Archaeology at Ca' Foscari

Archaeology at Ca’ Foscari 
Showcasing archaeological sites and projects

The portal illustrates the numerous archaeological projects directly funded by Ca’ Foscari University’s Support Fund to the Research and Internationalization Activities.

Ca’ Foscari is engaged in several research projects, both in Italy and in the Mediterranean area, in the Middle East, in Africa, and in Asia. The research agenda covers from prehistory to the post-colonial and sub-contemporary domains. Scholars adopt innovative techniques and robust investigation methods, such as remote sensing, underwater archaeology, stratigraphic excavations, digital systems, material culture studies, and analyses.

The following information introduces the archaeological projects, their directors, the contact details, the project web links and related main news.

The Get involved section offers information on how to participate in our fieldworks.

Ca’ Foscari University encourages the communities and the private stakeholders to join the research. Ca’ Foscari offers its know-how to build personalized sponsorship and partnership. 

In the Island of the Labyrinth
Palace, town, and territory in Minoan Crete

The project investigates the early forms of State organization in the II millennium Aegaeum, in the areas of Phaistos and Ayia Triadha.
In Phaistos, in the Southern-central region of Crete, the studies focus on the nature of palatial power and its transformations from its "birth" to the end of the Bronze Age.
The Ca' Foscari group, coordinated by Prof. F.M. Carinci on behalf of the Italian Archaeological School of Athens, operated between 2013 and 2017 in the area to the southwest and south of the Palace, with excavations, surveys and reviews of the old findings. In particular, the problems of internal and external viability has been analyzed, identifying a new roadway connecting two sectors of the city and respecting the area of the Palace.
At Ayia Triadha, the relationships of Phaistos with the nearby center of Haghia Triada and with the surrounding territory are a completion of the study concerning the dynamics of power in this area of Southern Crete. Researchers have been studying there two sets of materials, which originated two publications: the first is a ceramic deposit of the transition period between Early and Middle Bronze Age, which is especially important for its connection with celebrations and consumption of food and drink organized by elites; the second one represents the entire corpus of the Middle Bronze Age ceramics found in the old and new excavations conducted on the site.

Project website [ITA]

Chert mining sites in the Rhori Hills Area

The project studies two territories of the present Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Sindh and Las Bela in Balochistan. Surveys and excavations have been conducted in cooperation with  Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, the Departments of General History and Geography Karachi University, the Department of Sindhology, Sindh University, Jamshoro, the Department of Informatics, Quetta University and Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. The research project studies the chert mining areas discovered in the Rohri Hills, Ongar, and Jhimpir. It aims to the reconstruction of the north Arabian Sea coastal landscapes from the beginning of the Holocene to the present. The purpose is obtaining AMS dating of the shell middens and other sites including those of the Buddhist period. The analysis will approach the impact of anthropization on the coastal landscape, mainly a mangrove environment. So far over 80 papers have been published by the project members, mostly in English, in international and Pakistani journals.

Project website

Between the mountain and the river. Searching for the lost barrows hidden in the forest
Georgian-Italian Lagodekhi Archaeological project (GILAP)

The project, coordinated by Elena Rova in collaboration with the Municipality and Museum of Lagodekhi (Kakheti province, Eastern Georgia), has been launched in 2018. It includes a systematic survey aiming at locating  all archaeological sites in the area, which is situated between the foothills of the Greater Caucasus and the valley of the Alazani River, and excavations at different sites in order to study the evolution of human settlement on the territory. It adopts a multi- and interdisciplinary approach and is carried out in collaboration with numerous international experts. 
The area is especially known for the presence of monumental barrow graves (kurgans) of the second half of the third millennium BC, now deeply buried inside a thick river forest, and of numerous sites of the Chalcolithic period (5th-4th millennium BC), and of the Late Bronze Age. Up till now, excavations were carried out at the Chalcolithic site of Tsiteli Gorebi 5.

Project website

Georgian ancient masters
Discovering wine growers and metallurgists between the Caucasus and the Near East

The project is active since 2009. It is coordinated by Elena Rova in collaboration with the Georgian National Museum (Tbilisi), and deals with the pre- and proto-historic cultures of the Shida Kartli region, the core of Georgia, the mythical "land of the Golden Fleece", in the Southern Caucasus. Its chronological scope extends from the Late Chalcolithic to the Iron Age (IV-I mill. BC). As yet excavated sites are Natsargora, Okherakhevi, Aradetis Orgora and Doghlauri. The project has a multidisciplinary approach and uses microarchaeology techniques. Excavation combines with the study of artifacts from local museums and by palaeoenvironmental and archaeometric research.  Georgian and Italian researchers and students, as well as international experts, take part in the yearly field seasons.

