Archaeology in Italy 2009

More than 50 students, scholars and archaeological professionals from more than 20 universities, including SMU, will assemble in Tuscany in Summer 2009 to excavate the Etruscan sanctuary and settlement of Poggio Colla.
The excavation team is headed by Gregory Warden, University Distinguished Professor of Art History at SMU, along with Professors Michael Thomas of the University of Texas at Austin, and Ann Steiner and Gretchen Meyers of Franklin and Marshall College. The excavation serves as a field school for undergraduate and graduate students to learn archaeological practice and theory while working alongside a diverse professional staff, including archaeologists, surveyors, geologists, architects, illustrators, information technologists and other archaeological specialists, as well as the conservation staff.

New perspectives on archaeology

Arianne_Billie_Trench_PC38.jpg An update from Billie Christine, an undergraduate at the University of Georgia:

There are only three days left, and I am trying to take in every second that I can. Through all of the blisters, calluses, intense heat, dirt, and sore muscles, there is nothing more rewarding that enjoying Italian home-cooking overlooking the most magnificent view anyone could ask for (although it does give “Under the Tuscan Sun” a whole new meaning).

Arianne_Billie_Alvaro_Matt.jpg I have to admit that after the first week, I began asking myself, “What was I thinking? I’m a Latin teacher!” Squatting, by the way, is my new resting position, and the experience is character-building, to say the least. That being said, I could not imagine ever living without having experienced this.

Coming from a museum background, I have gained a whole new view and understanding of archaeology that will continue with me in my future studies of ancient art. I am so grateful for this opportunity, for the scholars I have worked with, for the unforgettable experiences, and for the awe-inspiring landscapes. And don’t forget the wine! Although I don’t want to leave, I know that this will stick with me always.

Viva PC 38!

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Joy, pain and lots of memories

Arianne_Keens.jpg An update from Arianne, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington:

The final week at Poggio Colla is here! The past five weeks have been physically challenging for me, but also extremely rewarding. I have used muscles I had no idea I had until we began excavating. Did you know that your toes can become numb from squatting all day and your hand can look as though you are still holding a trowel even when you aren’t actually holding one???

Arianne_Billie_PC38.jpgThe great news is that this “mature student” has remained healthy and is still vertical. Gloria Gaynor’s infamous song “I Will Survive” has been my personal motto as I climb the steep hill to the Poggio Colla site each morning. My 20-something-year-old trenchmates have been a joy to work with, and I would like to thank Avery, Billie, Cathy, Kellyn and Matt for their patience and friendship. We have had such fun sweating in PC 38 and sharing our finds together. (Wait a minute! Is that bronze???)

As I reflect upon my final week in breathtaking Tuscany, I realize how much I am going to miss life on the Poggio Colla site. I would like to thank my trench supervisors, Aksel and Alvaro, for their humor and encouragement as well as all of the staff and students who have made this summer so memorable. “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” takes on a whole new meaning …

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Poggio Colla: What we “found” this summer

Warden_trench.jpg An update from Dr. Greg Warden:

It feels as if everyone wants to know what we have found this summer. As I walk the streets of Vicchio or correspond with colleagues and friends across the globe, the questions are the same. Have you found anything interesting?

Warden_finalphotos.jpg The answer is a resounding yes, but then comes the inevitable follow-up question. What did you find?

This is tougher and usually results in an embarrassing pause in the conversation. How do I explain, without an hour-long PowerPoint lecture, about the new architecture, the various kinds of work areas, the interesting new types of artifacts, or the same old artifacts now found in a different and thus exciting context?

And if truth be told, how do I tell people that I really am not sure what we have found, that we are still hard at work in the labs studying and conserving the artifacts, that we are collaboratively – all 50 of us, including scholars, students, and staff – trying to make some sense of what we have found? How do I explain without sounding stuffy and condescending that this process will take us years?

There are no easy solutions in this kind of archaeology, and while gold jewelry and silver coins do magically appear in the earth once in a great while, we work slowly and patiently studying many unglamorous things that will eventually, with some skill and no small portion of luck, tell an exciting story about the Etruscans.

