The technology of ancient lime mortars from the Żejtun Roman Villa (Malta)

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Studies on original mortars can greatly assist archaeological interpretations, as elucidating the composition of such mortars gives clues on the origin of raw materials, manufacturing technology, and the construction phases of a site. This article presents the multi-analytical characterisation of 24 mortars and plasters from the Żejtun Roman Villa, Malta, to support archaeological hypotheses on the history of the construction of the site. The samples, belonging to at least three distinct phases included in the stratigraphy of the Żejtun archaeological site, were analysed using polarised light microscopy (PLM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM–EDS), X-ray diffraction (XRD), thermogravimetry (TGA/DSC), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), ion chromatography (IC), and stable isotope analysis (13C and 18O). The assessment of the results through correlations with archaeological evidence identifies five types of mortars with varying degrees of hydraulicity. These are associated with different development phases of the site and distinctive uses and were mainly produced using local resources, except in the Early Roman period when natural pozzolanic raw materials started being used. As there are no natural pozzolans on the Maltese Islands, it is hypothesised that the pozzolanic materials used as aggregate in the mortars were imported to the Islands from neighbouring volcanic regions. This volcanic aggregate was especially abundant in one of the mortar types, which was used mainly as a bedding mortar for floors.
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