Debating the future of Cato's model farm at Pozzilli with Onorevale Patriciello

A member of the Soprintendenza in Molise long ago told me there’s nothing of archaeological importance in the regione. Exactly why this sentiment is wrong is the reason I am in Pozzilli, just outside Venafro, to talk to a group of students.

My lecture is on my 18 years of excavations and surveys at San Vincenzo al Volturno, arguably one of the more important archaeological discoveries of post-war Italy. My host, Professor Andreina Ricci, famed archaeologist at Tor Vergata University, Rome, is digging here at the instigation of the Onorevale Aldo Patriciello (the EU representative for the area), the catalyst for a foundation creating a new health-care system of hospitals at Pozzilli.

A view of the excavations

Andreina has uncovered a remarkable site that would have been bulldozed but for the intervention of Venafro’s passionate cultural tsar, Franco Valente, and Onorevale Patriciello’s support. In six hot weeks she has discovered a large fourth to first century BC villa with a compact atrium. The villa is icing on the cake. Bang up against it are numerous kilns, probably for making tiles and also lime for cement. Andreina believes this was one of the homes of Cato, an illustrious early author on model farming in his De agricultura . If so, her excavations and the finds will complement the health-care investment in transforming an otherwise anonymous Molisano village.

Franco Valente & Andreina Ricci

My talk to the students touches a raw subject. Once managed by distinguished Superintendents, the recent history of archaeological intervention in Molise has been underwhelming. Andreina's excavation illustrates why. Some years ago a member of the Soprintendenza literally bulldozed away the upper levels of this rare early Republican villa. Dissecting what remains has challenged Andreina’s skills as a fine stratigraphic archaeologist.

Onoverale Patriciello has come to the rescue. He found funds for the excavation and is helping to refurbish a fine building adjacent to the hospital as a museum supported by the health-care foundation. In the plush lecture hall this hot day as we debate cultural heritage in Molise, the Onorevale admits that the industrialisation of the ‘sixties is finished in this regione and only niche farming has any future. Cultural heritage to lend new initiatives identity and attract tourism is the way forward. Cato’s legendary name will surely help.

Lime milling stones from the Republican period

The challenge is to get young, properly trained Italians into the mix, as Franco Valente says. Many local politicians of the region and the Soprintendenza are still learning to trust in a modern meritocracy and transparent neoliberal values.

Andreina’s dig is an important new initiative with Italian, British and Swiss students and above all an eye on the assets of the past that possess urgent meaning for Molise’s future.

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