We finished excavating this Friday, the last day of July, and we will spend this week documenting and then backfilling the trenches. The digging is at an end. I can safely say at this point that every one of our trenches has produced important, indeed very important new information, even though a more complete understanding of what we have “found out” rather than “found” will only come with years of study.

09_pc34_gregwarden.jpg The list of findings, however, is quite impressive. On the North-West Slope our English colleague, Phil Perkins, has excavated an area with several fire pits and a quarry. The fire pits may be early ceramic kilns, and the pottery from the area is very early, possibly earlier than the 650 BCE date that we previously postulated for the earliest habitation at the site. The remains of the quarrying are quite impressive: one huge block was squared and partially undercut but left unfinished.

In Trench PC 33, on the south edge of the acropolis terrace, we continued to excavate the massive column base found last year. We were surprised to find another column base next to it, our sixth from the site, this one possibly purposely broken. The trench also produced a massive wall foundation, similar to the ones found on the north edge of the terrace, with two buttressing walls (one of which was only discovered on the last day of excavation). This is important new evidence for the architectural layout of the sanctuary in its later period (4th-2nd centuries BCE).

Trench PC 34, at the western end of the acropolis terrace, was also continued from 2008. It has produced dramatic evidence for the ways that Etruscan sanctuaries functioned as economic entities, connected to the agricultural production of surrounding territory and possibly functioning as distribution or redistribution centers. The evidence comes in the form of huge storage jars or pithoi, as well as circular stone discs that may have been used as lids or work surfaces, and an assortment of loom weights. Also important is the large quantity of carbonized seeds from this area; possibly grain, but we will have to wait for their analysis to say anything more definitive.

09_pc38_fromsw.jpg Trench PC 38, still on the west end of the acropolis terrace but northwest of Trench PC 34, has provided some excellent evidence for the architecture of the second and third monumental phases of the sanctuary. Already we are revising some of the hypotheses of last year’s excavation report; the new but still technically hypothetical west building is larger than expected, if indeed it is a building, or a series of buildings.

In this case we have only a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but in another part of the trench we seem to have found the northwest corner of the Phase II and III courtyard buildings that dominated the acropolis after the destruction of the Phase I temple. The corner is beautifully formed by a very large sandstone block on top of which three terracotta roof tiles have been carefully stacked. The use of tiles to mark the corner of a building is potentially interesting as ritual, but what is certainly a ritual (foundation?) deposit is two large pieces of sheet bronze placed near the corner, one of which is associated with burned bones, including the jaw bone and tooth of a fairly large animal.

The bones and bronze are being carefully worked on in the lab by our conservator, Batyah Shtrum, and the conservation process will probably continue into the next season. The final word on the nature of this deposit will probably have to wait until next summer. That’s when I may finally be able to say something less banal about what we “found” in 2009.

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Work and friendship across cultures

Italy-Fiammetta_fieldnotebook.jpg An update from archaeologist Fiammetta Calosi:

I have been working at Poggio Colla since I was still a student in the University of Florence, in Italy. I started excavating at Poggio Colla in summer 2002, and since that season, I have been part of MVAP (Mugello Valley Archaeological Project) every year.

Italy%20-Fiammetta_Vicchio_Archaeol_Group.jpg After some experience as a field archaeologist, archaeological illustrator assistant, and after my graduation, I became an archaeological consultant. During the 2006 field season, we started the Italian High School Archaeological Program as part of the MVAP, in collaboration with the Comunita Montana del Mugello. Every year more than 30 Italian high school students take part in this project. I teach them Etruscan Art History and supervise their work on the site.

This program is an excellent chance for them to try a new experience, both being part of an archaeological excavation and cooperating with university students from the USA. For American students this is an excellent chance, too, to practice their Italian and to exchange life experiences.

This year I ran a trench (PC 39) and my students learned also to fill out an archaeological field notebook, take elevations in the trench and draw a map. Everyone rotated through every trench, so Italian and American students were able to know each other and become friends: never missing fun and laughs.

