The archaeological investigation undertaken in 2005 opened a trench in front of the façade of Santa Maria di Cerrate. Below levels relating to the restoration interventions of the last decades, archaeological deposits dating to the late medieval period were reached. A large pit was uncovered which had been opened in front of the church and used for dumping rubble, perhaps relating to a restructuring of the cult building. A layer cut by the pit produced a bronze coin dating to the beginning of the 16th century. This layer covered the bedrock which was characterized by the presence of two grooves, with well defined edges, worn into the rock and interpreted as a cart-road. The latter was on a south-east/north-west alignment and the fill did not provide any dating evidence but rather contained evidence regarding its use. The continuous erosion of the grooves caused by the passing of the carts was leveled with several layers of make up.
The dating of the road is still to be defined, at present it appears to pre-date the 16th century. This type of structure, although well known in the Salento, has not been closely investigated in a scientific manner. In local literature cart-roads are generally associated with the farms built from the 16th century onwards, at a moment when evidence indicates substantial transformations in the economy with the progressive abandonment of a system based on varied and intensive agriculture that was then replaced by an extensive agricultural regime. Along the road were a series of rock-cut holes placed at regular intervals on both sides, probably the housings for wooden posts. It is too early to say whether these related to the road or with structures in front or behind it. Two rock-cut burials were uncovered up against the east section of the trench, named Tomb IV and Tomb V.
Tomb V, trapezoidal in shape with a rectangular section was without its covering and the bones had been removed. Inside was a layer of rubble containing irregular stones mixed with earth and the remains of human bone. The dating is problematic due to the lack of tomb contents. Tombs with a trapezoidal plan are known in rock-cut contexts and usually fall within a wide chronology. However, the vertical walls and flat bottom date this tomb to the high medieval period.
Tomb IV was also without its cover and had been disturbed in the past. It is similar in typology to the rectangular “sarcophagus” tombs built in monolithic limestone blocks. There was a great difference between the east and west sides probably due to an adaptation of the tomb undertaken at some point. The buried individual, probably adult, had a round iron fibula, the tongue missing, by its right side. Two other crania had been placed either side of the individual’s cranium. Despite the fact that the burial had been heavily disturbed, it may be suggested that in origin it already contained more than one individual. Later the tomb seems to have been reopened to deposit the bones of others. The tomb typology and the material recovered suggest a date of between the end of the 6th and beginning of the 7th century A.D.
- Paul Arthur - Università del Salento
- Luigi Tondo - Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Puglia
- Università degli Studi di Lecce, Dipartimento Beni Culturali
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