Project website

The Meroitic “Royal City” in the ancient city of Napata

The Italian Archaeological Mission in Sudan is working in the area of the ancient Napata, to investigate the site where were located some edifices attributed to the Meroitic king Natakamani (I cent. A.D.). These buildings are part of a royal city planned according to the Hellenistic model, ruled by a "great palace"; it was built on a high platform, ruling in ancient times the landscape. Several other edifices were connected with this palace; only partially investigated so far, these buildings are characterized by an eclectic style, with Nubian, Egyptian and Hellenistic elements. The project is dealing with one of the most important examples of the city-mapping in the Kingdom of Meroe, a political entity able to measure itself with the Roman power ruling in Egypt.

Temples, palaces and bureaucracy in the III millennium BC
Discoveries at Tell Beydar in Syria

The Syro-European archeological mission at Tell Beydar (Syria) investigated for almost 20 years ancient Nabada, an Upper Mesopotamian city contemporary of Ebla and the Sumerian centers of the mid-third mill. BC. Excavations revealed a vast temple-palace complex and several other public buildings and discovered the oldest cuneiform texts found so far in Syria. The Ca' Foscari team, headed by Lucio Milano with Elena Rova as Field Director, joined the mission in 1997 and excavated the north-eastern City Gate and part of a public complex, the Northern Building. Field activities are presently suspended because of the country's political instability, but the study of the finds (ceramics, seals and seal impressions, metal objects, etc.) is progressing towards the final publication. 

Project website

Archaeology at Torcello
Rewriting the origins of Venice through water, wood, and labor

Torcello symbolizes the mythic birthplace of Venice. It represents the physical space where Venetian collective memory started. Tourists and Venetians consider it a wonder, a refuge for a quick escape from the crowds in Venice. But what was Torcello like in the past? What does it represent today?
Torcello in the Early Middle Ages was a large harbor, a nodal point in the trade system between the East Mediterranean and Europe. After the 11th century, inhabitants progressively abandoned the island, and trade activities were gradually moved to Venice.
The project aims to build an alternative path for alternative histories. The origin of Venice can be rewritten, addressing a contemporary public, probably less interested in chronologies, wars, and hierarchical issues, but keen on the environment, use of spaces, and social structures.

Project website

In search of the ancestors of Venice
The excavation in Altinum

The Roman city of Altinum was the first important center of the lagoon that takes its name from Venice: like the previous village, and like later Venice, a meeting point between the maritime trades and the mainland. Ca' Foscari excavations focus on the urban area, where recent surveys using aerial photographs have revealed an impressive monumental display, with a forum, two theaters, and a large canal that runs through the city. The 2016 and 2017 campaigns have brought to light the remains of two large Domus and a considerable amount of material, including coins and mosaics, and have offered the participants (twenty-five students every year) the opportunity to face the various problems of an archaeological excavation.

Project website [ITA]

Land of Mosul
Settlement, landscape and material culture in northern Iraq in the Islamic period

Land of Mosul aims at investigating a wide area in the plain of Mosul, northern Iraq, from the Arab conquest of the VII century until the early XX century. Directed by C. Tonghini, this project constitutes a part of a much broader programme of research in the region, from prehistory to present, coordinated by the University of Udine.
Through a survey programme and the excavation of a representative site, Tell Gomel, this project aims to investigate the regional settlement dynamics, the material culture, and the systems of use and management of resources in the region. A specific line of investigation will analyze more specifically the hydraulic landscape, with the study of a considerable number of water mills located in the area.

Project website

The citadel of Urfa
Archaeological research on the fortification

This project fits into the mainstream of the research devoted to fortifications in the Near East; it aims to establish the building history of a representative case-study: the citadel of Urfa. The main components of the fortification programme in the Near East had a significant role in the building of this prestigious complex: Byzantines, various Arab dynasties, and Emirates, Armenians, Crusaders, Ottomans.
The first phase of fieldwork, the analysis of the architectural evidence, has been completed in 2017. The research continues at present with the study of the written sources, including inscriptions, and with the analysis of historical photos, to rebuild a picture of the fortification process as complete as possible.