Some of my Italian students were invited by American students and supervisors to the final night dinner party, and they sounded so enthusiastic when they told me about that. I consider this program very interesting and stimulating, and really hope it is possible that it becomes larger every year to be a language and cultural program in addition to the archaeological one!

In Italian:

Mi chiamo Fiammetta Calosi e sono archeologa. Ho cominciato a lavorare a Poggio Colla nel 2002, quando ancora ero studentessa all’Universita di Firenze. Ho iniziato scavando con gli studenti americani e ogni anno sono stata parte del MVAP. Dopo le esperienze sul campo come archeologa, dopo essere stata Assistant Illustrator della disegnatrice del progetto, sono diventata Archaeological Consultant.

Italy-Fiammetta_rt_TrenchPC39.jpg Nella stagione 2006-2007 abbiamo cominciato il programma archeologico che coinvolge studenti italiani delle scuole superiori “Italian High-School Student Program,” che si svolge all’interno del MVAP in collaborazione con la Comunita Montana del Mugello e al quale ogni anno partecipano piu di 30 studenti italiani delle scuole superiori; io insegno loro Storia dell’Arte Etrusca e metodologie di scavo e li seguo nel loro lavoro sul sito.

Questo programma e un’ottima occasione per loro sia di vivere un’esperienza in campo archeologico, sia di collaborare con studenti universitari americani, e di conoscere cos un mondo nuovo, esercitandosi nell’uso dell’Inglese. Per gli studenti americani e una bella occasione per scambiarsi esperienze di vita con studenti di un altro paese, per conoscere da vicino la realta italiana e per esercitare l’uso della lingua. Il team inglese, che si occupa di una parte dello scavo di Poggio Colla, contribuisce a rendere il progetto ancora piu interessante, con nuovi studenti provenienti da universita inglesi e con un approccio ancora differente allo scavo archeologico.

Italy-Fiammetta_with_students.jpg Quest’anno ho diretto un saggio (PC 39) ed i miei studenti hanno imparato a scrivere un diario di scavo, a prendere le quote sul saggio e a disegnare una pianta. Ogni studente ha lavorato a rotazione in un saggio differente; in questo modo italiani, americani e inglesi hanno avuto la possibilita di parlare e di fare amicizia e non sono mancate risate e situazioni divertenti.

Alcuni dei miei studenti hanno partecipato alla festa di fine stagione, e i loro racconti sembravano davvero entusiasti!

Mi auguro che questo programma possa diventare piu grande ogni anno, per poter essere un interessante progetto culturale e di scambio linguistico, oltre che archeologico.

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Our last day of digging

Danielle1.jpg An update from Danielle, a student at Franklin and Marshall College:

Our final day of excavation has arrived. Tomorrow morning we will all wake up for our last morning of digging on the hill. After we leave the site tomorrow, it is all downhill, or should I say back-fill, from that point on.

Each of the trenches has discovered their own important and unexpected finds; each trench often more curious about other people’s finds than their own. Some bronze, vessels, tiles, and good times have made Poggio Colla an amazing experience.

This week on site has been extremely hot, and our giddiness has been accentuated by the perpetual heat and sun exposure. The weather aside, I feel that I can speak on behalf of all the Poggio Colla students from this season in saying that we could not have chosen a better program to participate in this summer. The food I’ve eaten, people I’ve met, finds I’ve uncovered, and personal learning that I’ve undergone cannot begin to describe these past five weeks.

Danielle_trench.jpg These next few days of back-fill will certainly be enjoyable (especially for those of us who would rather not find a bronze lump), but in the back of my mind will certainly be the nagging sensation that I at least got to enjoy archaeology and Italy in a way that I will never be able to in quite the same way again.

I will only leave you with these final words of advice. Probably some of the most important guidance for life and for archaeology:

“Drink more water.”
“Keep it clean.”

Ciao from Italia!

