Jessica in Italy

Jessica is a senior marketing major, with a minor in art history, who leaves in June for an archaeological dig outside of Vicchio, in the Mugello Valley, as part of SMU-in-Italy: Archaeology. The site is an Etruscan settlement that has been being excavated for about 12 years.

I want to be a soil scienteeeeest

Soil1.jpgToday, Kyle and I were assigned to work with Thijs, the geo-scientist who is working on surveying the rest of the area around Poggia Colla. Thijs is from the Netherlands and looks like a Viking! He is roughly the size of the hotel room I had in Rome, about 7 feet tall and 4 across; at first we were intimidated but he is super nice and says the funniest things. (In photo: Kyle, John, Tim, Me, and Thijs)

We went down the mountain, hiking through brambles, and took coring samples on a grid of 25 meters by 20 meters. The coring samples will be used to map the mountain to give the archaeologists an idea of where there are other areas of habitation.

Coring is done by taking a gauge that is a meter long and 2cm in diameter and hammering it into the ground and then pulling it out to see the layers of stratigraphy; through the soil we are able to see if there are “habitation layers” or archaeological inclusions, which would mean that there had been civilization there. Then, if we find inclusions or see a habitation layer (which is shown through the color and packed-ness of the soil as well as gravel percentage) we move on to use the large auger. We twist it into the ground and pull it out and analyze the soil every 10 cm down.

My job for the day was using the gauge. I had to drive it into the ground with a mallet and then pull it out and analyze the soil. This job requires a lot of muscle, and Thijs told me that to pull the gauge out I “must be strong like Eastern German woman legs.” Another time when I said that I liked being a soil scientist, he asked “Are those the arms you have or the arms you are going to have? They must be beeeggga! (bigger)”

After yanking out the gauge, we looked at the soil and took notes on the textures of each layer as well as where the inclusions were; we also used a Munsell chart to describe the color of the soil at every 10 cm of depth. Kyle then had to use the auger to pull up larger amounts of dirt so that we could further analyze it.

Soil2.jpgAlthough the job was hard and literally every plant on that side of the mountain is equipped with some sort of awful thorns (see leg scrapes in photo), today was the most fun I had working yet. Thijs was really funny and Kyle and I learned a lot.

Core sampling is kind of like instant gratification archaeology; you get to see immediately what is down there without having to take off each dirt layer individually. Also, we found what we believe to be three different houses as well as terracing and a midden pile, so it was exciting to know there was probably a town underneath us.

Dinner2.jpgThe results of the tests that we did will be put into the GIS map that gives a big picture of the mountain and has even shown us that the sanctuary on top of Poggia Colla had sight lines to other temples in the area. These maps are used to give us a better idea of the culture of the Etruscans in this area. We had a really interesting lecture about this and other survey techniques tonight from Robert Vander Poppen and Ivo Van der Graaff.

We got to spend time in town today, to shop and hang out. The town of Vicchio is so so so small. We wandered around, bought some food and snacks at the Coop, and had gelato. Then home for pizza dinner with just the students.

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The humus layer

Humus1.jpgWell, I am no longer shoveling. Today, I was in PC34, Liz’s trench. We were working on peeling back the humus layer, the top layer of soil that is not an archaeological layer.

The way that excavation works is that you peel back individual layers of soil one at a time through the whole trench before moving on to what is below it. It was a lot of slow scraping with the trowel and a lot of asking “Is this a rock … or is it a something?” It was nice not to be moving huge amounts of dirt at a time and to get down to the real excavating!

We also got to look through Liz’s field notebook and see what kinds of thing we will be taking notes about in our own field notebooks. And then tonight Dr. Robert Vander Poppen gave a lecture on how to set up our field notebooks and what type of notes to take in the field.

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The Brits

Brit2.jpgToday, Alex, Cathy, and I went down to help out the British group in the trench that they have opened down the hill from us. Louisa, Phil, Nathan and Freya are here for three weeks to excavate a trench. Today, we were working on taking out the second layer of strata.

Brit3.jpgFreya has opened another very small trench and is excavating about one and a half meters down. Today she uncovered quite a bit of pottery as well as a spindle whorl! The spindle whorl was used to spin thread from wool. This one is unique because it was decorated with carvings.

It was very exciting to hold this bit of history in my hand! This is the first artifact that I have gotten to see come out of the trenches … hopefully more to come!

Maybe tomorrow I won’t have to be a shoveling workhorse … we shall see!

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First full day of work

Dig1.jpgToday, at the site, we spent the day preparing the trenches for the start of the dig season. This included cleaning up the new trenches for photographs and taking out the backfill layer on the reopened trench.

