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Research project: The Spina survey project

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The ancient Etruscan city of Spina lies in the delta of the River Po, south of Venice, Italy. It was know in antiquity for the fertility of its land, and it was only one of two Etruscan towns to have erected a treasury at the pan-Hellenic sanctuary at Delphi.

The site was discovered during reclamation work after undertaken in the teens and 20s of the 20th century. The work included the draining of the Comacchio fluvial basins.

In 1956 in the eastern part of the Valle Lepri, a series of wooden foundation pile-structures dating to the fourth century BC was found and remains of the main settlement were brought to light a little later. While the excavations of the cemeteries have continued since the 1950s, the settlement has been more sporadically investigated. The current Soprintendente, Dott Luigi Malnati has initiated a systematic investigation of the site, involving collaboration with the universities of Milan, Bologna, Ferrara and Zurich, the latter led by Christoph Reusser. Geophysical survey formed part of the investigation of the site.

The aims of the survey were:

  1. to test the viability of geophysical investigation at the site
  2. to verify the inferred extent of the site, and
  3. to identify and locate previous excavation trenches

It was also hoped that the results would give some indication of the structure of the underlying Etruscan city. For Spina magnetometry was chosen to survey the site, and readings were taken at 0.25 m intervals along traverses 0.5m within 30m square grids. The results of the survey have been very promising: the alluvial nature of the site is particularly suited to magnetometer work, providing a ‘quiet’ background signal against which features can be seen at different depths of clarity, depending on their magnetic strength or depth. The geology also created a number of stark, visible features that were easily distinguished from archaeological ones.

Preliminary interpretation of the results suggests that two rivers bounded the site, running N-S and NW-SE, forming a triangular area of settlement remains. These remains appear to be organised in a very regular manner. The settlement appears to consist of a series of insula blocks, each consisting of roads and walls, next to which, and within which, smaller structures appear. Some of the blocks contain irregular or curvilinear anomalies with particularly strong signals. Such features may be explained by the presence of burnt material, which often gives off a stronger magnetic response than other material. These features could be kilns, furnaces or hearths. They appear to be placed at the western end of the blocks. A large linear feature runs the length of the settlement in a N-S direction, and this appears to be a road or canal.

The survey results are of singular importance in understanding the urban settlement of Spina. The systematic layout of the features suggests groups of residential buildings methodically laid out in blocks divided by a series of roads.

Related research groups

Classical and historical archaeology
Spina survey
Spina survey

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