Man and River in Aquileia
Excavations and research in the Roman port - eastern riverbank

Rivers, as it has been stressed several times, have a cultural dimension and continuously interact with their surroundings, including the anthropic component. In Roman Aquileia, the flow of water was not only an exploitable resource, but also a vital and active element, whose energy constantly interacted with the man and his work. In Aquileia, the area named “ex Fondo Sandrigo” is a favored place to study the interaction between the human and environmental factors. In Roman times this area was located along the eastern side of the old river course, called "Natiso cum Turro" in ancient sources, and today identifiable with the confluence between the old courses of the River Torre and the Natisone and/or Isonzo River(s). The area is located in line with the Forum and the monumental remains of the currently visible port system of ancient Aquileia.

A.D. 79
The last garum of Pompeii

The archaeological investigations in the complex known as "Garum Shop" in Pompeii (I, 12, 8) are part of a larger Italian-Spanish research project started in 2012, a collaboration between Ca' Foscari University of Venice and the University of Cadiz and co-funded by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project focuses on the study of the exploitation of marine resources in the Vesuvian area. The research aims to reconstruct the economic processes derived from fishing and the fish-processing, using integrated and interdisciplinary methods of investigation and making use, in particular, of the dialogue between archeology, epigraphy, archaeometry, archaeozoology, and archaeobotany.
The study of vertical stratigraphy showed that the so-called "Garum Shop" developed from a residential building converted, in the Neronian age, into an installation for the processing of fish and the production of fish sauces. Indeed, garum is the Latin name of the most popular and consumed fish-sauce in the Roman period.

VEiL, Aquileia
Sky and land engineering of ancient landscapes

VEiL project aims to illuminate the process of landscape engineering undertaken in antiquity by the Roman surveyors, and to contribute to the discipline of landscape engineering by injecting a new body of evidence into the debate about past land division and design, so as to inform models of sustainable practice for contemporary landscape management.
Contemporary anthropogenic landscapes were shaped by centuries of human action. Land surveying and division were the first forms of widespread landscape engineering performed by pre-industrial societies. Among those, the most complex was unquestionably the Roman Centuriation, which still characterizes the rural landscapes of many European countries. Notwithstanding its impact on modern European land organization, the principles underlying the design approach used by Roman land commissioners are still largely ambiguous. Studying the long-term persistence of centuriation and how its features survived has a key impact on our understanding of modern European landscapes and their conservation, and, collecting historical information from vulnerable cultural landscapes of universal relevance, responds to concerns underpinning the European Landscape Convention (2000).
The research strategy integrates ‘traditional’ archaeological research and fieldwork with sophisticated methods from disciplines such as computer vision and artificial intelligence.

Project website

Archaeology 'beyond the walls' - BCW
The Roman sub-urban spatial organizations

Beyond the City Walls (BCW) is a multidisciplinary project aimed at the recognition of the sub-urban spatial organizations. The suburbium is an area between the proper urban space and the countryside, usually understudied.
The project focuses on the Aquileia (UD) suburbium: it is an ideal test case because the city has not been profoundly rebuilt in modern times, as it happened in many other Roman towns. The project reconsiders archival data and ancient cartography elements, integrating them in a GIS platform with fresh remote sensing data (aerial photography, satellite, radar, LiDAR). The aim is the identification of anomalies and buried unknown sites. The research also will carry on walking fieldwork to survey the areas and collect surface materials, positioning them with GNSS methods, achieving high degrees in the topographical reconstruction.

The Dragon Stones
Archaeological research in the Armenian mountains

The Dragon Stones Archaeological Project started in 2012 in collaboration with the Erevan Science Academy and with the Berlin Freie Universität. It is the first systematic study of the “Dragon Stones” (“vishap” in Armenian): they are megalith with theriomorphic reliefs located in the high of the mountains in the southern Caucasus. The stones date to the end of the third Millennium BC, and they represent the most ancient monumental art in the region. Their peculiar topography, connected with mountains grazing lands, it is relevant to the anthropological and historical point of view. The Dragon stones study is a logistic and scientific challenge, never tested before.
The project will include land surveys on Aragaz and Gheghama Mountains, and it will involve an archaeological excavation nearby Kamir Sar site, on the Aragaz Mountain. 

