Mosaic Discovery on Italy’s Ancient Roman Coast Provides Clues to the Past
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 colors 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 crisscross 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 are also slight variations in the color, shape, and size of each piece of each flower. This is an unusual technique and use of material for Roman mosaic, and Dr. Megale’s team will be investigating it further.
Dr. Megale explains the importance of 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 Dr. Megale.
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 B.C. to A.D. 100) one of the most important centers of iron smelting and trade in the Mediterranean.
The work that Archeodig is 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 B.C.) to the early Middle Ages (A.D. 600). 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.