Project News! Ancient polychromy and terracotta technology in the Sanctuary of Athena at Castro (Lecce)

Systematic archaeological research carried out since 2000 brought to light the ancient sanctuary of Athena in the indigenous settlement of Castro (Lecce), on the southern Adriatic coast of Italy. The research project has been developed by the University of Salento (Prof. D’Andria), the local Soprintendenza and the Municipality of Castro.

The discovery of a colossal statue of Athena in local limestone (350-300 BC), some gigantic relief slabs decorated with ‘peopled’ scrolls (350-300 BC), Doric frieze blocks of a late Classical calcarenite monument and fragments from a late Archaic clay roof of a monumental temple (about 520 BC) have allowed the beginnings of an in-depth investigation on the local craft productions.

A recent E-RHIS-IT MOLAB access, (AthenaInColor project), coordinated by ISPC-CNR (National Research Council – Institute of Heritage Science), offered the opportunity to investigate ancient polychromy, terracotta and stone technology, benefiting from the exceptional state of conservation of the archaeological materials. Since the potential of an archaeometric approach to these craft productions has been so far neglected, this research aimed to fill the gap on the technical know-how of Magna Graecia artisans.

An analytical protocol based on imaging techniques (VIS, UVL/VIL) combined with single spot techniques (p-XRF, External reflection mid-FTIR, Raman and UV-VIS_NIR spectroscopy) was conducted in order to detect traces of ancient polychromy. Besides the identification of yellow and red ochres, Egyptian blue and the presence of preparatory layers, UVL observations demonstrated the extensive use of organic treatments on all the finished limestone surfaces, a technological solution not attested so far for limestone sculptures in Magna Graecia.

Further analyses will be performed on the newly discovered lower part of the Athena statue, which shows clear evidence of colors on the garments.

Added: 07/11/2022.

Image © ISPC-CNR

Image © ISPC-CNR

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