An exceptional deposit of Roman amphoras discovered in Aquileia

An exceptional deposit of Roman amphoras discovered in Aquileia


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A exceptional deposit of Roman amphoras used in ancient times for the transportation of alum is the result of the excavation campaign of the Università Ca ’Foscari di Venezia, currently underway in Aquilea under the direction of Daniela Cottica as part of the project«Roman port of Aquilea - eastern shore: archaeological investigations at the ancient Sandrigo estate”.

"This, which is one of the most significant finds in the entire Roman West, fills a documentary gap for the Aquileia emporium that, thanks to the discovery of the Cafoscarino 2019 team, shows how Aquileia was a reference site for trade routes" Cottica explains.

The area, which has been the subject of research and excavation work since 2001, is a site located in the east coast of the old course of the Natiso cum Turro river, in front of the monumental docks of the Aquilea river port system.

This is an area that reveals a complex interrelation of environmental changes related to the ancient river course and the constant interaction between man and the environment since the 1st century BC. until the 6th century AD.

The excavation campaign currently underway is investigating a former imperial artisan complex, which lost its function and was dismantled between the late 1st and early 2nd centuries.

What was the use of alum in ancient times?

With the term alum, the alumen of Pliny's Historia Naturalis, we designate a group of salts that in Roman times were used to fix colors to textile fibers and to the tanning of leather, to make fire resistant fabrics and wood.

It was also used in metallurgy and pharmacopoeia for its astringent and antiseptic properties. In particular, the term 'alum' often refers only to aluminum sulfate and potassium dodecahydrate KAl (SO4) 2 · 12H2O, also known as potassium alum or rock alum.

The amphoras found by the Caforscarino team They are fragmentary (more than 6000 fragments) but allow the reconstruction of more than 100 units (whose capacity can be 15 or 30 liters, with a prevalence of the latter) coming from two different supply areas used in Roman times: Lipari and the islands surrounding wind farms and the island of Milos in the Aegean.

Ancient sources have very well documented exploitation and commercialization both the alum of the Lipari islands, and the alum of Melo (today Milos), called melinum by Pliny.

In addition to the amphoras, a container containing red powder was also found, probably a pigment, which is now being analyzed and which could be linked to the tissue staining cycle.

The discovery comes just in the year of the celebrations of the 2,200 years since the founding of the colony of Aquileia.

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