2014 - September : Visit to the Cortes site being excavated by Dennis Grain and team
To date we do not have much archaeological data from the Roman period about the settlements and their economic sources within the Algarve hinterland (‘Barrocal’), most of the known villae lie in the coastal region. Since 2009 a project by the University of Jena under the direction of Dennis Graen has worked to investigate the Roman settlements in the region between S.B de Messines and Silves. At Cortes the excavations cover an area of approx 300m2 and have brought to light a considerable and well-equipped Roman villa dating from 1st – 6th C. AD, with a huge number of finds (approx 35.000) – pottery, mosaic tesserae, fragments of wall paintings and metal objects. Spectacular was the discovery of a fine marble placa , which has an inscription – not in Latin – but in a Semitic language, probably Hebrew. This object is undergoing further study.
Also, in Espargal (Benafim, Loule), the team has discovered a production house (pars rustica) associated with a Roman villa, where wine or olive oil was produced.
Report of lecture given to the AAA by Dennis Graen : The Romans in the Algarve hinterland.
This year Dennis Graen and his team received a grant from the AAA to assist him in his work at the Roman complex at Cortes near Silves. In September members were guided around the site and we were shown the excavated remains which Dennis also presented in his talk to the AAA. During our visit and at the talk Dennis explained the importance of the study he is making of Roman sites in the Algarve hinterland (‘Barrocal’), an area where little is known of the Roman occupation. His focus is on where the sites could be, who lived there and what was the related economy of the region. In the Silves/Loule areas there have been a high density of finds recovered from the surface but no actual structure had been found prior to his surveys. However in 2009 during one such survey at Cortes, walls were identified at a depth of 20cms below the surface. Since then the excavations have identified a very large villa rustica, which proved to have had many reconstructions and repairs dating from the mid 1st C AD through to the 6th/beginning of 7th C AD. Some of the significant features of the complex include water channels, water basin and tank as well as a room for drying grains/meats. Further work in 2013 revealed the central part of the villa where the remains of a ‘terra conchos’ (fountain) was found together with lead pipes that carried water into to the fountain. This feature is rare in Iberia. It seems that there were colonnades around it and close by there are signs of baths with an associated hypocaust. Dennis also showed examples of the 8-9000 finds form the site. These included tiny mosaic tesserae imported from Alexandria, the remains of columns – both brick and limestone, window glass with flower decorations, wall plaster/painting and marble fragments identified as having come from Lagoa, Estremoz and Spain. There were also iron clamps used to secure wooden roof beams and terra sigulata from S. Gaul. Dennis’s question as to the economy of the villa was answered by the discovery of over 100 bone needles, loom weights and spindle whorls, which confirm textile production on the site. However the most intriguing find was a marble slab (34x51cms, which had an inscription not in Latin but in possibly Hebrew or Arabic. It was hoped that this could identify the owners of the villa but as yet the text has not been positively identified. If the language is Hebrew it could be related to the movement of Jews around the Mediterranean in the 6th/7th C AD.
It is hoped that Dennis and his team will return to continue their work in 2015 when we look forward to visiting the site again and to hear more of his exciting discoveries.