The excavations in 2014 has been possible thanks to the grant of National Science Centre (UMO-2011/03/B/HS3/00567), as well as grant of Ministry of Science and Higher Education (SPUB 2013). Director of both projects: Dr Roksana Chowaniec.
The archaeological works in 2014 were focused on exploring and documenting the Late Roman and Byzantine strata with destruction, levelling and rebuilding levels, visible in architectural remains, built with re-used blocks and architectural elements, which more or less copied and duplicated the earlier foundations.
These levels were only remains of a secondary use of a Late Hellenistic and Early Roman residential complex. The registered destruction is related to an earthquake(s) around the beginning of second half of 4th c. AD, confirmed by characteristic deformation of architecture, collapse of structures in one direction as a consequence of oscillation or fractures in the walls. After that natural catastrophe, the area was covered by levelling stratum, filled with heavily mixed, heterogeneous archaeological material. Majority of pottery represents the groups dated from the 4th to the 6th c. AD, i.a., vessels imported from blossoming North African workshops in the 4th–early 5th c. AD or Aegean Cooking Ware, Pantellerian Ware and amphorae. It should be mention that in this stratum also some Hellenistic or even older items were found, such as flints, coins, pottery (black gloss, including black and red figured sherds) or damaged architectural pieces, originally belonging to the archaic or classic foundations, e.g. a fragment of a capital, preserved only to the height of the annulets and sections of the echinus and necking, with an analogy discovered in the Doric peripteral temple of Aphrodite, situated at the highest area of south-eastern skirt of the town and built in the middle of the 6th c. BC.
It seems most probable that in order to recover this part of house, it means to dump and level of earthquake destructions, the inhabitants used all possible materials and soil, acquiring it from all available sources, i.a., quarries or no longer functioning south-eastern part of the town.
On the so-prepared levelling layer, new sloppiness of constructions were built, composed of careless choice of re-used elements – often not only architectural details, but also fragments of stone mortaria or olive presses. Structures and secondary divisions of rooms roughly followed the original walls of a given house. Examples may be provided by constructions, acting as partition walls rather than load-bearing ones, listed under nos. 8, 9, 14 and 18. For example, structure no. 9 lies on a firm rubble of stones and roof tiles, thus covering an older phase with walls no. 16, 22, 23 and partially no. 13.
Another example would be the wall no. 18 was built to separate room no. 1, formed by walls nos. 4, 5, 7 and 17. It's clearly visible in the section of wall no. 18, where under two faces/rows made of re-used blocks lies a compact layer of roof tiles, originally covering the whole room no. 1.
This phase is clearly connected with the adaptation of residential rooms by arranging new zones, delineated with sloppy or slightly unstable partition walls, solely for household use. That term can mean not only middens, but also areas destined for production. A vast amount of bone hairpins, badges and semi–finished products, bronze needles, terracotta mould or ‘curry comb’ for the use of pottery, samples of pigments, and most of all small furnaces with around scattered slags, and fragments of recast bronze items, testify intensive production here. The numbers of tools e.g., hand pestles, stylus point tools, tongs/pincers made of iron, punches, chisels, as well as the fragments of clay vessel used for melting with remains of slag and nodules of slag or the knives for partitioning/cutting of sulfur also could testified the purpose of this area for the workshop production.
Primary use of area described above, i.e. Late Hellenistic and Early Roman residential complex, will be studied during the current excavations.
In 2014, in the framework of scientific interdisciplinary project on the production of pottery in the regions of Sicily and south Italy, archaeometric investigations on cooking- and common-wares found in Akrai begun. In April, the same year, in Museo dei “Viaggiatori in Sicilia” in Palazzolo Acreide, the exhibition related to the archaeological investigations in Akrai was opened. In connection with the exhibition, thanks to the collaboration with Soprintendenza dei Beni Culturali e Ambientali di Siracusa, on 4-5 April, the scientific conference titled “Missione archaeologica ad Akrai” was organized by Mrs Marta Fituła in Palazzolo Acreide.
In the course of archaeological campaign in 2015, the archaeological and conservation works related to the mosaic made in a technique resembling the opus signinum (cocciopesto) discovered in the room no. 6 and also to the plasters of wall paintings in the rooms no. 3, 4, 5 and 6 were done too. On the some parts of the walls (USM 6, USM 13, USM 29) fragments of plasterwork with remains of imitation-marble fresco painting (a finto marmo) have been preserved. Whereas the mosaic, made on medium-sized irregular stones, on which clay-lime mortar a few centimeters thick was topped, was finished with crumbled fragments of construction ceramics and red-painted. The central decoration was made of marble tessera tiles, arranged into a double-swastika meander alternating with squares around which single tiles were dispersed irregularly throughout the whole surface of the floor. The opus signinum floors with geometric decoration widespread in Late Hellenistic Sicily starting from the 2nd century BC and its popularity in the Mediterranean may be dated to the 1st century BC. At Akrai the opus signium was made either in the very end of this chronological period, or even later, and then for a long time used, which is testified by the artifacts registered there, as well as fact that very few fragments of the wall paintings were found there, which may indicate a gradual peeling off the plasterwork from the walls, and its regular removal from the room. During the excavation season the mosaic and wall-paintings were carefully uncovered and cleaned manually with dry paintbrushes, knives and lancets, and soft brushes or damp sponges. The edges of the defragmented parts were secured with tapes made of mortar based on slaked lime with sand and a little admixture of white cement, besides that the damaged parts were filled with fine loose grit.
fot. Bogacki M.
Additionally, the new phase of research in 2015 concerns also the archaeometric studies, multidisciplinary reconstruction of ancient diet and local ancient landscape and geology of the region, as well as elaboration of material culture and human-environment relationships. It is clearly visible that human infiltration of the Hyblaean Mountains, and thus the vicinity of Akrai, since the mid-7th century BC brought consecutive urban and rural expansion, and thereby also the changes in the environment and surrounding of the town (e.g. created constantly new fields, extra muros sanctuaries, quarries, necropoleis). The growing population steadily exploited natural sources of ground water or stones, etc. Since the 6th century BC, artisanal activity, including metallurgy, was intensified here, which was followed by further exploitation of local raw resources and wood indispensable for firing pottery, smelting, woodcarving, etc. Information about the using of ambiance is proved also by archaeozoological and archaeobotanical analysis done in 2015. Information about the exploitation of environment is also proved by osteological analysis and archaeo-botanical remains collected while the archaeological excavations in Akrai. Grazing and husbandry were common here, which is testified by bones of domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goat, ship/goat and pig). The inhabitants surly used also resource of wild animals.
fot. Chowaniec R., drawn by Żero J.
In December 2015, in the „Green Hall” of the Municipality of Palazzolo Acreide, a scientific conference and presentation of book, titled: „Unveiling the past of an ancient town. Akrai/Acrea in south-eastern Sicily”, published in Warsaw 2015, were organized. Thanks to the collaboration with Soprintendenza dei beni Culturali e Ambientali di Siracusa, the papers related to the scientific research were presented. Among other prof. Germana Barone, prof. Paolo Mazzoleni, Maria Musumeci PhD, Rosa Lanteri PhD, Rosalba Panvini PhD, Lorenzo Guzzardi PhD and team of Archaeological Mission at Akrai.
dr Roksana Chowaniec
Institute of Archaeology
University of Warsaw
Krakowskie Przedmiescie 26/28
PL 00-927 Warszawa
tel. +48 22 5522827
fax.+48 22 5522801