Fabrics of architectural terracottas and pottery from Satricum, central Italy,
6th – early 5th centuries BC

an adapted poster presentation for the
33rd International Symposium on Archaeometry, Amsterdam, April 2002

A.J. Nijboer & G.J.M. van Oortmerssen, University of Groningen,
Groningen Institute of Archaeology, The Netherlands.

This presentation would not have been possible without the support of Italian authorities and colleagues. Also staff and students of the Groningen Institute of Archaeology assisted for many years. We especially would like to thank Prof. Dr. M. Kleibrink, Prof. Dr. P.A.J. Attema,  A.J. Beijer MA and H.J. Waterbolk.


Pottery is traditionally associated in archaeology with typological studies. In recent years, ceramic scientists as well as archaeologists support the analysis of the material constituents of large quantities of pottery. This research is known as fabric analysis and is often applied to coarse wares (method). Fabrics research assists the archaeologist in the interpretation of the ceramics retrieved during field walking and surveys. Another objective of fabrics research is the reconstruction of the pottery industry in the past. The methods employed include detailed visual examination using simple scientific techniques such as thin-sectioning and the assessment of colour and particle size. These methods are suitable for studying large quantities of ceramics. This is in contrast to the usual approach to ceramics in archaeometry analyzing a limited number of sherds employing at best a few of the numerous scientific analytical techniques.

map of Central


the acropolis of Satricum


The fabrics research presented here shows some of the results of a fully integrated archaeological project at Satricum, Latium, Italy. The ceramics examined were found by the Groningen Institute of Archaeology (GIA) during excavations in the past three decades. Thousands of sherds dated to the period 900 to 300 BC were subjected to fabric analysis during various campaigns. These sherds were classified according to their material characteristics each described with a fabric code. The poster presents a selection of these sherds dated to the 6th and early 5th century BC and related to the earliest buildings at the site among which a monumental temple decorated with life-size terracotta statues.

Satricum during the late 7th century BC


Satricum around 550 BC


Satricum around 500 BC


Satricum is the ancient name of the settlement excavated at present Borgo le Ferriere, 60 km. south-east of Rome. The settlement originated on a number of tuff plateaus in the lower basin of the river Astura, which connects Satricum with the sea. The site was probably inhabited from onwards the Late Bronze Age (1100/1000 BC) but most of the archaeological traces excavated on the acropolis pertain to the period 900 to 300 BC. During that period, the settlement developed from a small village with huts into a proto-urban center with houses and temples. The buildings at Satricum belong to the earliest so far excavated in Italy. These structures were covered with roof tiles and various architectural terracottas, which are characterized by their fabric, falling into distinct groups. The fabrics are presented together with the associated pottery. The earliest of these architectural terracottas is dated around 600 BC. It is noteworthy that this early fabric for architectural terracottas is very consistent and hardly mixed with older or later ceramics. Moreover it is the only fabric for architectural terracottas which contains a significant number of tablewares. Later on during the 6th century BC, the ceramic fabrics become separated into those used for the manufacture of architectural terracottas and large vessels such as storage jars, tablewares, and cooking jars and lids.

Thus the function of the pottery dictates to some extend the fabrics employed by the potter. This is in contrast with the earlier Iron Age tradition where a limited number of fabrics was used for a variety of vessels. The use of specific fabrics for the manufacture of ceramics with a particular function demonstrates the development of the potters’ craft. It is during the 6th century BC that nucleation of workshops becomes feasible for some major urban centers in central Italy as demonstrated by settlement excavations. The process of nucleation of workshops corresponds with the simultaneous urbanization process of Etruria and Latium Vetus

Seven fabrics are presented here. Numbers 5-7 are closely related. The fabric codes contain many of the characteristics described in abbreviated form. By means of this, they can be compared and matched. A description of the research method, characteristics described and parameters can be found under method.

  1. SAT I.AD*K*.vps*(1-4*).ab, occ. (large) FeMn / occ. (small) augite
    red firing clay with predominantly quartz, feldspar and lava;
    around 600 BC.
  2. SAT I.AD*EQ.ps-vps(1-4).ab, medium-coarse gritty / (hardness+)
    red firing clay with predominantly quartz, feldspar, augite and ferromagnesian nodules;
    6th century BC.
  3. SAT II.AD*J.vps(1-4).ab, porosity +
    orange firing clay with predominantly quartz, feldspar and tuff;
    mid 6th century BC.
  4. SAT II.AD*.ms-ps(1-4).a*, (Augite) / ((small) black stains)
    orange firing clay with predominantly quartz and feldspar;
    second half of the 6th century BC.
  5. SAT (II)/III.E.ps-vps(1-4).b
    pale firing clay with predominantly augite;
    around 500 BC.

  6. SAT II/III.E.ps-vps(1-4).a, coarse gritty / Leucite-Lava & Leucite-Tuff
    pale firing clay with predominantly augite;
    around 500 BC.

  7. SAT III.E.ms(1-3).ab, fine gritty
    pale firing clay with predominantly augite;
    around 500 BC.

Three pottery production sites have been excavated at Satricum, dating from the 7th till 4th centuries BC. One kiln is associated with the manufacture of the Late Archaic ceramics, among which the architectural terracottas used for the construction of the main temple. The kiln is of rectangular shape measuring 3.7 m. by 2.7 m. The combustion chamber was excavated, in which wasters of various Late Archaic fabrics were recovered.

Geological research revealed that the potter working at Satricum had various clay deposits at his disposal. The volcanic minerals encountered in most of the fabrics derive from the local tuffs. Within walking distance, the potter could find weathered clays from lithoid tuff, clays from lagoons (various levels) and downstream the river Astura he could collect pale-firing Pleistocene calcareous clays. There is a close resemblance between some of the red-firing fabrics and the lagoon clays of the Latina level.