Steel toed boots? Check. Indiana Jones hat? Check. Sunblock? Check. Trowel? Check.
Maybe an unusual packing list for a trip to Europe, but perfect for a Tuscan excavation, which is exactly why I had the opportunity to spend about a month and a half in Europe, immersed in a new culture, meeting new people, and learning new skills.
For a month this summer I was on a multi-national excavation team digging in Cinigiano, Italy. The dig was called the Roman Peasant Project, which looked into the material culture of peasants in the Roman and late-antique periods. This was the sixth and final season of the project, which has excavated eleven sites since 2009. This project was groundbreaking in both the questions being asked and methodologies being used. In a lot of textbooks, the peasantry is painted as a fairly stagnant, subservient, and subsistence-living entity, but also as a massive percentage of the population. The Roman Peasant Project is trying to challenge and complicate perceptions of the peasantry, by digging a variety of sites to prove the variety of ways of life of these rural, non-elites. This season we dug at Tombarelle, one hill which has its own complicated story. We excavated what we suspect is the base of a medieval tower (built from a Roman cistern), a tannery, a kiln, and some dumps of rubbish. We found massive collections of ceramics, including the largest collection of second century AD black gloss-ware, definitely the largest collection ever found outside a city, and potentially the largest collection found ever. For a history nerd like me, no matter how basic the find, simply discovering and holding things more than two millennia old was surreal.
Having the opportunity to be a part of this project means so much to me, because I plan on continuing to grad school next year, and eventually to a Ph.D. program. As a small school, Swarthmore doesn’t offer archaeology, so this dig has offered me an opportunity to explore a different aspect of classical and medieval studies. The Roman Peasant Project was a joint effort between the University of Pennsylvania and some Italian scholars, with American, Italian, British, Belgian, Australian, and Czech workers, giving a really diverse global experience. I moved quite a bit of dirt, but it was not all been manual labor. I also learned about the paperwork and documentation side of archaeology, worked with ceramics and ceramics experts, learned new technologies like 3D imaging and surveying with the Total Station, and worked with other specified experts in archaeology, including a bone specialist, archaeo-botanists, and a geo-archaeologist.
I don’t think I’m going to be an archaeologist, but the project has introduced me to international students of all levels of education (undergrad, Masters, Ph.D. candidates, post-doc, tenured professors) who are all interested in similar subjects. They offered insight to my further pursuits in academia, and I also made some amazing friends. My roommates on the dig all go to UPenn so we already have plans to meet up and see each other this fall!
I didn’t just dig while I was in Europe. I had the chance to do some travelling before, during, and after my work on the project. Before I reached Italy, my two biological sisters and I got to visit Dublin and Prague. It was really amazing travelling with them – we’ve always been close, but we’re all in college or living on our own now so besides seeing some amazing museums and historical sites, the trip was a real bonding experience. Once in Italy some of the younger members of the dig team and I got to do some traveling with our limited weekends, hitting some of the small Tuscan towns near us like Paganico, as well as Siena and Florence. In Italy I also saw Pisa, Rome, and Naples. It’s really hard to pick one favorite place that I saw, since I loved everywhere for different reasons. The classicist in me couldn’t help but fall in love with Rome, but Siena was such a clean and friendly city, Prague was just breathtaking, and Dublin was so much fun!
This summer was definitely an amazing experience, one I wouldn’t exchange for anything, though it is nice to be home finally. Nothing’s quite the same as your own cozy bed. Now that I’m home I have a few weeks before I head back to Swat for my final year there (a terrifying thought). As I get ready for my GREs, grad school applications, my history thesis, and cross country season this fall, I can’t help but look further ahead to when I can go back to Italy and Europe. I got to see so much, but there’s infinitely more to see and I can’t wait!