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A Greek Settlement at Sant’Angelo Vecchio

A Greek Settlement at Sant’Angelo Vecchio

By Francesca Silvestrelli and Ingrid E.M. Edlund-Berry (The Chora of Metaponto 6). Pp. xviii + 659. University of Texas Press, Austin, 2016. $75. ISBN 978-1-47730-947-6 (cloth).

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This volume is the sixth in a series devoted to the work of the University of Texas Institute of Classical Archaeology (ICA) in the countryside of Metaponto. The ICA began excavating at Pantanello in 1974 and thereafter conducted several other excavations and an intensive field survey in the region. This site, Sant’Angelo Vecchio, was excavated by Edlund between 1979 and 1981. The remains include an Archaic-period farmhouse and sanctuary, an Early Classical necropolis, a Hellenistic ceramic workshop and necropolis, and a Late Republican ceramic workshop. A grant from the Packard Humanities Institute allowed the ICA to initiate the restudy and publication of the material beginning in 2000 under the direction of Silvestrelli.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 provides a clear overview of the site and its relationship with the wider region, with chapters covering the history of occupation, the excavation methods and stratigraphy, the architecture, the cemetery, and ceramic production in the region. A detailed discussion of the phasing, including color-coded matrices and plans, orients the reader to both the chronological range of materials and their spatial organization.

Silvestrelli’s chapter situating ceramic production at Sant’Angelo Vecchio within the broader region is a particularly welcome addition and makes ample and insightful use of data from the long history of work in the Metapontine chora. Though Silvestrelli points to continuing difficulties with access to unpublished data, this chapter is a model of a regional-level study and is a major contribution to understanding of both ceramic ecologies and rural economies. Such a synthetic investigation is precisely the result one hopes for given the long history of ICA involvement around Metaponto, and this reader only wished for a similar chapter on farmhouses, though I note that The Chora of Metaponto 5: A Greek Farmhouse at Ponte Fabrizio (l. Caddi and K.Swift [Austin, Tex., 2014]) contains a short discussion of farmhouses and a census of such structures in the Greek world.

The chapter on the tombs is somewhat less successful. It covers seven Early Classical and two Early Hellenistic tombs, discussing the grave assemblages, the morphology and pathology of the bones, the tomb architecture, and a 3D digital reconstruction of the cemetery. The variety of topics and number of authors (nine) makes the chapter slightly disjointed and occasionally repetitive, and the target audience is unclear. We might expect a chapter in the introductory section of the book to be relatively general, but little osteological terminology is glossed and summative conclusions are missing. For example, the reader is told that the cemetery population had large lineae asperae (91), but the significance of this morphological similarity is not explained. The goal of discussing the cemetery holistically is admirable, however, and the tombs provide critical evidence for the lives of the residents of the area.

Part 2, dedicated to environmental and geological issues, includes chapters from geologists, archaeobotanists, and faunal specialists. These chapters do much to position the site in its wider landscape, though the data in certain categories are somewhat sparse and were occasionally unavailable for reanalysis (e.g., of 41 total animal bone fragments recovered from the site, only three were available for direct observation by Biller). The chapter on the local geology is appropriately problem-oriented and argues that Sant’Angelo Vecchio was a particularly suitable location for a potter’s workshop due to the presence of a clay deposit and freshwater spring.

Part 3 is an extensive catalogue of excavated material divided by type and chronology. In some cases, this results in chapters devoted to a single artifact, such as the lone post-medieval sherd analyzed by Lapadula in chapter 37. But overall, the clear and sensible organization of the catalogue will assist any scholar looking for comparative material. Though the scope of the excavations was relatively modest, the catalogue is wide-ranging and detailed. Each chapter includes an introduction and descriptions of the various objects, each accompanied in the text by a photograph and/or illustration, alleviating the need to flip to a separate section of plates. Often ignored object types, such as roof tiles and grinding stones, are given substantial coverage. Further raw data are presented in tables in the appendices. Though I cannot discuss each of the 25 catalogue chapters here, a few significant contributions deserve special note. Foxhall and Quercia present the intriguing theory that some loomweights at the site were used as kiln spacers rather than tools of textile manufacture, based on the concentration of these objects in and near the kiln complex (455)—a strong argument for the importance of analyzing objects in their excavated context. Tempesta discusses the architectural terracottas and notes connections between terracotta antefixes at Sant’Angelo Vecchio and other sites in the region, suggesting a decentralized production of these items.

The volume is lavishly illustrated throughout, with many color images and maps. Occasionally, the maps include icons that are missing from the legend, and similarly, although Metaponto itself is shown on several maps, it often is not explicitly labeled. In fact, Sant’Angelo Vecchio and Metaponto are not both labeled on the same map until part 2, which is an odd oversight in an otherwise carefully prepared volume.

My main criticism of this book lies not with its content—in almost all regards, it is a model of the genre: thorough, well illustrated, well edited, and reasonably priced for its size and quality. Rather, I wonder whether such a lengthy tome is still the best way to present all excavation data. Some of the content would be more useful for research in a searchable, digital format, especially on an open access online platform, which could reach a much wider audience. The color photographs of objects are of high quality, but in a digital platform they could feature zoom functionality and potentially even 3-D modeling of objects, as Luzón and Alonso Rodríguez have done in their publication of a Pompeian house (Excavaciones Arqueológicas en la Casa de la Diana Arcaizante en Pompeya [2017]). In contrast, the images of the digital model (figs. 4.2, 4.3; 86) of the graves at Sant’Angelo Vecchio are unsatisfactory in print format, but unfortunately, the website for the project does not include a link to the model or even a fly-through. Online content related to this volume is currently limited to a short selection of transcribed excavation notes and photographs. Digital curation has its own troubling issues of longevity and accessibility, of course, and I am not advocating replacing print excavation volumes entirely with digital content. The ability to flip through pages for comparanda is likely to remain one of the most important assets of excavation volumes for years to come. Instead, I am suggesting that projects—particularly those as well established and well funded as this one—should consider new ways to supplement their print content with digital information. This book represents the height of what a print excavation volume can be. But what if it could be more?

Katherine B. Harrington
Department of Classics
Florida State University

Book Review of A Greek Settlement at Sant’Angelo Vecchio, by Francesca Silvestrelli and Ingrid E.M. Edlund-Berry

Reviewed by Katherine B. Harrington

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 4 (October 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1224.harrington

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