Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Photos and background . . .

What an amazing experience!  Before I post the photos, I would like to give you a little background on the dig site and the area.  Today's town of Populonia (where we stay) is located on the western coast of Tuscany.  I think that Populonia now has a population of probably about two dozen people (in 2009, the population was only 17), but the nearby seaport of Piombino is a moderatly sized town with many restaurants, bars, and other retail and from its shore - you can see the island of Elba.  The area, rich with various metal deposits, was of particular interest to the Etruscans because of its iron ore.  Although there is archaeological evidence dating back to the Bronze Age, our mission was to further investigate the iron ore smelting and production that occured between the 9th century BC and the first or second century AD (estimated) in the area known as San Cerbone off the Gulf of Baratti.  Professor Carolina Meagale from the University of Florence was contacted by the Superintendent of Archaeology about starting a new excavation directly across from the Necropolis (tomb area) that was excavated back in 1957.  This site is actually located within the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia so this is a very exciting opportunity for Carolina and her team!

OK, here are the long-awaited images.  First, some maps to give you an idea of where we worked.

Although I frequently refer to the present-day town of Populonia as the "Hooterville of Italy", the nearby seaport of Piombino is quite lovely.  This entire area was occupied by the Etruscans and if you see the little town at the very left of the ancient map, you will see "Poggio del Mulino" (aka "the Villa") which is the dig site where we worked last year.

At San Cerbone, a new cut was made approximately 30 feet to the west of the Necropolis that was previously excavated in 1957.  
Our site is to the right of that "caution" tape that runs along the right side.

Both sites are right next to the road the runs along the beach.  That little shed is where we kept most of our equipment.

Here is a close up of the main tomb from the old excavation:

 As is often the case with archaeological dig sites, we uncovered more questions than answers.  For one thing, we learned that the entire necropolis has not been excavated as we uncovered several tombs near the old necropolis site.  One of the tombs appears to have been overturned by someone following the Etruscan occupation.  The bones were discarded around the site and this was where we found the two cranium.  Grave goods (so far) included the bronze mirror, bronze ring and the bronze cup.  Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of the bronze ring which was the first artifact that I uncovered.  This is the layer with the tomb prior to excavating the next layer (i.e. digging out the tomb):

These are the two craniums discovered approximately three feet from the "blackboard" in the previous photo:

And here is a photo of the bronze cup that I uncovered to the right of the tomb (from your perspective looking at the photo) in about the middle:

Further to the right of the tomb and downward (moving to the bottom of the photo and beyond) is an area covered in black/grey dirt.  The tomb layer is red and we believe that because the site slopes, we will find the red layer again underneath the black/grey area.  The black/grey area seems to be filled with old pottery, animal bones and charcoal suggesting that the animals were cooked here.  However, we also think it might be a trash site.  I wish we could have continued to excavate here for just a few more days but it will have to wait until next year.  Here is the photo of the largest piece of amphora that I uncovered:

I uncovered several amphora pieces here.  Stefano showed us the handle of this one and where the potter had made his "stamp" which is the imprint of his thumb.  According to Stefano, who is a pottery expert from the University of Pisa, this one was used primarily for wine.  Of course, I'll bet that you could probably say any jug, amphora, or vessel was used for wine and it would be a good guess.  Maybe not but wine is certainly not a surprise, right?  Other amphora pieces that I uncovered were cleaned:
The amphora pieces are the semi-circles on the right side and at the top.  I also uncovered these two large nails:

And a glass bead that did not photograph well.  (sorry!)  This site was extremely unusual because we uncovered artifacts every single day.  We expect to find grave goods when tombs are present but I was surprised at all the pottery uncovered and it took us several days to wash and tag it all.  By the way, I find washing and tagging pottery to be very dull.  I would rather slave in the hot sun than sit under a tree and wash pottery.

On the next to the last day, we all cleaned the site for the aerial photo:
So everyone starts at the top and works backward with a bucket and a small whisk broom.  It's crazy.  I argued for a big broom but apparently using a household size broom is not considered GAAP (generally accepted archaeological practice).   Yeah, I made that joke on site and no one laughed then either.

