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Tuscany and the origins of the Euro (nEU-Med)

For two years now we have been pursuing an archaeological research project based in western Tuscany funded by the EU's Advanced ERC programme. The project has a grand title: ‘Origins of a new economic union (7th to 12th centuries): resources, landscapes and political strategies in a Mediterranean region’ (ERC nEU-Med (no.670792)) and is based in the University of Siena.

We have carried out a major environmental survey of the Pecora valley from a lost lagoon near Follonica to the Colline Metallifere behind Massa Marittima, a major metallurgical study of Tuscany’s early medieval silver coinage, and a major excavation at Vetricella near Scarlino, where the Via Aurelia once ran close to the lost lagoon.

Vetricella was found as a crop mark soon after 2000. It looks like a martian landing place: three concentric circles with a small inner area largely occupied by a building. Excavations in 2016 showed it had four periods: a featureless late Lombard phase; a phase dating to the later 9th to 10th centuries with three ditched enclosures around a curious timber building; a phase from the later 10th century when the timber building was transformed into a stone tower, and the ditches were filled in; and a final afterlife with post-built structures of 11th-century date and small hearths. The finds are tantalisingly numerous: 16 silver coins, hundreds of pieces of metalwork, broken storage pots in large quantities, and animal bone refuse in which the remains of piglets are prominent.

Vetricella pre-scavo

Was it a Tuscan royal site or the toll-station of a local lordly family, the Aldobrandescini? How exactly did it function? Indeed, why was it here and how did it begin?

Last week we resumed the excavations for two months and as we all meet today we once again review the many questions to be answered. My co-director, Prof. Giovanna Bianchi assisted by Dr. Lorenzo Marasco and Arianna Briano are leading a team of students who are plainly delighted by the fine early autumnal weather. Conditions are promising for demonstrating this was a special place, strategically located for landing iron and other minerals, that took on a new importance in the early feudal age and was furnished with a tower and the concentric ditches.

View from the outer ditch looking east over the excavations

Or could the excavations throw up entirely new mysteries? We’ll see.

Vetricella is a wonderfully promising dig. Watch this space and our nEU-Med website – as we trowel down into these questions which will transform our understanding of this Mediterranean landscape, its medieval Tuscan mining assets and political control over these resources.

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