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Hard work pays off

An update from Ali, a student at Franklin and Marshall College:

I don’t know what I went into this dig thinking, but this is nothing I expected. I am finally at the point where I can say that it is better than what I thought it was going to be. Once you get past waking up every morning at 5:30, walking up a mountain, digging for eight hours, getting covered in dirt, washing pottery, having enough time for an army style shower, and then having an hour and fifteen minute lecture, it is really quite amazing.

Ali2.jpg I came into the dig with the thought that this was going to be easy. This is everything but easy, yet it is still one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. I think my first big accomplishment was cutting out a tree stump with an ax. I, being a spoiled girl from Minnesota, have never gone near an ax before. Cutting out the stump made me realize that I could really do the work that archaeology required. This occurred in one of the first weeks at the site.

After that, we were assigned trenches and I, of course, was assigned PC 34. For those of you who have never been to the site, PC 34 is in the sun ALL OF THE TIME! As previously mentioned, I am from Minnesota, which means I do not do well with heat. So my next big accomplishment was realizing that I could manage in the heat and actually survive. From this point, my trench went on to find numerous amazing pieces of pottery and pithoi, and of course the famous loom weights of PC 34. I really began to enjoy the long days of hard work and the feeling of knowing I worked hard all day long.

Ali_and_Katie_trenchteam.jpg But the highlight of my trip so far had to be last Friday (24 July 09). Our trench had been given the ok to extend the trench, and we knew that we needed to work hard. Our day started with Andrea telling us that we were going to work harder in the upcoming week then we ever had before – just what you want to hear at 7 am after four weeks of already hard work – but the amazing thing was, my trench mates and I looked at each other and just responded that we could do it.

We were split into two teams, one to work on the extension and get it leveled to stratum two and the other to work in locus 5 unearthing what we believe to be a floor level. About mid-day, our trench assistant Matt was too ill to continue to work. At this point I was thinking there was no way we could finish all the work with our trench down a member, but I think I was the only one with this doubt.

Then it was time for lunch break, which is usually a half hour, but today our team made it shorter in order to get back to work in the trench. It started with one person going back, and then the rest followed. We had a goal and we needed to achieve it. During the next two hours, we worked incredibly hard and we accomplished our goal: we had made it down to stratum two.

We got back to the house and we all passed out. I fell asleep without even taking a shower. Looking back on that day, it was by far the hardest I have ever worked at the site and yet my favorite. It showed how much our trench has bonded into a team and how much we are all working toward the same goal. I have never played a team sport, but I imagine that this is how a team would feel after winning a close game.

I can’t believe this is all over in two weeks and that I will be leaving Tuscany and returning to the States to write a 16-page paper. I will be leaving all of the great friends I have made, the amazing food prepared for dinner, the quiet village of Vicchio, the weekends of travel, the days filled with hard work, the co-op runs, urban needs – but I will be leaving with the memories of my Italian adventure.

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Memories and moving forward


An update from Avery, a student at Franklin and Marshall College:

I woke up this morning to find the house a very quiet and desolate place. Most of the students had left for the train station, leaving me time to catch up on some much needed rest, work on my notebook and research paper, and reflect on the past month we’ve spent at Poggio Colla.


Now that I look back on it, it’s all a very overwhelming whirlwind of memories. The torrents of rain, thunder, and lightning that our coach driver plowed through to get us to Vicchio. Shuffling about the kitchen at 6 in the morning and talking in sleepy, incoherent mumbles. Climbing up the hill with “Eye of the Tiger” blaring in the background. The satisfaction of peeling away another stratum or removing a fineware base from the earth. The Pavlovian reaction we’ve acquired to the words “Cookie break!” The British team. The Italian high school students. The film crew. Biscuit. The FOD. Trenches. Scarps. Walls. Tile. Iron. Bronze. Bone. Bucchero. Coarseware. Fineware. Black glaze. Gratti…

Avery1.jpg The disappointment of stepping into the shower and realizing that our “tans” were just layers of dirt and sweat. Our attempts at speaking Italian to our Tuscan hosts with sometimes successful results (sometimes). Walking back from Guardia with flashlights in hand under a blanket of stars. Drinking in news from the US with every phone call and at every internet cafe. Ho Hum Racing. Pottery washing. Handwashing laundry. Alien babies. Mosquito bites. The occasional scorpion sighting. Belly Shirt Thursdays. Coop. Nutella. Kinder Eggs. Rib nights. Train rides. Sunny skies. The ever-beautiful Tuscan countryside. Chatter and laughter at the dinner table as the day fades into night…

It’s hard to believe that a month ago we were just a bunch of strangers hanging out in an airport cafe.

