Making Landscape.

Gruttiacqua and the Canai-plain of Sant’Antioco/Sardinia

An archaeological landscape project and field school

 

Project management: Prof. Dr. Constance von Rüden




The Villaggio of Gruttiacqua seen from the southwest
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The Villaggio of Gruttiacqua seen from the southwest
The Villaggio of Gruttiacqua seen from the southwest



Since 2017, the field project, under the direction of Prof. Dr. Constance von Rüden, is investigating the prehistoric settlement system of the Canai-plain on Sant’Antioco. The islet of Sant’Antioco is situated in the southwest of Sardinia and offers, especially in the southern part around the Canai-plain, an astonishing density of prehistoric and nuragic structures.

The research project is also designed as a teaching excavation, enabling students to document the remains of the so-called nuraghi and other associated structures in and around the Canai-plain and thus learn first practical skills for their future independent research.



Research questions and approaches


The main focus is first of all the location and identification of prehistoric living- and ritual-quarters as well as burial places and to establish a chronological framework for the individual architectural structures. Through large-scale surveys, prospection, remote sensing, and excavations in and around the Canai plain, the structures are to be placed in relation to their surroundings, making settlement use and mobility dynamics tangible. In the coming years, a praxeological approach will also be used to reconstruct the choice of resources and to develop networks of paths and settlement patterns in order to get closer to the experiences and living environments of the prehistoric inhabitants.

Documenting the architectural structures in the villaggio of Gruttiacquaof the Villagio
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Documenting the architectural structures in the villaggio of Gruttiacqua
Documenting the architectural structures in the villaggio of Gruttiacqua



In addition to classical field documentation, computer-assisted methods are also of particular importance when recording individual structures. The findings are therefore not only documented in drawings and photographs and measured in detail but are subsequently supplemented by digital terrain models and 3D documentation.



Flying the drone for the 3D model
Lupe
Flying the drone for the 3D model
Flying the drone for the 3D model


The Villaggio of Gruttiacqua


After the first visit of the site in 2016, a pilot study could be carried out in the summer of 2017 thanks to the support of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. The investigated area was initially limited to the Gruttiacqua area on the south-western edge of the Canai-plain, which, due to its large number of prehistoric structures, was probably one of the region's activity centers.

The so-called villaggio is part of the ‘complex of Gruttiacqua’ and is characterized by an astonishing density of finds and the particularly good preservation of masonry structures, which is why work is concentrated in this area. During the fieldwork in 2017 and 2018 it was possible to clean the majority of the site from vegetation and to document the visible walls and debris with drawings and photographs. The villaggio is situated on a plateau whose western fringe is dominated by two rocky hills on which a corridor-nuraghe is located. From there the surface declines towards the central area with at least two huts and their courtyards, whose dates are still controversial, but at least one seems to be a recent pastoral hut probably built onto Nuragic remains.



The villaggio of Gruttiacqua
Lupe
The villaggio of Gruttiacqua
The villaggio of Gruttiacqua



In order to differentiate the different phases, especially the post-nuragic use, the surface finds as well as the architectural structures of the entire area are examined with regard to their archaeological and especially ethnographic parallels. So far, the evaluation of the surface finds has clearly revealed two main phases of use, which include not only the Nuragic/Bronze Age occupation but also a strong frequentation in the course of the 19th and 20th century AD. The construction and form of some architectural structures also indicate a restructuring of the area around 1900, possibly related to pastoral use or the lease of land. This diachronic perspective of the villaggio illustrates the particular importance of the site, which the inhabitants of the Canai plain sought out over three millennia.

In addition to the documentation of the structures and finds visible on the surface, two excavation trenches in the north-eastern part of the area, east of the corridor-nuraghe were created for the first time during the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. Below the humus layer, a massive debris layer of relatively large quarry stones was discovered, which is probably related to the severely damaged northern part of the corridor-nuraghe. The preliminary investigation of the finds from this layer resulted in a chronological classification of the pottery fragments into the recent to final Bronze Age. Below the debris layer, two massive walls belonging to a naviform house structure came to light in the eastern excavation trench in 2019. The form itself as well as some characteristic ceramic fragments suggest a dating into the Middle Bronze Age. After a test trench was made inside the structure in the same year, which revealed promising finds, the entire floor plan was uncovered during the 2020 campaign. This revealed the complex stratigraphy and several architectural peculiarities that make the findings extremely exciting.







