a resident of Lecchi-in-Chianti and professor at NYU-Florence, along with Dr. Laurel Taylor of UNC-Asheville, oversees excavation of an Etruscan artisans’ zone, where ceramic kilns dating to the third century B.C. have been unearthed. Ewell and Taylor have also identified an area of iron-working which may have continued in usage from Etruscan to Roman times. Adjacent to the artisans’ zone is an Etruscan sanctuary of the 2nd century B.C., featuring altars, votive pits and offerings of vessels and foodstuffs, frequently burned and broken. A remarkable find in 2008 was an offering of a bowl of cooked chickpeas flanked by a wine goblet, evidently considered an appropriate meal for the gods. The sanctuary also yielded abundant remains of grain, apples, grapes and olives of the Etruscan period, all burnt and thus carbonized.

The new evidence from the Roman period will be used by Prof. de Pasquale and Mauro Buonincontri along with evidence from the medieval levels of the well and already published results from the Etruscan areas to reconstruct the landscape of Chianti from an historical perspective. The grape pips should prove to be an especially important and revealing aspect of the study.

Sanctuary of Etruscan Artisans of Cetamura in Chianti
Badia a Coltibuono – Gaiole in Chianti (SI)
6 September – 30 November 2009

The Sanctuary of the Etruscan Artisans at Cetamura del Chianti
The legacy of Alvaro Tracchi

Cetamura del Chiantiof the Etruscans is a place that asks to be considered on its own terms. It was occupied throughout its recoverable history by ordinary people, largely of humble status, living in a rustic environment. Of the artifacts recovered there, 99,9% are fragmentary or in some way incomplete. Thus Cetemura is not meant to be studied for spectacular objects or for what it can tell us about Etruscans of elite status, so well known from their tombs and monumental paintings and sculpture and their rich imported goods. Rather its value as an archaeological site is for what it reveals about the lives of a working class of people who seem relatively free of transformative outside influences and this respect perhaps preserve and convey more of their basic Etruscan identity.
This exhibition concentrates on the rather remarkable nexus of practices and concepts emerging from the placement of an artisans' quarter adjacent to a sanctuary with well-developed cult rituals, and at the same time looks at the environment and historical context of Cetamura.
It is not that the idea of having artisans serve a sanctuary is unknown elsewhere in the ancient world, but at Cetamura we find that the workers were themselves probably making many of the modest offerings. Gold and silver are almost completely absent and for that matter standard votives such as small stylized bronzes or terra cottas are thus far lacking. Instead many of the offerings seem to reflect a specific craft. The numerous iron nails and other iron artifacts (rings, strigil, possible candelabrum stand) probably represent the productivity and prayers for continued success of the same workers who smelted iron and left the slang on the site near the sanctuary. The miniature bricks would be appropriate offerings from the laborers at the nearby kiln, where brick and tile were made…
Many of the discoveries made at Cetamura over the last 45 years since the site was first explored by Alvaro Tracchi can now be understood more clearly seeing that there was in fact a kind of system on this area of the site, where artifacts could have significance as evidence of both work and worship, where cisterns provided water for both ritual and craft, where simple inscribed sherds from a cooking pot or even a pot full of cooked chickpeas might suggest the overarching social context of a class whose main capital was their everyday productivity and who felt the need of divine protection of their labours.
Nancy T. de Grummond
Florida State University
(abstract from the catalogue)

Conservation: Roberta Lapucci, Renzo Giachetti, Nòra Marosi dello Studio Art Centers International (SACI)

Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana
Studio Art Centers International (SACI) - Florida State University
Comune di Gaiole in Chianti (SI) - Comune di San Giovanni Valdarno (AR)

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