Mosaic discovery on Italy’s ancient Roman coast provides clues to the past
Archaeologists and volunteers from Earthwatch excavating an ancient villa in the Roman maritime settlement of Poggio del Molino in Tuscany, Italy were excited to uncover recently an unexpected and unusual mosaic floor.
Lead scientist Dr Carolina Megale of Archeodig says “When we decided to excavate the room we expected to find a calidarium - a hot bathing room, and we certainly didn’t think that this room could have a mosaic floor. But we made a mistake! The room is most likely a changing room (apodyterium) and would not have been a hot room at all.”
The excavation was supported by teams of volunteers from Earthwatch, who were equally excited to play their part in this exciting discovery, making light work of uncovering the mosaic as soon as the first signs were spotted.
Some of the loose tesserae (mosaic tiles) that the team collected have been sent off for geological analysis, to shed some light on the construction of the mosaic floor and its connection to the rest of the villa and the surrounding area.
The mosaic appears to comprise four different colours within a design that repeats throughout the entire floor. Around the edges of the room is a border of plain white tiles, which seem to be made of marble from nearby Campiglia Marittima. The background of the design is of the same white stone. The design itself consists of blue lines in a criss-cross pattern. At the intersections of the blue lines are reddish purple rosettes, encircled in pale pink.
The other rooms of the villa feature regular geometric flower patterns. The flowers in the newly uncovered mosaic are more random, and each differs slightly from the rest. There is also a slight variation in colour, shape and size of each piece of each flower. This is an unusual technique and use of material for Roman mosaic, and Carolina’s team will be investigating it further.
Carolina explains the importance of now protecting the finding ‘The mosaic is pretty well preserved, but it is vital now to restore it. Unfortunately the central part of the floor is missing. Damage from plant roots poses the greatest threat.”
The discovery of the mosaic also sheds light on the possible identity of the owner of the villa “This finding confirms the importance of the villa in the roman period in the territory of Populonia and is an indication of the importance and wealth of the owner, likely to be a politician”, says Carolina.
The excavation project takes place on one of the most important active archaeological sites in Italy, Poggio del Molino. This ancient maritime settlement is located in the heart of the former territory of one of the major Etruscan cities, Populonia, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Populonia was for centuries (from 900 BC to 100 AD) one of the most important centres of iron smelting and trade in the Mediterranean.
The work that Archeodig are carrying out with support from Earthwatch aims to fill knowledge gaps of the industrial history and coastal economy of Populonia and its region, from the early Roman period (250/200 BCE) to the early Middle Ages (600 CE). The project results will offer a more profound understanding of the industrial aspects of Roman rule and territorial exploitation, given the site’s strategic position near natural resources.