So if you take a look at the "cleaned" site above, you can see the tomb in the upper left hand corner.  Moving downward and to the right is the black/grey layer with all the pottery.  Moving further to the right is a wall and further down is the area where we believe the iron ore was produced.  The ground against that outer right wall is VERY hard and this is where I sliced my finger open, which is healing quite nicely now.  In fact, I doubt you will even be able to see the scar.  Overall, we are very puzzled by this site and looking forward to working there again soon.  In the fall, Carolina and her team will go back to the Villa to work for six weeks and won't return to this site at San Cerbone until next May.  I will be there - for the entire six weeks next year.

Clara, Melissa, me, Carolina and Ryan
(the remaining American students with Carolina & Clara)

So I hope you enjoyed this blog.  For those of you who pledged donations to the Archaeology Center at Columbia, I can't tell you how much we appreciate your support.  Archaeological endeavors are plagued by shortfalls and it's very difficult to find funds to finance projects, equipment, and research.  I want to thank you again for your most gracious and generous contribution.  Every little bit helps.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions about the site or anything else, please feel free to email me or post questions here.  I will be starting the Masters Program at Columbia in September, so the journey will continue . . . 

(Special thanks to Jane for helping me with the blog!!)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Huh!  Not sure what happened to that last post.  Well, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get to Ostia so it will be another all day thing.  I finally have fast internet service so I hope to work on the photos tonight and tomorrow when I get back from Ostia.  I'm looking forward to posting an explanation of the site and its history, etc.
Carlo (one of Carolina's staff) decided to leave for Rome with me for the 11:54am train out of Campiglia and we almost missed it.  As the train got closer and closer to Rome, the heat soared.  Carlo (who lives in Rome) was getting phone calls from his friends saying "Stay there!  Don't come home!" because of the heat.  From Rome, I caught the Freccia Rossa express train to Naples and from there - Pompei.  The hotel gave me a room with a bath tub and I almost fell asleep in it.

The next day, I went to Naples to the Archaeological museum then back to my hotel in Pompei.  Just as I had gotten settled, there was a knock at the door which I assumed would be the maid.  To my surprise, Ryan (from the dig) was there, and she & her boyfriend Matt had taken the room across the hall from me - a very pleasant surprise.  This morning, I met my Italian professor from Columbia for coffee then joined Ryan and Matthew at the Pompei ruins.  After several hours (and still without seeing everything), we caught the train together for Naples then went our separate ways.  I arrived in Rome at 5pm and took a room at the same hotel as before - this time with a bath tub.  After spending 3 weeks on a dig site, the bath tub thing is VERY important.

Tomorrow, I go to Ostia Antica which is just south of Fiumcino Airport.  http://www.ostia-antica.org/
It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get there so this will be another all day thing.  Tomorrow night, I will finally get to grab a beer with Giulia Peresso who has been working on a few dig sites in Rome.  Wednesday, it is back to New York.

I finally have internet fast enough to work on some of the photos although they probably won't get posted until I am back.  Looking forward to explaining the history of the site.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fortunately, the weather has been better over the past few days and we have spent this time cleaning up the site for the final aerial photo.  Wednesday morning, Stefano handed me a bucket and a whisk broom and said, "And now, we clean" and asked me to start in the upper left hand corner of the site and brush up all the sand and loose pebbles.  I looked at him and said, "I'm going to need a bigger broom."  I cleaned all day Wednesday until my back could not take it any more then switched places with Melissa for an hour to wash pottery.  On Thursday, EVERYONE got on site with whisk brooms and continued to clean until the entire site had been swept.  After the aerial photo was taken, we continue to dig in Carolina's area and did not stop working until 4pm on Friday.  We have uncovered so much but we have also have uncovered more questions.  I really look forward to returning here and working with Carolina and her staff again.

On my way to Pompei for two days then Rome then home.  Almost out of internet time so I will quit for now and post more later - hopefully some photos as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Mama said there'd be days like this . . . "
The last two days have been so incredibly hot and the Tuscan sun has been brutal.  Sunday night after we returned from Cinque Terre, Melissa started throwing up and continued to throw up until 7am in the morning.  Ryan started coughing in the middle of the night and I was having one of my rough nights sleeping regardless of the girls' maladies.  Today, everyone is better.  I am working in the area west of the tomb and we are trying to find out the dates of the various layers.  I uncovered several big parts to another amphora and two very old (and very large) nails.  Most important is trying to move enough dirt over the next final few days in order to understand what has happened over time in this particular area.

I am hoping for cooler weather tomorrow, or at least a nice breeze.

