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Tróia — Portugal

The Excavation Site at Troia


Project Overview



The field school will take place at Tróia, a beautiful sand peninsula 17 km long that is today a touristic resort due to its white sand beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. Part of peninsula belongs to the Sado Estuary Natural Reserve and a specific area is classified as a Botanical Reserve due to the rarity of a number of plants in the sand dunes of Tróia.

The site is located in the center south of Portugal, only 50 km from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, and only a 15 minute boat trip from Setúbal, a city that goes back to the Roman Period and Middle Ages and has 120,000 inhabitants. The Setúbal Bay, that also borders Tróia, is classified by UNESCO as one of The Most Beautiful Bays in the World.

It is in this sand embankment between the Sado River and the Atlantic Ocean, belonging in Roman times to the city of Salacia Imperatoria Augusta, in the province of Lusitania, that were built a number of fish-salting factories to produce salted fish and fish sauces like the famous garum. These were put in amphorae and carried by boat to many different regions of the Mediterranean and to Rome, the capital of the Empire. The production center founded in the early 1st c. employed many people and developed into a town with houses, baths, wells, cemeteries and at a late moment, an early Christian basilica with well-preserved wall paintings.

When the Roman settlement was abandoned in the 6th c., or even on the early 7th c., sand dunes covered it and were responsible for its exceptional preservation. A number of walls are preserved up to 4 m high and a number of the fish-salting vats are complete, and some still reveal the fish bones from the last production in the bottom when they are excavated. The intense economic activity caused by the proximity to the ocean and the river and the early abandonment make the site very rich in archaeological finds, specially different types of pottery like terra sigillata (including African Red Slip Ware) and amphorae but also metal objects like coins or bone objects.

A chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Tróia is today the most prominent building of Tróia and is the center an annual festivity in August organized by fishermen. Documents of the 15th and 16th centuries show that the chapel already existed in that period and the date of its foundation was unknown in the early 16th century. Since it stands on a Roman construction and less than 10m away from the Roman early Christian basilica, it represents the continuity of the Roman settlement into the present day.



The heavy erosion the site suffers from the tides coming into the Sado estuary strongly contributed for its early discovery. Tróia appears in the literature since the 16th c. as a Roman settlement with fish-salting vats and is frequently visited and referred by authors in the following centuries.

The first acknowledged excavations took place in the 18th c. by future Queen D. Maria I and in the 1850s an important series of excavation campaigns were carried on by Sociedade Archeological Lusitana (Lusitanian Archaeological Society), from Setúbal. The main results of these works were the discovery of residential buildings and a bath complex.

Among many other visitors, Hans Christian Andersen sailed on a fishing boat to visit the site in 1866 and called it the “Pompeii of Setúbal” and described foundations of houses, a street and a bath house with a mosaic floor and marble slabs.

In the 20th c., from 1948 up to the 70s, excavations were carried on by the directors of the today National Museum of Archaeology, exposing, in particular, several fish-salting factories, the bath complex, cemeteries and a Christian basilica.

A number of articles on specific aspects and materials resulting from these works were published, but only in 1994 was there a consistent presentation and interpretation of the main fish-salting factories by R. Étienne, Y. Makaroun and F. Mayet in a book called Un Grand Complexe Industriel à Tróia (Portugal) (A Large Industrial Complex at Tróia (Portugal)).

In 2006 began a new project, promoted by Tróia Resort, for the conservation and presentation of the Roman site to the public. The necessary archaeological works, carried on by the field school team, provided new information and the identification of 27 production units, giving a new perspective of the importance of the Roman site.

Based on the importance of the fish-salting installations and the singularity of the settlement as the largest production center of the kind in the Roman Empire, in 2016 the site was listed in the Portuguese Tentative List of World Heritage Sites.

Archaeological Focus

In 2018 the goal was to investigate the fish-salting Workshop 4, a very large production unit with 11 vats visible in three rows, but only six vats already excavated.

The excavation of this workshop began in the 1970s because fragments of mosaic were visible on the surface. Archaeologists expected to uncover a Roman house with mosaics, but instead part of a very large fish-salting workshop appeared under a very thick sand dune. Two kilns were discovered inside two large fish-salting vats, showing the reuse of these spaces for a new purpose.

The investigation of this large building restarted in 2014 with the purpose of uncovering the outline of the southwest row of vats. In that same year, the excavation of two small vats revealed remains of fish and pottery that showed that the production had lasted until the end of the 4th century or the first half of the 5th century. In 2015, the excavation of a late floor above the original one revealed its construction with materials from demolitions, including many fragments of mosaic, certainly of the same kind found in the 1970s. The southwest line of vats was finally visible, with six very large ones with an entrance in the middle.

In the 2017 season, the excavation focused on three very large vats and discovered that the southwest wall of these vats was destroyed almost to the bottom, suggesting that for a certain period, after the Roman period, they were in the shoreline and destroyed by tidal action.

These vats revealed several alternate layers of sand and debris deposits and two of them were used to store clay, possibly for the late construction works in the building, like the kilns found in the 1970s. The continuation of the excavation of these three large vats will be the first goal of the campaign in 2018. Under the visible clay, mortar and sand layers, it will be possible to find garbage layers and, hopefully, fish remains on the floor, and finally expose the vats. The other goal is to excavate another vat west of the entrance to the workshop.

Students will be taught all the tasks concerning the excavation, and they will contribute to the discovery and interpretation of one of the largest workshops fish-salting production center of Tróia.



