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Surveys in the early medieval Marche: the case of San Claudio al Chienti

Scientific Direction: Dr. Daniele Petrella, Ph.D.
Starting and ending year: 2014

Often, archaeological research, like historical-philological research, comes across data and evidence that seem to force a reinterpretation of history as traditionally known.

This is what happened prior to the investigations that IRIAE carried out in 2014 in San Claudio al Chienti in the Piceno area of the Marche region.

As a result of research carried out for 25 years by a local research group on the early medieval history of the area, a number of elements emerged in support of a theory that would see the displacement of the history linked to Charlemagne, the Carolingians and the Holy Roman Empire from the current area of Aachen in the lower Rhine, precisely in the area of San Claudio al Chienti.

The studies carried out on the few texts related to Charlemagne and the Carolingians, maps and toponymy, were sufficient to request the intervention of IRIAE for further archaeological investigations.

Among the controversial elements that break with traditional history is the identification of the Schola Palatina precisely with the church of San Claudio al Chienti, which presents a number of unorthodox characteristics for an ecclesiastical building and is quite close to the descriptions of the Carolingian building.

Clearly IRIAE went in search of what could be scientific evidence to support one or the other theory. It was the discovery that archaeological investigations carried out by the University of Zurich beneath the Schola Palatina in Aachen had revealed a stratigraphic sequence that stopped in the 13th century, underlining an absence of Carolingian phases.

Based on the writings of Otto III, who claimed to have personally found and opened the tugulorium that preserved the body of Charlemagne below the entrance to the Schola, it was decided to verify its possible presence at San Claudio al Chienti.

Otto III describes the vertically excavated tugulorium, about 2½ metres deep with a base of about 1x1 metre. A georadar survey carried out by two separate companies showed an anomaly below the entrance corresponding to these dimensions. IRIAE in cooperation with the caving association 'La Macchina del Tempo' then carried out an investigation by means of coring and the insertion of a probe camera. The operations were approved and supervised by the Archaeological Superintendency of Marche and confirmed the presence of a tugulorium beneath the pavement. The investigation did not provide a definitive answer, but did provide some interesting scientific data that certainly deserves further investigation.

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