Under the volcano: excavating in the Azores (Vila Franca do Campo 2016)

I am happy to attach the text which will be published soon by the Society for Medieval Archaeology Newsletter about our 2016 season in the Azores (6-27 September). This is a collage of pictures taken during our fieldwork in Vila Franca.

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Under the volcano: excavating in the Azores (Vila Franca do Campo 2016)

The islands of the Azores, far out in the middle of the North Atlantic, are subject to frequent seismic and volcanic activity because of their location at the junction of three tectonic plates. On the night of 22 October 1522 the settlement of Vila Franca do Campo, the early capital of the archipelago on São Miguel, was almost completely destroyed by an powerful earthquake and then by a huge landslide which followed a few minutes later. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people are thought to have died when a massive debris flow swept through the houses and streets and out into the sea. In 2015 and 2016 a team from the University of Durham, led by Paolo Forlin, Chris Gerrard and Alejandra Gutierrez, together with Portuguese colleagues from the universities of Nova de Lisboa and dos Açores, and landslide specialists from the University of East Anglia, started to document the archaeology of the disaster. Beginning by analysing the unpublished diaries and archaeological materials left by a previous investigator, Manuel de Sousa d’Oliveira, together with data from recent geological cores, the team excavated 26 trenches in all. Evidence of the pre-disaster settlement was identified in detail. Quantities of stratified glass and pottery, including finewares from Spain (such as lustrewares), Italy and France, locally produced redwares, as well as animal, shellfish and fish bone represent some of the earliest and best dated assemblages to be recovered from the Azores which were first colonised permanently in the 15th century. The landslide, which was up to 2.5m thick in places and affected about 4.5km2, contained human and animal remains as well as brick, roof tile, mortar and masonry fragments. The archaeological evidence suggests that the reconstruction process got underway almost immediately and the excavations reveal the houses, industries and the rubbish pits of the new town.

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Acknowledgements

Chris Gerrard and I (Paolo Forlin) would like to thank all the participants to this archaeological campaign, especially the ten undergraduates (Pertev Basri, Lydia Coldicott, Ben Evans,  Christina Goessman,  Alice Naylor, Oliver Tallis , Oliver Vercoe,  Adam Willis, Isabelle Wilson and Adam Wordley) and Ed Treasure from Durham University, as well as some extraordinary people who helped us in Vila Franca, such as N’Zinga Oliveira, the mayor Ricardo Rodrigues, the director of the local museum ThelmaMario and Edoardo.  I would also like to address special thanks to Dr Alejandra Gutierrez (DU) who worked intensively in order to reorganise all the material from previous Oliveira’s excavations, process our new finds and organise a new temporary exhibition at the Museum of Vila Franca.

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