Project website [ITA]

From Cupra to Marano and back
Towns and settlements, translations and transitions

Cupra Marittima is mainly known for being the place where the temple of the homonymous goddess Picena stood, restored by Hadrian in the II century AD, and for having been, in Roman times, a flourishing city.
After the disappearance of the city, in the middle ages, population assembled in the back-coastal hills, in Marano fortified village.
Much later, on the threshold of the contemporary age, a new demic movement relocated the settlement in the plain, along with the coast and around the railway line, starting the development of the current town, which recovered its name by the Roman city.
Chronology, dynamics, and motivations of the abandonment of the Roman city are still unknown, and the period between the VII and X centuries seem completely dark: we have no idea of where the population had gone to settle, nor when the shift in the back-coastal hills and the centralization of the community in the castle of Marano occurred.

Buried Venice in the Piave River sand?
The ancient settlement of Equilo between Late Antiquity and Middle Ages

The Jesolo Archaeological Project, since 2011, aims at studying the settlement of ancient Equilo, strictly connected with the Venetian lagoon and inhabited by a lagoon community between Antiquity and Middle Ages.
The archaeological data, collected through survey and excavation, amazed the research team of Ca' Foscari University. In each annual dig, researchers are discovering a new history of ancient insula Equilus: since the foundation of a mansio (broadly speaking a settlement or transit post) between the IV and V centuries, followed by the placement of a vast cemetery during the VII century, until the discovery of medieval wooden structures. All the archaeological layers are well documented by a significant amount of finds that are recorded and analyzed during the research activity in the Medieval Archaeology Laboratory. 

Project website [ITA]

Marble Routes
Marble Maritime Trade in the Roman Age

The project started in 2009 and carries on with the collaboration of LAMA/IUAV and Soprintendenza del Mare (Sicily). It aims to the reconstruction of ancient marble sea-routes, considering the naval characteristics of ships that transported this particular commodity. The project focuses on selected shipwrecks, analyzing marble samples and 3D reconstructions of the ancient vessels. Archaeometric studies will define the origins of the marbles and the old quarries. The photogrammetric survey will help to identify the cargo systems. The shipwrecks under investigation are located in the regions of Calabria (Secca di Capo Bianco, Punta Scifo D) and Sicily (Marzamemi, Isola Delle Femmine, Capo Granitola, Capo Taormina).

Project website [ITA]

The riverine boat of Comacchio

The project aims to the recognition of the naval techniques and the reconstruction of the flat-bottom riverine ship excavated in Santa Maria in Padovetere, in a paleo-river bed of the old Po river.
The shipwreck chronology is 5th-6th cent. AD, and it will be completely reconstructed using 3D techniques by E. Costa, a doctoral fellow at IUAV-Ca’ Foscari. Archaeobotanical and geoarchaeological analysis – carried by P. Mozzi and A. Miola from Padua University - will define the environment at the time of the wreck and the sinking dynamics.

Project website [ITA]

Virtual devices on ancient shipwrecks
Virtual diving in virtual 3D environmental reconstructions

The project is carried on in collaboration with IUAV (F. Guerra e C. Balletti). It aims at testing techniques to reconstruct virtual 3D ancient shipwrecks’ elements and environments: a virtual diving experience will be available to a broad public.
The creation of the 3D reconstruction is made through photogrammetry methods and geomatics surveys. The 3D reconstructions of the shipwrecks of Isola Delle Correnti, Capo Granitola, and Brick Mercurio have been already prepared. The virtual dive to the Mercurio Brick will be available to the public in the new-coming Caorle Maritime Museum.

Project website

AWD - Another Way of Digging
The restoration lab: new emotions in a different dig

The project aims to carry on in a laboratory the complete dig of the pre-roman graves (8th-7th cent. BC) excavated in Padua in 1990-91. The microstratigraphic methods combine with a restoration approach to recover all the elements, including the organic imprints, such as leather and textiles. The team works on interdisciplinary analysis to determine and study the textile, charcoals, zooarchaeological remains. Studies on the human bones are establishing sex and ages of the buried individuals, by also analyzing paleo-pathological data. A collaboration with Padua University will guarantee the radio and TAC scan of the ossuaries.
The study will shade light on the social composition of the ancient city, on the gender composition and familiar nucleus, and on the funeral rituality.