Documenting Archaeology | Dept. of History and Cultures, University of Bologna

Urban Archaeology Project in Senigallia: from Anthropological to Archaeological Analysis. A short presentation


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The project “Urban Archaeology in Senigallia” is the result of a collaboration between the Soprintendenza Archeologica of the Marche Region, the municipality of Senigallia and the Department of History, Culture and Civilisation of the University of Bologna and has the objective to enhance the knowledge of the history of Senigallia. Since 2010, researchers have shed light on the Roman and Pre-Roman ages, whilst the Late Antique and Early Middle Ages still remain substantially unknown. Analyses of skeletal remains aim to obtain information about the Late Antique and Early middle Ages, in order to contribute to the completion of the archaeological and historical context of the city of Senigallia.

The present study has tried to integrate and compare data and information obtained by using different approaches, both historical and archaeological, with the contribution of physical anthropology, in order to gain more information about transformations that are relevant to Senigallia in the post antique age.

The analyses reveal useful information about the chronology of the burials, the distribution of the graves, their relationship with the surrounding structures and the life conditions of the population, helping thus to enhance the knowledge of the archaeological and historical landscape of the city of Senigallia.

Archaeological Analysis

Since 2010, the Department of History, Cultures and Civilizations of the University of Bologna is involved in a series of excavations close to the historical centre of Senigallia (AN). The remains of the individual graves were recovered in the first half of the 1990s, during the excavations of the archaeological areaLa Fenice (Fig. 1) on the occasion of the rebuilding of the nineteenth-century theatre.

This site has been inhabited since the third century B.C. and archaeologists revealed remains of at least three domus, a secondary crossroad and mid republican and late imperial floors. From the sixth century AD, this area changed its function: remains of lime kilns and a series of layers over the Late Antique plans of frequentation were found. The burials are distributed throughout the thickness of the layers. The most ancient graves are cut in the Late Antiquity floors and are related to the domus and the paved road (Fig. 2). The distribution of the other burials, instead, is characterized by a complete indifference to the Roman structures as their memory seems to have disappeared, buried under the sediments.

The archaeological analysis has been extended to other funerary contexts in the western zone of the historical centre. In via Baroccio the excavations have brought to light remains of a sanctuary and a section of the city walls of republican period. Similarly to the excavation of La Fenice, the stratigraphic sequence have shown deposit layers over the Late Antique level. Outside the walls, in these levels, two burials with the same orientation of the wall have been identified, proving that at the moment of the burial, the walls—or at least a part of them—were still visible.

A similar stratigraphic sequence was documentetd in another funerary context, during the excavation of piazza Garibaldi, where in the deposit layers on topo of the Late Antique floors, two more burials have been found. These anthropological remains have been referred to the the sixth century AD by radiocarbon dating. This absolute chronological value can be applied also to the other contexts.

Anthropological Analysis

The study of the burials was particularly difficult due to the conservation of the anthropological material and lack of documentation relative to the early 90’s excavations. The anthropological remains refer to about 200 individuals and are constituted by an ossuary and individual graves, covering a wide time span from the end of the Late Antique to the Early Middle Ages. After a remarkable operation of washing and making inventory, the methodologies of the physical anthropology were applied using different approaches to individual graves and ossuary in order to extrapolate a paleobiological outline.

The findings indicated a population in good health for the standards of the period, constituted mainly by adults; it is though necessary to underline that in these kind of studies children and infants often are underestimated, since during excavations their tiny bones could be confused with animal ones.

The life expectancy is 27 years and the average height is 1.63 cm. (Fig. 3). The observation of osteophitic processes and articolar erosion has demonstrated that working activities involved mainly the superior limbs (Fig. 4).

Young dead / total dead Rate 16%
Probability of dying during the first year from birthday 261‰
Probability of dying between the first and fifth years 273‰
Probability of dying between the fifth and tenth years 65‰
Mortality rate 37,7‰
Life Expectancy 26,7 years

Comparisons between the two groups are limited due to lack of documentation, but it is possible to notice that the most widespread pathologies are gum disease and caries with an halved incidence in the sample of the ossuary compared to individual graves (Fig 5). In both groups spina bifida occultais is noticed. This genetic disorder indicates a rather closed population. A substantial continuity in life conditions is noticed within Late Antique and Early Middle Ages.


At the end of Late Antique period, Senigallia was extened on the whole original area of the roman colony, as the excavations show. Nevertheless a contraction of the populated area and the formation of two separate zones occurred; these were respectively named civitas (having a higher population density) and civitas vetere (with lower population density) (Fig. 6). In the latest area three contexts have been investigated, where archaeologists found scattered groups of burials that are included in deposit layers over the Late Antique plans. The archaeological data seems to emphasize that the widespread ritual practice is represented by simple pits dug into the soil.

Since the sixth century, this area was interested by some structural and topographic transformations that changed the concept of space, as shown by the presence of the burials inside the residential areas. This feature has already been observed in many other cities in Italy and Europe.

Many buildings were transformed in facilities caves for reuse materials and the landscape turned into ruralisation, and was characterized by wide empty spaces, few scattered buildings and gardens.

Some of the activities that used to take place in the countryside, such as agriculture and craftsmanship, were transported to the city. The walls, at least initially, were not an any more an insuperable limit—also from a cultural point of view—permitting thus burials inside the urban area.

Image gallery


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