Date of Completion


Embargo Period



micromorphology, Bronze Age, Vesuvius, Avellino Eruption

Major Advisor

Natalie Munro

Co-Major Advisor

Paul Goldberg

Associate Advisor

Francesco Berna

Associate Advisor

Sally McBrearty

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


In Europe, the Early Bronze Age (EBA) is an important transitional period characterized by emergent social complexity, the beginning of labor specialization, and arguably, an increasingly stratified social system. There is controversy surrounding the timing of these events on the Campania Plain of southern Italy however, and some scholars argue that this level of social complexity did not occur until the Middle Bronze Age. This research utilizes micromorphological analysis of thin sections of undisturbed sediment collected at the EBA village of Treno Alta Velocitá (TAV) Afragola on the Campania Plain in Southern Italy to understand how people used living spaces, organized daily activities and related to other members of the village. In particular, micromorphology is used to identify the type and range of human activities, the function of features and buildings, and the intensity of site occupation. The remarkable preservation of the village of TAV Afragola and neighboring sites on the Campania Plain is unmatched in Europe. The site was buried in nearly a meter of volcanic ash during the Avellino eruption of Vesuvius in 3,950 cal BP. The site boasts a large number of well-preserved structures, built features and organic materials and thus provides a laboratory-type setting in which to investigate variability in artifact distribution and activity areas across a single village.

Micromorphological analysis reveals a general lack of material remains embedded in the domestic occupation surfaces at Afragola. This result is surprising, given the complexity of the site as evidenced by multiple buildings utilized for storage and domestic activities. More specifically the presence of large quantities of burned seeds in one structure suggests that Afragola was an established agricultural village. One explanation for this disparity is that the village was occupied only briefly before the Avellino eruption destroyed it. No clear archaeological or micromorphological evidence for socio-economic differentiation or specialized production of materials, such as metals or pottery, has emerged from Afragola.

Each domestic structure at Afragola is equipped with a concotto, a fired-clay surface deliberately constructed for cooking, and an associated accumulation of fire ash. Both features suggest that small-scale pyrotechnological activities routinely occurred within these domestic structures. There is little evidence of variation within the activity areas of all domestic buildings, suggesting that their use was not specialized. Similar use of the habitation structures and the domestic nature of the activities that occurred there suggest a lack of social differentiation or social hierarchy. The micromorphological analysis at Afragola provides a unique example of a briefly occupied agricultural village with what appears to be minimally stratified social organization during the EBA of southern Italy.