For most people, the term “archaeologist” conjures up the image of a stubbly man wearing a button-down shirt with pockets, chinos, a leather jacket, a wide-brimmed hat, a saddle-bag, a bull-whip, and a holster with revolver.
I’ve been working as a field archaeologist in Italy for going on 20 years now, and my appearance has never corresponded to that image—except for the stubble, which I proudly wear most days, and not out of vanity, but because my facial hair grows very slowly. I confess to having a broad-brimmed hat, a gag gift from a friend, but it’s too heavy to wear in the Mediterranean heat. Forget about a leather jacket. The pistol and bull-whip, as instruments for maintaining discipline among the crew, have been replaced by the threat of a low grade and/or no letter of recommendation for grad school.
What does a typical contemporary field archaeologist working under the Mediterranean summer sun look like? My outfit, which is pretty typical, includes:
- A slightly tattered polo shirt, symbol of my tortured relationship with bourgeois social conventions, which I respect and despise simultaneously (an attitude I call “archaeo chic”)
- Cargo pants, which allow me to carry truly ridiculous amounts of stuff on my person
- Sandals, which keep my feet from smelling any worse than they really need to
- Reinforced work boots, which keep my toes from getting any more crushed than they really need to be
- A backpack, symbol of my lifelong dedication to scholarly pursuits (or my inability to grow up and get a real job, depending on one’s point of view)
Curious about the cargos?
- Loose change for buying coffee during the day (I don’t make brilliant discoveries without caffeine)
- Chewing gum with xylitol (I don’t make brilliant discoveries when distracted by food particles in my mouth or bad breath)
- A packet of heavy-duty tissues (I don’t make brilliant discoveries with a stuffed up nose)
- Polarized Ray-Ban sunglasses (I don’t make brilliant discoveries in blinding sunlight)
- The key to the lock on the equipment shed (no one makes brilliant discoveries—or any discoveries, period—without access to tools)
- Two cell phones: an iPhone 3GS that keeps me connected to the world (and my sanity), and a bare-bones model that keeps me connected to colleagues and students (and rings continuously…)
- A mini Swiss Army Knife, for defense against irate colleagues and students
Double-strapping the backpack:
- Clipboard with pen
- Water bottle
- Baseball cap
- Cut-proof work gloves
- Reserve pen
- Bottle of non-aspirin painkillers
- Asthma inhaler
- Hand-sanitizing lotion
- Reserve packet of heavy-duty tissues
- Digital camera for capturing what used to be known as “Kodak moments”
- Pocket flashlight for exploring the many underground spaces of Ostia Antica
Possible addition to next year’s gear list: a hip-flask. I suspect that I might make more brilliant discoveries with one. At the least, I won’t notice the phone ringing so much…
We are pleased to announce that we are now accepting applications for our 2013 field school, an intensive six-week educational program in Roman archaeology led by AIRC faculty and affiliated expert archaeologists. Following two successful digs in Ostia Antica, we continue in our investigations in the harbor city of ancient Rome. And just as in past years, our field school offers both a synchronic (single-period) and a diachronic (multi-period) approach to the study of Roman culture to provide a comprehensive historical and cultural appreciation of Rome and Roman civilization, from its rise to power to its decline, understanding how it set a standard of cultural values that continues to exert influence over the entire Western world to this day.
From June 10 through July 21, students will live in Rome’s historic center as they experience the unique combination of (1) one week of specialized academic instruction on the topography and development of Rome, including visits to major museums and open-air sites to augment field studies and provide participants with a broader context of what life was like in the ancient city, and (2) five weeks of hands-on fieldwork at Ostia Antica. Students can expect hands-on experience and learning in techniques and methodologies of modern archaeological research, archaeological recording and record-keeping, identifying variety of Roman artifacts and building techniques/materials and practice “reading” art, architecture, and other traces of this civilization’s material culture to reconstruct the wider cultural framework, principles of conservation and in depth familiarity with the city of Rome, its port at Ostia and their rich archaeological record.