A domani . . .

Sunday, June 17, 2012

So on Friday, I had the honor of uncovering a very large piece of an amphora.  We found pieces of a smaller amphora nearby.  Again, I took great photos but have not been able to post anything yet due to the extremely limited internet access.  We went to Cinque Terre this past weekend and returned very tired.  We are starting the final week on Monday so there will be much work to do in a short period of time.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Well, it is not easy typing with a bandaged finger but I wanted to post about this week.  On Tuesday, we returned to the tomb area and started uncovering the tomb.  So far, we have completely filled two “bone bags” and will probably start on a third tomorrow.  The bones are from at least two people but we don’t know if they were buried together or just found in the same area because the tomb has been destroyed.  We also don’t know who destroyed the tomb but it could have been the Romans.  We are finding grave goods that are typically buried with females such as loom weights and the bronze mirror that was found last week.  Yesterday, I found a very interesting bronze cup that I will post a photo of later.  I also found a glass bead and today we uncovered pottery pieces that compose an Etruscan tea cup.  (not sure that the Etruscans drank tea – only saying that’s what it looks like.)  We also removed one of the craniums today and we’ll remove the other tomorrow.  Yesterday, I uncovered a “jaw” with two teeth still in tact so if both craniums still have their faces and jaws, then we will know that there are now at least three people buried in the general area where we are digging.  On one hand, I hate that we are handling / disturbing someone’s final resting place but on the other hand, whomever destroyed the tomb left the bodies strewn about so at least we can try to re-assemble them again and show them some respect.

I am exhausted and ready for some recovery time this weekend.  I have blisters and bruises and I am a dead skin factory.  My finger is better – I changed the bandage today but I look forward to removing the bandage all together. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11th - Monday
We had new volunteers and students arrive last night so they had to sit in orientation this morning while only a few of us left for the site.  I continued to work on Carolina's wall all morning and the space is very tight between the wall of the structure that Carolina has uncovered and the outer perimeter wall of the site.  I have to trowel between the rocks that have become "glued" to the wall with old dirt, etc.  The dirt is very hard and I frequently have to use the trowel like a pick or hammer and just before lunch, I managed to slice my middle finger open.

Carolina insisted that she drive me to the hospital in Piombino so I ended up spending the afternoon there.  They cleaned it very well and decided to use steri-strips instead of stitches to close the wound.  They gave me an antibiotic and also looked at my right eye while I was there.  I had a tetanus a year ago so I did not have to get another.  They wrapped my middle finger in a bunch of gauze then put a white fishnet thingy over it.  I can't get it wet for a week.  It doesn't hurt - just an inconvenience.  Actually, there is much more discomfort with my right eye but the doc said it's just irritated and gave me some drops.

I'm planning to work tomorrow but we'll have to wait and see.  I'm definitely going to have to buy/wear a better pair of gloves!  I bought a new camera in Siena this past weekend so I hope to post some photos for you guys very soon.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 7, 2012 – Thursday
I still have not viewed the artifacts uncovered so far.  I’m afraid if I ask, I’ll get stuck on pottery lab duty which I find very boring so I'm going to wait until next week.  Hopefully I'll have a camera by then and can take photos to post here.  

Today is the last day for the Earth Watch volunteers so I was happy to be able to work with a few of them at the bone site near the exterior wall.  We have removed the tibia and other bones but left the cranium (which is face down with a large hole in the back of the head) to be uncovered later by the professors.  (By the way, the “dagger” that I mentioned earlier that was discovered with the bones turned out to be a spear point.)  We put a bucket over the bone site so that we would not accidentally step on the cranium or other remaining bones and continued to work on the exterior wall that seems to extend beyond the perimeter of the excavation, which will probably mean another excavation in the near future.

We found a few pieces of pottery, some possibly part of the bucchero but really not very much.  Today was a lot of dirt moving with few finds which is a typical day in archaeology, and the lazy students have ruined my dirt pile ramp.  It’s amazing to me how someone can just walk up with a wheelbarrow of dirt then dump it at the base of the ramp.  I’ve started yelling at the students (both the Italian students and the American students) when I see someone approach the dirt pile, which seems to amuse the professors.

So that’s it for the day.  It was really just a day of moving dirt.  When I got home, I discovered a red half moon shape below my left scapula that was harshly sunburned.  I’ll have to be more careful with my sunscreen application in the future.  In the evening, we went to Piombino for dinner with the Earth Watch volunteers then said our goodbyes when we returned home as we would not be seeing most of them in the morning.

