Field school in experimental archaeology at Poggio Imperiale





The field school at Poggio Imperiale aims to combine the archaeological excavation to laboratory activities involving a focus on the study of medieval finds, computer applications for the management of archaeological data and especially on the activities of experimental archaeology and living history. The Poggio Imperiale excavation was in fact the subject of a great archaeological communication that provided for the full-scale reconstruction of a part of the Carolingian era village (curtis) dug in the 1990s, called Archeodromo.

It is located in an area adjacent to the archaeological area and is the subject of an intense experimental activity and a historical reconstruction made by the same archaeologists who have led and lead the archaeological excavation and nowadays are also the “villagers”, committed, wearing historical dresses, on reproducing of daily life in the ninth century. Each of them has developed a character linked to one of several medieval crafts (blacksmith, leather worker, carpenter, baker, herbalist, moneyer, candle-maker, etc.) and has therefore investigated the related craft activities. The highlight of this experience is therefore the opportunity to experience the entire cycle of archaeology, from excavation to data management and even the enhancement through new forms of communication and dissemination of content, based on experimentation and historical concreteness to better understand and really live the atmosphere, habits and ways of working, eating, dressing and thinking the time of Charlemagne.

The excavation carried out on the hill since the nineties can undoubtedly be considered one of the most significant in Italy and Europe for studying and understanding the medieval period, with particular reference to early medieval phases. In fact the spaces inside the Park of the Medici fortress of Poggio Imperiale contain over 1000 years of frequentation, starting ffrom the Late Antique to the Lombard and Carolingian Age villages until the Medici fortress built by Lorenzo the Magnificent (and designed by Giuliano da Sangallo, the military architect of confidence of the Medici family) through the castle-town of Poggio Bonizio, founded in 1155 and destroyed in 1270 by the Florentines, who were determined to punish the rich town (about 6,000 inhabitants) that had tied its fortunes to the Sienese and Ghibelline cause.

The open-area excavations, covering almost two hectares, has allowed to highlight all the phases mentioned above, showing a clear sequence of early medieval occupations and the complex topographical structure of Poggio Bonizio, of which have been brought to light two of seven churches, and the massive subdivision of tower-houses that faced directly on the Via Francigena, which remains inside the archaeological area, the only stretch really dug all over Tuscany.

Summarizing in schematic form, this is the succession of phases identified by the stratigraphic exploration:

  • Late Roman settlement (V-VI century)
  • village of Lombard period (end of VI-VII centuries)
  • second phase of the Lombard village (VIII-early ninth century)
  • Carolingian Curtis (IX-X century)
  • foundation of Poggio Bonizio (second half of the twelfth century, from 1155)
  • development of Poggio Bonizio in a “almost city” (XIII century until 1270)
  • reconstruction project of Poggio Imepriale (a few months, in 1313)
  • building of the Medici fortress of Lorenzo the Magnificent (end XV mid-sixteenth century)


The educational objectives of the course offer a path of learning and experiences related to the whole information-processing cycle and archaeological data management, starting from the stage of field research for that of communication and dissemination of content. The program wants to be training both from an archaeological point of view and from a professional one, allowing you to observe and test the potential of information technology applied to archaeology, experimental archaeology, living history and storytelling, which are used as innovative tools for a real and direct communication of the past and lifestyles of our ancestors.
From a strictly archaeological point of view, the participants will be involved in a particularly significant stratigraphic context due to the long diachrony of the site. The stratigraphic succession covers the whole medieval period and therefore represents a valuable opportunity to understand and deal with the entire sequence of finds and medieval construction types, from the early medieval timber buildings to the low medieval masonry architecture. The workshop activities related to the study of the artifacts will then be focused on the study of the main classes of ceramics and other types of objects (metals, glass, coins, etc.).
From a methodological point of view, in addition to traditional excavation activities, students will have the opportunity to follow digital archaeology workshops aimed at showing the potential of computer applications in archaeology, from the graphic and topographic aspects, to those concerning the alphanumeric and georeferenced registration of the archaeological record, passing through the multimedia documentation and the forms of real-time communication through the most common communication channels (social media and web).

As an experimental and reconstructive School, the experience objectives are to provide an overview of the potentialities of living history and experimental archaeology both in understanding the dynamics of archaeological research and complex stratigraphic contexts, as well as in learning how to communicate the acquired historical/archaeological knowledge. Participants will be guided inside the village into a series of activities aimed to the understanding of construction techniques and of the main crafts and daily activities of the Carolingian period. But above all, they will be able to touch the work behind such enterprise of historical reconstruction and dissemination.

To enhance these aspects, during the period of stay (on weekends, free from usual excavation), participants will be free to attend, as guests, to the historical reconstruction activities that the research team will also lead in areas outside the Park as in the case of participation in the medieval festivals of Monteriggioni (July), San Gusmè (September) and the ordinary openings or events that will be proposed at the Archeodromo on weekends in the months of excavation.


The Summer School will take place in three sessions:

  • First session: July, 3rd to 28th (application deadline: May, 31st)
  • Second session: September, 4th to 29th (application deadline: July, 31st)
  • Third session: October, 2nd to 27th (application deadline: August, 31st)

Activities will be carried out daily, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, with an hour lunch break.