For more information about our field school, please visit the 2013 Field School information page, review the application/general information, and read Popular Archaeology’s article about our excavation program. We remain available to you via email info[at]romanculture.org and are happy to speak with
From June 10 through July 21, 2013, students will live in Rome’s historic center as they experience the unique combination of (1) one week of specialized academic instruction on the topography and development of Rome, including visits to major museums and open-air sites to augment field studies and provide participants with a broader context of what life was like in the ancient city, and (2) five weeks of hands-on fieldwork at an important archaeological site in the city and environs (including laser scanning and total station workshops). Students can expect hands-on experience and learning in techniques and methodologies of modern archaeological research, archaeological record-keeping, identifying variety of Roman artifacts and building techniques/materials and practice “reading” art, architecture, and other traces of this civilization’s material culture to reconstruct the wider cultural framework, principles of conservation and in depth familiarity with the city of Rome, its port at Ostia and their rich archaeological record.
For more information about our field school, please visit the 2013 Field School information page, review the application/general information, and read Popular Archaeology‘s article about our excavation program. We remain available to you via email info[at]romanculture.org and are happy to speak with you to set up a phone conversation to discuss your academic and logistical needs.
Any time an ancient site opens, or better yet, reopens, it is a cause for celebration. Once again, we are permitted to literally step into history and equally watch as history makes itself thanks to continued cultural heritage endeavors and financial support. This is especially the case with the recent opening of the Mithraeum of the Baths of Caracalla. Originally discovered in 1912, this mithraeum is considered the largest documented gathering space for the worshippers of Mithras. (Mithras was a Persian god in vogue with the military and mostly lower class men, in the second and third centuries AD.) The mithraeum, approximately 23 meters long and 10 meters wide with a soaring cross-vaulted ceiling, can be only roughly dated by the two main events associated with the bath complex: the mithraeum was certainly created after the complex was completed in AD 217, and it was probably no longer in use when the aqueduct supplying the complex was cut during the Greco-Gothic Wars in 537. In reality, it probably went out of use long before 537, since most scholars hold that Christianity had supplanted Mithraism as a “religion for the masses” by the early 4th century.
Today, a visit to the mithraeum can be considered a brief one, as what is available to us are primarily two chambers: a small square ante-chamber and the main rectangular meeting hall. Apart from a recently-restored fresco of the god (missing the face, unfortunately – presumably hacked away by Christians), there is very little left of the decoration, which was probably very lavish. The well-preserved podium structures on either long side, on which the worshippers reclined during ritual meals, give an excellent idea of the context and purpose of the shrine. Certainly the most intriguing feature is the small tunnel that runs under the center of the main hall into an adjoining room, where there is an entrance/exit with staircase; this has been identified with some controversy as the fossa sanguinis, the ritual pit over which the bull at the center of the Mithraic mythology was slaughtered, bathing one or more initiates in its blood.
Its location, off a dirt road adjacent to the main entrance, is part of a subterranean area of the Baths of Caracalla. The mithraeum space is just one part of the massive, sprawling system of underground corridors that honeycombs the large artificial platform supporting the Baths of Caracalla. Beneath the thermae complex lies a warren of tunnels with furnaces, stoked by slaves, and storage areas for supplies, including wood. Though access to these tunnels is today only partial, there are confirmed plans to extend the conservation and restoration work to make more of these areas accessible, including a substantial area dedicated to grinding grain using the water that passed through the baths.
It is important to note that Rome and its port city Ostia Antica have the largest number of preserved mithraea of any city in the Roman empire—scholars estimate that Rome once had 700 Mithraic shrines, while Ostia boasts 17 confirmed shrines—but only a small percentage of these are accessible to the public. More money and more investment will only benefit conservation and access for tourists who are increasingly willing to explore the more remote corners of the ancient city.
Visiting the Mithraeum is also an excellent excuse to head into the Baths of Caracalla to walk among the monumental structure and also enjoy a contemporary art installation by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. Three interlocking circles made up of fragrments of ancient marble and stone, Terzo Paradiso is the new symbol of infinity created by Pistoletto originally for the 2005 Venice Biennale, and an ongoing, collaborative project in varying venues and media. The new infinity symbol is all to action for the active and conscious need to create a “third paradise” to combat and transplant the artificial world we are celebrating today. Too deep? Too artsy? In any case, the site specific installation (through January 6, 2013) is a beautiful juxtaposition of contemporary and ancient, especially with the backdrop of the majestic pines and Baths of Caracalla.