July 8th – Friday
Drizzling and very cool with a strong wind.  It’s just the four American students now and the ten or so Italian students with the professors.  The precipitation had stopped by the time we got to the site so we worked in the strong winds until the 10:30 break.  As soon as we arrived at the café next to the Archaeological Museum (where we take our breaks), the sky turned dark and started drizzling harder as the wind whipped the café’s canvas window shades around like sails.  We took a longer break than usual then went back to the site when the drizzle stopped.  I am now working in a different area because Stefano went to Pisa to drop off the Earth Watch volunteers at the airport and won’t be back until Sunday evening.  Carolina does not want me to work near the bone/wall area alone so I’m working on uncovering the area next to a structure that the Italian students had previously uncovered.  The ground is so hard so I was actually glad to have a little rain to soften the dirt.  After lunch, the sun came out and we continued the grind with winds that constantly blew handfuls of dirt into our eyes.  There were a few goggles but they were snatched up quickly.  Fortunately, we quit early at 4:15pm and by that time, my right eye was red and swollen from all the blowing sand. 

This was the Italian students’ last day so Carolina took them for pizza for dinner so the girls in my apartment and I made dinner for ourselves.  Everyone is leaving town for the weekend, including me and my house-mates.  Deborah is headed for Rome tomorrow while Melissa and I are going to Sienna.  The three of us will be on the same train until Campiglia Marittima then we will go our separate ways.  We think it’s strange that the three of us will be the “veterans” now that everyone else has gone.  We hear that there will be four more Earth Watch volunteers on Sunday and a new American student named “Ryan” but that’s the extent of our information.  Regardless, it will be a small group next week and a lot of work.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I’m sorry that I am behind in my updates!  We only have internet at the local bar (where we usually go, following dinner) but I have been logging my posts in Microsoft Word and will post them now.

New Passport from the US Embassy and new credit card from Amex.  Took the train from Rome to Campiglia Marittima and Carlo from Professor Meagale’s staff picked me up to drive me to Populonia.  Had dinner with the group then went to bed early.

A cacophony of bird noises woke me up at 6am but I struggled to get another hour of sleep.  Our typical schedule is to leave for the dig site no later than 8:15am and be set up and ready to work by 8:45am.  We take a short break around 10:30am then work until lunch at 1pm.  After lunch, we work until 5pm.

This dig site is very different from last year’s dig at the Villa.  Here, we are across the street from the Gulf of Baratti and digging in the Archaeological Park, completely out in the open with no trees for shade.  The Italian sun gets VERY hot and we apply and re-apply sunscreen at every break.  The ground seems harder to work than last year and by the end of the day, we are all exhausted and completely dirty from head to toe.

My first assignment was to work on the outer perimeter “wall” (which is the wall of the giant square hole that comprises the dig site) which involved using both the pick ax and trowel to try to making the outer wall perpendicular to the ground.  First, you need to break up some of the harder pieces with the pick ax then you go back with the trowel to “clean” and make the dig wall even.  After that, I worked in the area where the tomb collapse occurred.  There are several tombs nearby that are in tact but my group was working on an area where a tomb had either caved in or something else happened to it.  There were actually 3 different teams working on different areas around the tomb.  Earlier in the day, one of the teams had found a bronze mirror that currently cannot not be extracted because of the way the stones have eroded on and around it.  Presently, you can only observe the bronze handle sticking out of the stone. Then later this afternoon, I found a bronze ring (perfectly in tact) in the area outside the tomb.  It’s by far the coolest thing I’ve ever uncovered!  We’ll have a better look at our discoveries tomorrow when we wash the pottery and clean the ring and other artifacts.

Today, I started out on wheelbarrow duty which is a drag but we have to take turns doing it.  Then Stefano (one of the professors) asked me to re-engineer the dirt dump site (for the discarded dirt) similar to the way our dump was set up last year so we built a wall from the discarded stones and an incline for pushing the wheelbarrows to the top of the pile to deposit a dump (OF DIRT).  After the morning break, I worked around the tomb again.  There is a hole near the tomb that contains a human tibia and skull and we had to be careful to leave the bones in tact because they crumble so easily.  Yesterday, someone discovered a dagger in the same area, which was probably a grave good.  After lunch, the professors extracted the block containing the bronze mirror which was a tricky process.  It’s still encased in stone and dirt but they will try later to extract the mirror as best they can without doing further damage to it.  The mirror is likely another grave good but for a different person so we are thinking there may be another tomb.  More on that later.