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A glimpse into ancient Etruscan life

An update from Erin, an SMU Master of Liberal Studies student:

I remember the first time I heard about the Etruscans. I was in an art history class in undergrad one summer, and it was the very first slide of the very first lecture. They were described as a strange and wonderful culture of people of unknown origin, who produced exquisite metal artifacts and wonderful animal motif ceramics.

I was hooked immediately. I dreamed of how amazing it would be to excavate in picturesque Tuscany and unearth evidence of Etruscan culture that had been buried for thousands of years.

This summer I got my chance. I joined the Poggio Colla excavation in Vicchio after a week tour with Dr. Greg Warden of Etruscan sites and museums located throughout Italy. Each stop on our tour led us to extensive collections of Etruscan artifacts, of enormous tombs carved of stone with wonderful frescos of banquets and hunting scenes – all glimpses into the life of the Etruscan elite.

I have to say, if the Etruscans ate as well as I did during my two-and-a-half week adventure, they must have been a very happy people. Everywhere we went, the gastronomy was incredible. I had delicious prosciutto, gelato and fresh buffalo mozzarella daily – three of my favorite Italian staples. I was also constantly drinking espresso, which was everywhere in great quality.

Jose%20and%20Naomi%20Bowen%20visit%20Poggio%20Colla.jpg The excavation, though physically exhausting, was extremely interesting. Each day held new discoveries and posed new questions for us about what was happening in our trenches. I love how archaeology is such a jigsaw puzzle, with so many components to figure out. It was also great to feel like my contribution, however small, was measurable and valuable to the overall understanding of Etruscan culture.

At the end of the adventure, my only regret was the boarding pass back to D/FW in my hand. I think I’ll have to come back next summer in order to continue my experimental archaeology project of the daily life in Etruria – and do some more research on the gastronomy while I’m at it.

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Documenting the journey: A blessing and a curse

Katie_Breen.jpg An update from Katie, a student at the University of Massachusetts:

We’re approaching the four-day break with great anticipation, though we’re going to miss the site before long. Much is happening in all the trenches.

In PC34, we’ve finally leveled off the trench and can see the foundation cut for the feature 11 wall. We’ve also excavated (what we thought was) most of the pithos, but we’ve found two more layers underneath the original layer, and now we’re beginning to think we have a pit rather than natural destruction… it’s all so complicated!

Katie2.jpg I’m starting to see all the work that goes in to making an excavation possible, and because we’re responsible for keeping trench notebooks, I feel like we as students are so much more involved in what’s going on than I was before. The notebooks are going all right. Many of us are worried we’re not doing things the way they should be done, but we were told that there’s no one right way to go about doing it, as long as we document everything we need to document.

I feel like it’s a blessing and a curse keeping these notebooks: they keep us informed, but they require much thought, time, and energy when we have little to give after a long, hard day up on site.

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The aches, the pains, the exhilaration

passport.JPG An update from Jody, an SMU Master of Liberal Studies student:

Having returned to Dallas after two weeks in Italy as part of the Etruscan Archaeology class offered by SMU’s Master of Liberal Studies program, yes, it’s good to be home. I have returned to my pets, my own pillow, driving my car and Mexican food. These are all good reasons to be home. But, reality can come rushing back all too soon. Summer session two begins tomorrow, my dentist wants to reschedule, my former student’s tutor wants to consult, bills are due, my luggage is at least a day behind me.

Only a couple of days ago, my life was an adventure, set in another time and place, devoted to an elite mission – perceiving and understanding the culture and legacy of the Etruscans.

