Introduction to the Finds

This section of the Trasimeno Digital Museum provides an overview of the most common objects and materials found at the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa site, and highlights some objects of particular interest.

Pottery comprises the vast majority of objects recovered on any archaeological site. Since the beginning of excavations in 2016, over 8000 pieces of pottery from the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa have been inventoried. Roman pottery can be divided into several categories based on the quality of the clay, the thickness of the vessel, its decoration and surface treatment, and its shape. Combines, these features can indicate a vessel’s function, and its date and place of manufacture. Pottery styles changed over time, and workshops in different locations used different clay and styles. Thus, even a fragment of pottery—especially a part of a rim, handle, or base— can tell us about trade and social relations, and about the chronology of the site.

Roman Fine Wares: Vernice Nera, Sigillata, and Pareti Sottili
Fine ware pottery was generally used for dining and display. About 10% of the pottery recovered from the Villa can be considered fine wares.

From 400 BC to the end of the Roman Republic, vernice nera or black-gloss ware was the preferred table ware in Italy. The presence of vernice nera at the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa is an indication that the site was originally occupied in the 2nd century BC. Around 40 BC, a glossy red-slipped ware is introduced at Arretium. This is commonly referred to as Sigillata Italica and eventually various workshops emerge in Italy and the provinces. In addition to applied and relief decoration, sigillata italica, is often stamped with the name of the workshop. We have several examples of such stamps from workshops in Arretium. Sometimes the stamps are in the shape of a foot, called an in planta perdis.

Despite the proximity of sigillata workshops at Arretium, the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa was also importing sigillata from North Africa (sigillata africana). This variation became popular in the 2nd Century AD. Its presence at our Villa is another indication of the owners interest in acquiring luxury items from across the empire.

Another type of table-ware represented at the Villa is, pareti sottili, or thin-walled pottery. This type of pottery is made from fine clay with few inclusions and the surface usually has only a simple slip or varnish (not the glossy treatment of vernice nera or sigillata). The most common forms are drinking cups and bowls. Further study of the examples from the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa is necessary to determine where this type of pottery was made.

Common Wares: Serving and Storage Vessels, and Cooking Pots
The most prevalent pottery at the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa are Common or Coarse wares. These are undecorated functional vessels produced of a clay matrix mixed with temper, i.e., inclusions of crushed rocks and minerals. The nature of the temper depends on the intended function of the vessel. For example, cooking pots, which need to resist high temperatures, will have a high quantity of volcanic material in the clay matrix.

The combination of the clay and the temper forms a unique fabric. Common wares are usually made locally, with local clay, and it is possible that there was a kiln at the Villa itself. In 2019, we initiated a project to analyze the fabrics used for the common wares found at the site. This involved making thin-sections from a variety of pottery fragments (over 300). These are now being studied at DePauw University to identify both the petrographic and chemical composition of the fabrics. The results will allow us to determine which pots were made locally and which ones were imported and whether this changed over time, and the methods of production employed (for example the temperature of the kiln).

In the Roman period, large amphora were used to transport agricultural products across the Mediterranean, in particular wine, oil, and grain. While the general shape of the amphora is standard across the Mediterranean—a narrow rim and neck, a wide body, a pointed toe, and two handles for carrying—the specific style of the handles, the rim, and the toe, as well as stamps on the handles or neck, indicate its place of origin. The amphora fragments from the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa are still being studied, but a few pieces stand out. For example, in 2019, just above the floor of the nymphaeum, we found the preserved rim and partial handle of a Rhodian wine amphora; evidence that the owners connections with the luxury world of the high Imperial period.

Rim and partial handle of a Rhodian wine amphora.

Explore the Other Finds from the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa:

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