In addition to the general photographic and drawing documentation, the pottery from the excavation contexts is also examined with regard to the raw materials and recipes used. Firstly, the variation within the find material is of interest which may be due to different functions or production methods of the pottery or to the use of different resources. Furthermore, the identification of the clay deposits in the vicinity of the villaggio is one of the main objectives. For this purpose, a raw material survey was carried out in October 2020 in cooperation with Dr. Nadja Melko and Dr. Frank Gfeller (ArchaeoLytics). Within this framework, several promising sediments were sampled and subsequently processed experimentally. Amongst other things, it was found that the local sediment, very close to Gruttiacqua, contains a comparatively large amount of clay and is very suitable for pottery production. The next step will be to compare the different samples with nuragic pottery in order to reconstruct the range of activities related to pottery production.








Remote Sensing and Survey


Thanks to the support of the project "Iglesiente" under the direction of Prof. Bärbel Morstadt, it was already possible to document some nuraghi of the Canai-plain by aerial photographs taken by Dr. Baoquan Song in spring 2018, which is of great advantage especially because some are very difficult to access. The prospection and remote sensing of the Canai-plain was complemented through a LiDAR-scan of the southern part of the island by the company Airborne Technologies in October 2018, which was financed thanks to the generous support of the Fondazione di Sardegna and additional funds from the Faculty of History. Thanks to the RUB Research School Plus it was also possible to accompany the work on site.





LIDAR, Area around Nuraghi Antigu-Diane and Antigu-Anne
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LIDAR, Area around Nuraghi Antigu-Diane and Antigu-Anne
LIDAR, Area around Nuraghi Antigu-Diane and Antigu-Anne



In addition, a systematic survey was started in the Canai-plain, which is now used for agriculture, thanks to the committed cooperation of Dr. Barbora Weissová. The survey could identify sites from the (sub-)Ozieri phase (Neolithic/Chalcolithic) to the Roman period. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the spatial arrangement of sites and the diachronic changes in the settlement system based on the find concentrations.








Prospection


In the course of the work on site, selected nuragic sites were visited, including the nuraghi Sa Pruna, Su Fraizzu, Gruttiacqua, Montarveddu, Porta Triga and Serra Nuarxis. Where both their preservation and the vegetation allowed, the architecture of the individual buildings was recorded through sketches, photographs, and descriptions. In addition, a first record of the building material was made, and reference material was collected. Of particular interest was the comparison of the building material with the local bedrock and the variability of the building material within a nuraghe.

Based on these data, audio-visual surveys of the nuragic complexes of the Canai plain have been carried out since 2018. The further documentation of the nuraghic monuments in the Canai level and beyond includes, besides different geoinformatic analyses like view- and acousticshed-analysis, the calculation of 3D models (SfM). The aim of this approach is to transcend the classical two-dimensional map perspective and to get closer to the perception of the animated landscape in which not only the optical but also the acoustic stimuli play a role. The results of the analyses can thus reveal the connections and boundaries between different places that were fundamental to the daily life of the prehistoric population of the Canai plain.



The Giants tomb ‚Su Niu e Su Crobu‘ ist part of the complex of Gruttiacqua and has been documented by SfM in 2017
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The Giants tomb ‚Su Niu e Su Crobu‘ ist part of the complex of Gruttiacqua and has been documented by SfM in 2017
The Giants tomb ‚Su Niu e Su Crobu‘ ist part of the complex of Gruttiacqua and has been documented by SfM in 2017


Cooperation and Community Archaeology


Apart from the general gain of archaeological knowledge the project on Sant’Antioco offers the opportunity to study and integrate the relation between research and the interests of the different fractions of the local population in the sense of a “community archaeology”. This specific approach developed because the first initiative for the project came from the local cultural foundation Il Calderone, which is why local actors are an important cornerstone of the research project. For this reason, a pilot study was carried out in 2018 by Antonia Davidovic-Walter and Maja Gori, who conducted qualitative interviews with local community officials, local museum employees and members of Il Calderone. Among other things, this is intended to gain a better understanding of the interests, motives, and ideas of the local partners.

The cooperation with Il Calderone plays a central role and greatly enhances our work. The local support ranges from organizational tasks and excavation work to establishing contacts with landowners, so that many successes would not have been possible without the help of our Sardinian colleagues.



Picture of the excavation team 2020
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Picture of the excavation team 2020
Picture of the excavation team 2020