This is the basic activity schedule:

  • The excavations will be carried out every morning and in the afternoons of Tuesday and Thursday.
  • The laboratories for the study and the indexing of archaeological remains will be held on Monday afternoon
  • The labs of technology applied to archaeology will be conducted on Wednesday afternoon.
  • The experimental archaeology and living history activities will be held on Friday afternoon.

What outlined above is the basic program. However, we reserve the possibility to modify the activities according to specific requirements (eg bad weather). Changes, however, may be related to times and schedule but won’t affect the program and the total number of hours dedicated to each activity.

Students are expected to complete tasks timely and accurately, and to participate in all the activities of the Summer School, and absence is only allowed for personal health reasons. Unjustified absences will have a negative effect on the final grade and/or may lead to a student’s disciplinary dismissal from the program.

The official language of the Summer School is English and no knowledge of Italian is required.

Lectures and laboratory activities will not be held during weekends so as to give students the opportunity to enjoy their stay in Italy.


The course is open to up to 10 undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students in archaeology, anthropology or allied disciplines from any country and institution and whoever might be interested.

An occasion to visit Italy

Poggibonsi is located in a strategic position that allows you to reach the main cities and touristic localities easily. In half an hour it is possible to arrive to Siena, a perfectly preserved medieval town surrounded by the amazing tuscan countryside. Florence, considered the birthplace of the Renaissance age, featuring countless monuments and art masterpieces, is only 1 hour away by train. The connection to Rome is direct with a 3-hour trip. By coach you can also reach the city of Volterra, located in the interior of Tuscany, with its many archeological monuments, and in 2 hours you can reach the pearls of Ligurian tourism, the Cinque Terre.



  • Scientific supervisor
    • Marco Valenti, professor of Medieval Archaeology and Early Medieval Archaology – University of Siena
  • Field Directors
    • Vittorio Fronza, PhD (University of Siena)
    • Alessandra Nardini, PhD (University of Siena)
  • Field School Coordinator
    • Federico Salzotti, PhD (Archeotipo srl)
  • Lab supervisors
    • Dario Ceppatelli, PhD (Associazione Culturale Started)
    • Luca Isabella, PhD (Associazione Culturale Started)
    • Floriano Cavanna, PhD (Associazione Arkè Archeologia Sperimentale)


  • First session: July, 3rd to 28th (application deadline: May, 31st)
  • Second session: September, 4th to 29th (application deadline: July, 31st)
  • Third session: October, 2nd to 27th (application deadline: August, 31st)


Cost: €2,150.00

The cost covers Field School activities (excavation practice, lectures, laboratory activities and instruments), meals (MON to FRI: breakfast, lunch and dinner), accommodation. Additional documentation and payment processing fees (not to exceed $80/session) will be applied to the final invoice.


  • Housing: Housing is provided by the Field School.
  • Meals: Participants in the Field School will be provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday.

Working Hours

Monday through Friday, 8:00am-5:00pm (including one hour lunch break).

Structure and Methodologies

The course will be offered in the following formats:

  • Field practice
  • Lectures
  • Labs
  • Workshops


  • Certificate of participation from the University of Siena
  • Certificate of participation from IRLAB


The Summer School has no formal prerequisites; students will be fully trained for all the activities they experience. Students interested in applying to the Summer School must fill out and submit the online Application Form.

The application deadlines are:

May 31, 2017 (First session: July, 3rd to 28th) / July 31, 2017 (Second session: September, 4th to 29th) / August 31, 2017 (Third session: October, 2nd to 27th).

However, applications are reviewed as soon as they are received and successful applicants accepted right away.
Curriculum vitae and/or reference letters (e-mails) may be requested. The staff reserves the right to verify any of the information reported in the application form and request supporting documentation (e.g., advising reports; references) in its sole discretion. Staff will make final decisions regarding enrolment.
Acceptance will be communicated by e-mail. Upon acceptance, students will receive detailed instructions on how to submit required documentation and payments:
•  Proof of Insurance: students must have valid international health and injury insurance (made available through student travel centers) and must provide the insurance provider’s contact information, as well as the policy number, including a proof of tetanus vaccination (or booster) within the last 10 years
•  Release form: all students must read and accept the terms of the IRLAB Participation Agreement to participate in the program; a signed release form must be submitted prior to the start date of the Summer School.
•  Fee Payment: Students will be required to pay fees in full within 15 business days of receipt of the invoice sent by mail in case of admission. In case of student withdrawal, all fees minus a non-refundable deposit of €500.00 will be refunded until May 31, 2017 (1st session), July 31, 2017 (2nd session) and/or August 31, 2017 (3rd session). After those dates fees will not be refunded. In the unlikely event of course cancellation, fees will be refunded in full (any applicable processing fees may not be refunded). Failure to provide all the above-mentioned documents and payment within the terms specified at the time of admission will constitute an automatic forfeiture of the student’s place in the summer school.
Failure to provide all the above-mentioned documents and payment within the terms specified at the time of admission will constitute an automatic forfeiture of the student’s place in the summer school.