Application & Reservation

To reserve a space, students must pay a $100 application fee (Included in the price of the program). Upon acceptance into the program, one half of the program fees will be required to be paid. The remainder of the fees will be due (minus the application fee) by May 15. Application fees will not be refunded if the applicant is not selected.

Applications will be accepted until all spaces are filled. Participants will be notified of their acceptance within two weeks of the submission of their application and will receive an information packet shortly thereafter with further details.

Cancellation and Refund Policy

  • Before May 15: All payments, except for the $100 application fee, are refundable.

  • After May 15: All payments are non-refundable unless your application is rejected by the program director.

Right of Refusal

AFAR reserves the right to refuse an applicant’s selection. This is a rare occurrence and is most likely due to a person’s inability to meet health requirements or in the interest of group compatibility. Once in the field, the program directors and AFAR reserve the right to send a student away from the program should that person’s behavior compromise the safety, research objectives and general performance of the group, or violate Greek laws, regulations or customs.

Expectations of Students

Working on an archaeological site is hard work. Students need to be in good health and capable of using picks, shovels, trowels, and detailed instruments to excavate in a hot environment. Students are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner, be eager to learn, and capable of taking direction.




Program Itinerary

  • June 15 - Fly from Charlotte (CLT) to Lisbon (LIS). Overnight flight.

  • June 16 — Arrival in Lisbon, travel to Tróia. Bus to Troia. Check in to houses. Welcome lunch. Site Tour. Dinner at resort.

  • June 17 — First date on site. Receive instruction from archaeologists and begin excavations (see daily schedule for rough timelines during work days) Lecture in the afternoon on Tróia in the Roman Empire. Dinner at resort.

  • June 18 — Day 2 of excavations. Pottery washing. Free time. Dinner at resort.

  • June 19 — Day 3 of excavations. Pottery washing. Free time. Dinner.

  • June 20 — Excursion: Visit to Sintra

  • June 21 — Day 4 of excavations. Lunch. Lecture: Archaeological Excavation at Tróia: Method and Practice. Free time. Dinner.

  • June 22 — Day 5 of excavations. Lunch. Free afternoon. Dinner.

  • June 23 — Day at Troia beach

  • June 24 — Day 6 of excavations. Lunch. Lecture: The Study of Pottery. Workshop: Hands on Roman Pottery.

  • June 25 — Day 7 of excavations. Lunch. Dolphin spotting sailboat trip. Dinner.

  • June 26 — Day 8 of excavations. Lunch. workshop: Working with Animal Bones. Free time. Dinner.

  • June 27 — Excursion: Visit to Lisbon

  • June 28 — Day 9 of excavations. Lunch. Pottery washing. Free time. Farewel Diner

  • June 29 — Continue excavations

  • June 30 — Depart for Home


Daily Work Schedule

  • 6:30-7:30 — Breakfast buffet served

  • 7:30 — Students depart for Cahal Pech site and pickup equipment along the way

  • 8:00 — Work begins on site

  • 12:00-12:30 — Lunch Break

  • 12:30-2:30 — Return to work

  • 2:30 — Complete daily documentation, gather artifacts & equipment and depart site.

  • 3:00-6:30 — Afternoon Programming (varies)

  • 6:30 — Dinner with free time afterwards

  • 10:00 — Bedtime


Accommodations & Meals

Students will be sharing rooms, each with en- suite bathrooms and air conditioning. Students will have access to a laundry machine. Towels are provided. The hotel includes a general room with a television and a dining area where meals will be served. Wifi is also available.

Meals will be eaten at the hotel, and an arrangement will be made to provide us with a mid- workday snack. Lunch in Portugal is the main meal, with breakfast and dinner being lighter. Please let us know if you are a vegetarian or if you require a special diet so that we may discuss the best way to accommodate your needs.

While in Tróia, the students will stay in houses near the site.

7570-789 Tróia


Travel will be provided by a charter company for the majority of the trips throughout the program. Any trips without a charter company will be limited but will be provided by supervisors who will be pre-qualified through the AFAR International Travel Programs procedures.

For this program, the students will generally be at the archaeological site during the weekdays. On Thursdays, students will visit local areas of historical significance to enhance their archaeological experience. On occasion, we may choose to deviate from the schedule in reaction to unforeseen circumstances and unique opportunities.


 Workshops & Excursions


Every afternoon the program directors will prepare classroom sessions that will include seminars and workshops concerning the fieldwork and the Portuguese history.

Topics Include:

  • Archaeological Excavation at Tróia: Method and Practice

  • The Study of Pottery

  • Hands on Roman Pottery Workshop

  • Working with Animal Bones Workshop

An archaeologist’s work is incomplete unless he or she can sit back and reflect on the day’s excavation. Therefore, the group will take time to experience Portugal away from the shovels and wheelbarrows, either by relaxing at a café or by visiting nearby sites.

We believe that visiting the region’s historical sites is essential to understanding the context of the archaeological work at Tróia. Excursions may change depending on the excavation schedule and unforeseen events. Probable excursions include the following:

The day long excursions will be on Thursdays, one per week, one to Lisbon and the second to Sintra.

During week one, the students will travel to Lisbon and visit the Castelo de São Jorge and tour the National Museum of Archaeology.

During week two, the students will travel to Sintra. In the morning, the students will visit the Museum of Odrinhas and in the afternoon students will visit either a Moorish castle, the Palácio da Pena, or the Palace in Sintra depending on availability.

In addition, the students will participate in an afternoon boat cruise to see dolphins.