On the island of Torcello, at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice excavation site, some protagonists of the island’s thousand-year history have begun to emerge. A tomb datable to around 700 A.D. has recently been unearthed by the site’s team of scholars hailing from universities throughout Italy, under the scientific direction of archaeologist Diego Calaon (a Marie Curie Fellow).
“The subject is a young adult, whose burial—not far from the area we imagine was used as a cemetery adjacent to the Basilica during the Early Middle Ages—maintained nearly the entire skeleton intact, with the exception of the head. We mustn’t be misled, however: The discovery of the residual parts of the right side of the skull and of the perforation coming from above (probably due to a construction pole) which occurred during modern times, indicate that the burial was complete and that the defects we see today resulted from activities which occurred later on in the area.”
The discovery is an important one. During the archaeological digs that took place on Torcello in the 1960s and 70s, cemetery sites were excavated, but for the most part, only relatively modern ones pertaining to the High Middle Ages. Being able to analyze the biometric data of those who lived on Torcello from the sixth to the ninth centuries presents a unique opportunity. Who were the ancient island residents who lived in the well-constructed wooden houses that were densely present in the area? Free workers? Slaves? Was this a community which already had deeply Christian roots, or not? If the burial site was isolated, or not connected directly to the Church, multiple hypotheses may arise. DNA and biometric analyses should reveal important interpretative data.
The burial has been excavated in an area which is particularly interesting in terms of stratigraphy, at the head of an ancient lagoon canal that separated the island of the Ancient Church of Saint Mary from the inhabited area of the medieval settlement. Over time, the channel was fortified with hundreds of wooden poles, indicative of a “hunger for space” on the part of homes and craft businesses that required the enlargement and creation of new living spaces.
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