Geochemical characterisation of pozzolanic obsidian glasses used in the ancient mortars of Nora Roman theatre (Sardinia, Italy): provenance of raw materials and historical–archaeological implications

  • Stefano Columbu
  • Anna Maria Garau
  • Carlo Lugliè
Original Paper


The study focused on the volcanic glass used in the production of bedding mortars and concrete of the Roman theatre (I cent. AD) of the Nora site. The volcanic glasses were frequently used as aggregate and with pozzolanic function in all hydraulic mortars of the different sectors of the building (e.g., concretes of tribunalia vaults and external niches, jointing and foundation mortars of cavea tier ashlars, brick bedding), together with mainly quartz-feldspar sands, local Oligo-Miocenic andesitic-dacitic volcanics and Palaeozoic and Tyrrhenian sedimentary rocks. These volcanic glasses show characteristics closer to obsidian than to natural pozzolan normally used in the Roman period. They have definitely not sourced locally, unlike the other components that make up the aggregate. To identify their provenance, a petrochemical comparison between several samples taken from the theatre mortars and the volcanic outcrops of some probable Sardinian source areas is made. The use of the not local pozzolanic glass is a technical innovation in the mortars of the Nora archaeological site, and considering the wide use of obsidians in the prehistoric periods for the production of tools, significant considerations about its origin, procurement and use are made.


Pozzolan Obsidian glass Chemical analysis Aggregate Mt. Arci Sardinian Neolithic 



Special thanks to the University of Cagliari for funding this research; the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage for the Provinces of Cagliari and Oristano for authorization to sample the materials from the monument; and the staff and tourist guides of the archaeological site of Nora for their willingness regarding the study activities of the Roman theatre.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefano Columbu
    • 1
  • Anna Maria Garau
    • 1
  • Carlo Lugliè
    • 2
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze Chimiche e GeologicheUniversità degli Studi di CagliariCagliariItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Dipartimento di Storia, Beni culturali e Territorio, Cittadella dei MuseiUniversità degli Studi di CagliariCagliariItaly

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