I spent the first few hours sweeping dirt and clipping roots in PC33 so that they can take the initial pictures. The pictures will help with contextual issues so that they will know where the disturbances are, such as tree trunks that might have disturbed the context of the features below. They also give exact visual representation of what the trench looked like in every stage much better than a drawing.

Dig2.jpgAfter that, we started to remove the backfill dirt from the previously opened trench, which meant a lot of pick axing and shoveling. I can now officially be a landscaper with my mad shoveling skills!

Lasagna for dinner … delicious!! Manual labor is exhausting though!

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Day one in the field

On the first day, we were able to “sleep in” until 7 in the morning before heading up to the site. We saw the Podere Funghi, which is where the signs of settlement in the area were first discovered by farmers plowing the field and pulling up pottery. This is where the kilns have been found and where the Keck Geological group will be working with magnetronomy and other survey techniques to test for other finds and architecture below the soil. We then hiked up the mountain to Poggia Colla, where we will be working.

There are four trenches that will be opened this season, including PC32, which was open last year as well. In PC32, they have found a wall as well as what seems to be votive deposits of loom-weights and an upside-down column base that is thought to be part of the ritual destruction of the temple that once stood on the hilltop. This year they will be excavating further to determine the context of the ritual deposits that were found last year and to see if there are more deposits.

Trench PC33 is a new trench this year and it is thought that there may be a continuation of the walls in that trench. The trench supervisor for PC33 is Catherine. PC34, Liz’s trench, is on the north side of the site. On the west side of the site, is Aksel’s trench, PC35, which was under a tile pile that had added up for 14 years.

We spent the first day up on the site moving tile off of trench PC35. Since there was once a building on Poggia Colla, there is an abundance of tile that has been found in excavation. Only the corner tiles and other interesting ones are taken to the lab to be studied – the rest can’t tell us anything new so they are just stacked up.

vignaSunset.jpgAfter work, we had shower time and had a lecture introducing us to Tuscany and the Etruscan culture. We had pizza from a local place that was so yummy while we sat outside and watched the sun set over the vineyard, so beautiful. I absolutely love it here!!

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Our home in Vicchio

vigna3.jpgWhen we finally arrived, it was so worth the journey! This place is most definitely the prettiest place I have ever seen.

From our home, we can see vineyards and fields and beautiful landscape. Looking out over the valley it is unbelievable how gorgeous Tuscany is.

vignagroup.jpgOur group is really nice and everyone seems to get along (in photo: Me, Kyle, Casey, Matt, Alex, Mindy, Alex T., Joanna, Leigh). But I may be the least qualified as an archaeologist of the group with my business major, as most of the others are archaeology or anthropology or classics majors.

I am living in one of the rooms in the farmhouse with another girl named Isa, who is a very sweet girl and a Theater, Art History and Classics major at Swarthmore.

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Arrival in Rome

Rome2.jpgWe flew all day Thursday and finally arrived at 8 o’clock in the morning to Rome Fuimicino Airport – thank goodness Cameron was on my flight and stayed at the same hotel as me.

Rome1.jpgWe dropped our bags at the hotel and started wandering the neighborhood around the Piazza Republica.

We started down the street in front of the hotel with no destination in mind and soon found ourselves in the Imperial Forum (right) and the column of Trajan (left)!

How cool – one second you are walking down a random street just exploring the neighborhood and the next you are smack dab in the middle of ruins and history! Ok, so I’m a nerd, but what a great start to this exploration of mine!

To the hotel …
After grabbing a quick bite in the square we headed back to the hotel to clean up since our rooms were finally ready. When I got up to my room in Hotel Papa Germano,

Rome3.jpgI was expecting it to be sparse, but it was about four feet wide and eight feet long with a bed roughly the size and comfort-level of my suitcase. And the bathroom was down the hall … maybe this staying in European 1 star hotels isn’t good for this SMU girl! But, after a quick shower (in the common bathroom, eek!) and a gulp of water, I met back up with Cameron to journey back to the Termini station where we had scheduled to meet our professor, Dr. Greg Warden.

… And the Villa Guilia
Rome4.jpgWe then met some of our group – an undergrad student from Michigan, Mona, and an SMU grad student, Lu-Jian, and headed off as a group to the Villa Guilia (right), the Etruscan museum. Exploring the museum with Dr. Warden was like a walking lecture hall; he told us everything about the significant pieces in the museum and answered all of our questions. It was awesome!! I didn’t have to read one placard and I found out way more about the pieces! It gave a great preview to what we hope to find and see in our excavations at Poggia Colla.

After the museum, we parted ways and Cameron, Mona, and I went for dinner down in the neighborhood of the Trevi Fountain. After dinner, we sat by the fountain eating gelato and then headed back to go to bed, because we knew that it would be a long day on Saturday. We met up with the group and took a 5-hour bus to our home in Vicchio on Saturday.

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