The first week of travel was devoted to visiting museums and tomb sites in Rome and across the landscape of ancient Etruria. The tours were all the more exceptional because they were led by Dr. Greg Warden, one of the world’s leading scholars of Etruscan art history.

Images of hillside villas, undulating mountains, brilliant sunflower fields, silvery olive trees, and lush gorges still linger in my memory. The cool stone walls carved to perfection 2,600 years before, the dank smell of mold issuing from the dark recesses of ancient tombs, the determined brilliance of ancient wall paintings – dancing Etruscans and lounging banqueters – are all still vivid to my senses.

The second week of exploration was devoted to archaeological study at Poggio Colla, an Etruscan site about 20 miles north of Florence in the rustic Mugello Valley. This was the point in the journey I expected the greatest test of my abilities and experience, yet I was eager to learn the art of excavation.

I was taking on the study of history and culture in a way that no amount of reading could satisfy. I envisioned myself reaching into the earth, revealing the matter of human experience with my own hands. I could not wait to begin digging. What I would dig up, was indeed the matter of human experience, some of it ancient, some very much of the present.

In the trenches

Once I was nestled into an antique farmhouse in the historical town of Vicchio, my routine as an excavator began. I awoke in the mornings at 5:45 and threw on the least dusty clothes I could find, put together a hasty breakfast with my roommates, and hustled to make carpool. The 4×4 seemed a kind of monster driving through the little town, but was necessary for scaling the hill that would lead to the site. For a mile I twisted, bumped and rocked straight uphill, often laughing aloud in response to the hopelessness of maintaining any sort of composure in such a situation. Then I climbed up, on foot, another half a mile or so, the rest of the way to the site.

Italy%202009%20336.jpg Rotating among three active trenches, I used pickaxes, and trowels and sifters, and took orders. I was a completely different person, with only a vague memory of who I had been when I left Texas, just days before. I had become a person who used the latrine – the one I helped dig. I sweated and burned under the sun; I bent until my back seared with pain, I knelt until my knees were raw. I squatted until I felt the pinch of every muscle I knew existed between my hips and toes; I even felt the rebellion of a few muscles I had never recognized before. I had many times given into my age and exhaustion and sat down in the excavation trench – feeling the shame of it; supervisors’ eyes heavy on me and my own disappointment heavier. I was blistered and achy and insecure. I was reminded of how terrifying it can be to be one of the least competent in the bunch.

Always surrounded by people I had just met, I constantly questioned the impression I was making as a student, a woman, a person. Working with many students half my age, I felt alternately superior, having watched a great deal more television than they, and envious, having lost a great deal more muscle, stamina and optimism than they. Working under people whose knowledge and skills were formidable (some of them also, half my age), the need to please them played with the highs and lows of my days.

Evidence of the Etruscans

In the evenings, a quick shower answered most grievances, and fried squash blossoms soothed all else. After leisurely communal meals, feeling the elegant buzz of red wine, I strolled through a wheat field and down the middle of a vineyard to find my way back to the converted farmhouse that was my home for the week. And it did feel like going home.

Before I left, I knew I felt genuine affection for those people half my age, and I recognized that my insecurities were no greater than theirs. My admiration for the supervisors and directors was matched by my gratitude for their patience and encouragement. I parted with memories of one-liners, songs sung, and of hundreds of little kindnesses – a bottle of sunblock shared, a plate cleared, the weight of a backpack lifted, a seat deferred. And I remember all of these moments set against the most extravagant landscape the earth has to offer.

I can still feel the exhilaration of the morning of my final day of excavation, uncovering the base of an ancient Etruscan vase – they were here! The Etruscans lived. They had a purpose; they had needs and means by which they met those needs. And I can prove it!

Leaving Vicchio and Italy, I thought of the people I am glad to have known, even if just for a little while, and I was aware of some uncertainties yet to be resolved, some insecurities lingering. I was and am aware that I am grateful for the discomfort – the aches, the challenges, and the self-awareness. I am reminded that I am alive, engaged, and not unlike the Etruscans, that my story is yet, unfinished.

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