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Durham University

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Sangro Valley Project (Opi, upper valley)

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


In 2012, the Sangro Valley Project began new fieldwork in the upper Sangro valley focused on the site at Prati San Rocco (Opi, AQ). The fieldwork is a collaboration between Durham University (UK) and Oberlin College (USA) and is part-funded by the British Academy.

During mid-1990s, the Sangro valley project began investigating the landscape of the Sangro river valley in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Phase 1 involved field survey in the upper and middle valleys; Phase 2 involved excavation at the site of Monte Pallano. In 2012, work was resumed in the upper Sangro valley in collaboration with Durham University and assistance from a British Academy grant to support environmental sampling and isotopic analysis, alongside a broader landscape survey.


At the invitation of the Soprintendenza, the objectives of the 2012/3 Durham/Oberlin fieldwork are:

  • 1. to establish the extent and character of archaeological deposits across Prati San Rocco using resistivity and GPR survey;
  • 2. to identify and sample pre-Roman deposits for palaeoenvironmental and micromorphological analysis and, specifically, to recover material which could be used to characterise Archaic and protohistoric activity such as domestic surfaces (micromorphology) and diet (flotation for plant macrofossils);
  • 3. to investigate the wider landscape setting of the site;
  • 4. to conduct isotopic analysis (strontium, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen) on samples of human teeth from an Iron Age cemetery site to assess to the diet and mobility.


In order to establish the extent of activity at Prati San Rocco, resistivity and GPR survey surveys were conducted across the plain. These identified both archaeological and geomorphological anomalies. Building on these surveys, two small trenches were excavated and bulk samples taken for palaeoenvironmental analysis, as well as block samples for micromorphological study. Meanwhile, another team began investigations of the surrounding territory, using a transect survey method to map terrace systems up to 1400m.

A sample of human teeth from an Iron Age cemetery were studied using isotopic analysis to shed light on the diet of each individual and any evidence for migration during the early years of life. This is the first isotopic study of an Iron Age population from this region of Italy. Our results indicate that many people were born and died within the local region, but some individuals stood out as immigrants born in areas closer to the coast. Similarly, most individuals ate a largely vegetarian diet, but a few seem to have had access to more meat; some individuals demonstrate a significant change in diet during their lives. We could also trace evidence for the weaning of infants.

With support from the Durham Institute of Advanced Research Computing (iARC), we are developing a GIS-based Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) as well as multivariate modelling to explore the exploitation of the landscape over time. In particular, we are exploring the construction and use of terracing and the relationship between crop and animal husbandry practices. Work is currently underway on multi-author journal articles to report the results of the isotopic analysis and the landscape survey and modelling.


From the Department of Archaeology