Our project is based in the Comune of Cinigiano, in the Provincia of Grossetto, in southwest Tuscany. During our excavation season, we reside in the village of Cinigiano, which lies more or less at the center of our survey region. Southern Tuscany has long been the subject of archaeological attention, and has seen some of the most intensive, large-scale field surveys anywhere in the Roman Mediterranean. Originally prompted by the large-scale destruction of the Roman hinterland in the post-war years, these surveys gradually extended north up the Tuscan coast, focusing on the development of Rome's agrarian hinterland and export-producing wine estates.
Our project grew out of a survey conducted by Mari Ghisleni, one of our team leaders, in the process of her doctoral dissertation. The survey was based just to the north and east of these earlier surveys, and set out to explore a "marginal" landscape, one which lay inland from the coastal export markets and set between and somewhat distant from the region's two main terrestrial transport routes – the via Aurelia and via Cassia. What it revealed was an unusually well-preserved ancient landscape, one that had escaped the ravages of modern deep-ploughing of the coast, and preserved remains of some 500 previously-unknown sites, most of Roman date. Also unlike the coastal areas which experienced massive demographic upsurges in the second century B.C., followed by equally dramatic downturns in the second-century and fifth-centuries A.D., the area occupied by modern Cinigiano, like other so-called "marginal" landscapes, witnessed more stability. The survey evidence seems not to support the proposition that the third century was a period of "economic crisis" in this region. Rather, we appear to be witnessing a series of changes to trading and exchange routes, followed by some kind of reassertion of long-distance trade and an expansion in the number of sites over the course of the fourth and fifth centuries. Most importantly for our current project, this region is dominated by sites represented by small (under 0.5 ha) scatters of roof tile and coarse wares. It contains only one site that can be classified as a villa, and a number of agglomerated clusters that might be interpreted as villages. The opportunities for a systematic exploration of the totality of a rural settlement system, and for plotting the intricate sets of relations and interactions between the various sites in that system, are immense.