Once I have a camera (again) and can take photos, I will post them to better explain the site and what we are looking for.

We had a lot of cloud cover this afternoon which was very pleasant and the work around the bones was very interesting.  We found vertebrae, a tooth and other bones but the best find was at the very end of the day when we were cleaning (sweeping) the area near the bones and uncovered a bucchero.  Apparently, a bucchero is a vessel that was only made by the Etruscans so the professors were very excited about it.  It does not seem to be a complete piece but there is a big portion of it.  However, it is cracked and will probably fall apart when all the dirt is removed.  Another project for the professors.

This is really an interesting excavation!  We have uncovered so many things in only a few days which is quite unusual for a typical dig site.  Unfortunately, we still have not had a chance to wash pottery and clean the various items uncovered so I haven't had a chance to see the bronze ring I found yesterday.  Hopefully tomorrow (along with the other artifacts.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

So the trip is off to a rough start.

I have often said that typically there are no victims – only volunteers, meaning that frequently we become victims only because we allow ourselves to be victimized or we present ourselves as victims. (There are certainly many exceptions to this, of course, but quite often – this is the case.)

Friday night at dinner while the waiter was trying to talk me into dessert, someone reached over the small wall that separated the outside tables from the motorcycles parked on the street and took my backpack which was in the chair next to me.  It had my camera, passport, and wallet with my credit/bank cards, driver’s license and 70 euro.  Apparently the waiter was in on it because it would have been impossible for him to have not noticed someone reaching that far over the wall, and I was the only person eating outside that evening.  After living in Manhattan for such a long time, I considered myself streetwise to the city’s petty thieves and pickpockets but I was arrogant and that made me vulnerable in Rome. I have learned a lesson.  However, rather than complain about what has happened, I accept that I should have been more careful and I choose to be grateful that I still have my cell phone, my computer and most of my money.  Everything in that backpack can be replaced – it’s “just things” as my father used to say.

However, I will need to stay in Rome an extra day to pick up a new Amex card on Monday morning and meet with someone at the U.S. Embassy about my passport.  I stopped by the Embassy and spoke with a U.S. Marine on the speaker box outside the gates to report the loss of my passport, but she said it would be better if I could come back on Monday when they are open to meet with someone in person about a replacement. 

So staying another day in Rome is not the end of the world but I am anxious to get to the dig site.  The hotel has been very kind and helpful, even giving me a special rate for staying an extra day.  I notified the professor in charge of the excavation and she will try to make arrangements for someone to pick me up on Monday afternoon.  Hopefully, my next post will be more cheerful.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

And so it begins!
First, a big heartfelt "thank you!!!" to all the supporters who pledged contributions to the Center of Archaeology (based at Columbia)!  If you would still like to pledge a contribution - it is not too late!  Just send me an email to my hotmail account at suzi.wilson@hotmail.com.

Meanwhile . . . in less than 24 hours, I'll be on the plane to Rome.  I'll arrive Friday morning and stay in Rome through Sunday morning when I'll catch the train to Piombino.  The professors from Florence University will provide transport from the train station in Piombino to our lodging in Populonia.  Last year, we worked at the old Roman villa of Poggio del Molino but this year, we are moving closer to the coast to excavate the Necropolis of San Cerbone.  More on that in future postings.

Part of the required gear for the dig site includes steel-toed boots, which are neither fashionable nor comfortable (although I *was* able to find a pair in New York black!)  Last year, I was complaining about having to wear these heavy boots to my friend Julie who immediately shared a story about chopping wood at her brother's house.   Apparently, Julie had chopped through a piece of wood and the momentum of her swing continued to bring the ax down on her foot.  Had she not been wearing the steel-toed boots, she would have chopped off her toe.

While I'm in Rome, I'm going to see a friend (Giulia Peresso) with whom I worked at the Poggio del Molino site last year.  She won't be joining us in San Cerbone, but she is currently working at the Trajan's Market ruins in Rome so I'm hoping to get a tour of the ruins while I'm there.

OK, I am off to pack!  The next post should be from Rome . . . .