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Sacred Landscape Project

Sacred Landscape Project
Researchers: Dr. Jeremia Pelgrom, Dr. Tesse Stek, Drs. Jitte Waagen
San Giovanni in Galdo/Gildone, Molise
2004-present
Sanctuaries played an important role in the areas inhabited by the Italic peoples of Central-Southern Italy. Especially in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC many sanctuaries were monumentalised into impressive Hellenistic-style temples. Why was so much invested in sanctuaries; what was their function; who was supposed to visit these cult places? The ‘landscape of the sacred’, composed of diverse cultural correlates such as settlements, necropoleis and roads, is essential for our understanding of the changing functions and meanings of sanctuaries. However, detailed information about the spatial context of Italic sanctuaries is remarkably scarce. The 'Sacred Landscape Project', using a problem-oriented field approach, aims to reduce this lacuna by presenting a case-study on two Italic sanctuaries in the modern region of Molise: that of Gildone (località Cupa) and that of S. Giovanni in Galdo (località Colle Rimontato). Both sanctuaries are situated in the ‘Alta Valle del Tappino’, which was Samnite territory in antiquity.

Field survey & GIS-analysis

An area of 7 km2 around each sanctuary has been investigated by means of intensive field survey. Collected data have been integrated in a digital landscape, with a DEM, erosion models and the encountered artefact patterns as its most important constituents. Special attention has been paid to the issues concerning the translation of find densities into a historical landscape, in particular the problems of site definitions and low-densities. Revisits, guided by GIS-analyses, contributed greatly to our understanding of the archaeological surface record.

Complementary research

A comparative ceramic analysis of unpublished finds of the sanctuary of S. Giovanni in Galdo and those retrieved during the survey revealed that the sanctuary was first visited in the late 4th century BC. This corresponds with a phase of sudden increase of isolated settlements in the surrounding landscape.

A selection of five sites of different size, function and chronology was subjected to geophysical prospection (i.e. magnetometry and electrical resistance). This research revealed that recognised surface scatters are indicative of concealed archaeological structures and features.

Survey results

In the area of the S. Giovanni in Galdo sanctuary at Colle Rimontato a densely clustered settlement pattern has been recorded that may reflect the spatial and social organisation of a small Samnite community, within which the sanctuary functioned. Around the Gildone sanctuary the encountered sites of the Samnite and Roman periods are predominantly situated in the close vicinity of the modern ‘strada statale’, presumably an important ancient route. The results demonstrate that both Samnite sanctuaries were not isolated, but functioned in a populated landscape; as a consequence their traditionally supposed ‘rurality’ has to be redefined.

The Sacred Landscape Project (SLP) is a joint venture of archaeologists of the University of Amsterdam, the University of Leiden and the VU University Amsterdam, and is conducted in close cooperation with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Molise who actively supported the project with advice and generously gave access to relevant archaeological information.

Organisation: Jeremia Pelgrom and Tesse Stek (scientific supervision and coordination); Jitte Waagen (digital recording and GIS-analyses); Michele Roccia (co-organisation of the 2004 campaign); Ellen Thiermann (ceramic analysis). Technical support has been provided by Digital Landscapes (www.digitallandscapes.nl/.eu). The project has received support and funds from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Institute of Culture and History of the University of Amsterdam (ICG), the Royal Dutch Institute at Rome (KNIR), Leids Universitair Fonds (LUF) and Mrs. Kalmeijer.