How to visit: advance reservation for a guided tour to Mithraeum at the Baths of Caracalla will cost 16.50 euro and does not include entrance to the Baths. Here’s a tip- try the unguided visits at 10:00, 10:30, and 1:00, which are practically empty on weekdays. How? Buy the regular ticket (6.00 euros) at the ticket booth and pay a 1.50 euro supplement to visit the Mithraeum at one of those three times.
Calling All AIRC alums: When in Rome… Come Say “Hi”!
Over the past 10 years of its existence the American Institute for Roman Culture has provided instruction to over 1000 students from more than 80 universities and colleges spread throughout the world. We enjoy staying in touch with our alumni, following and promoting their budding careers, and catching up with them over gelato or espresso here in Rome.
Just in the past six months we’ve had the pleasure of catching up with Bill Johnson, alumnus of our 2010 spring semester program, about to embark on a career in the U.S. Army; Alison Kidd, alumna of our 2007 Summer Archaeological Field School at the Villa delle Vignacce in Rome, currently working in the Study Abroad office of Clemson University and bound for New York University’s graduate program in Classics in the fall; Andrea Samz-Pustol, Kristin Macauley, and Kenny Carosi, alumni of our 2009 SAFS program at Vignacce (Andrea is heading to the University of Kansas in the fall to pursue a Masters in Classics, while Kristin and Kenny spent quality time improving their Italian); Alexandra Zigrang, alumna of our 2010 SAFS program at Ostia Antica; Sam Treviño and Grant Dixon, alumni of our 2011 SAFS program co-sponsored with the Universities of Michigan and Calabria at the important site of Sant’Omobono in Rome (Grant returned for a second excavation season, and Sam was passing through town on vacation).
So, alumni of any and all AIRC programs, the next time you pass through the Eternal City, give us a shout. We’ll roll out the red carpet. Or at least a good gelato.
This is the last week of the Summer Field School at Ostia Antica Tor Boacciana. We can’t believe how fast time has flown as we document the past. Here is a sampling of beautiful amazing photos taken on site by Selma Amzi, 2012 Field School Photography Intern. Please take a look at our Flickr collection while on site, as well Facebook.
They have arrived! Ostia Antica Summer 2012 Excavation group is ready to get dirty! This week, we will be visiting several sites and monuments in Rome so please take a look at our twitter feeds: @AIRomanculture and @SaveRome (as well as instagram), and hashtags: #digrome #ostiaantica12.
Half of our OstiaAntica 12 students taking a stroll in the Roman Forum.
Welcome to Rome in the summer. One word: hot. And imagine working in the dirt eight hours a day every day under a full sun. Since we’re always thinking about the well-being of our students, we’ve come up with five fool-proof tips to cooling down during the urban heat. If you think you (or anyone you know) will break from Rome’s rising mercury, here’s how we do it:
- This is Italian shaved ice– aka the real deal. Literally shaved by hand on the spot from a big block of ice, grattachecca is a Roman summer tradition where you get to pick the fruit syrups and fresh fruit to pour into the hand-shaven ice. Grattacheccha stands are street-side kiosks, and sometimes are near the summer sliced watermelon pop-ups. Our favorites include:
- Ostia Beach
- Since our excavation is at Ostia Antica, instead of saying “take a hike”, we tell our students to hit the beach. A half-hour local train from Rome (on the same line as heading to our dig site), is Ostia beach- a public beach with restaurants, activities and social life. For your €1.50 ATAC ticket, hop on Roma-Lido “trenino” (little train) found at the local station adjacent to the Piramide (Metro B) metro. Destination: Lido Centro.
- Use a big nose
- That’s right, those fountains you see on the streets that are constantly running are called “nasoni,” big noses, and they are a really great way to keep cool and hydrated as you explore the city. The water is cold, clean and delicious, coming from a deep underground spring. According to the Comune di Roma, the nasoni run constantly in order to keep the system clean and flushed out. Our tip to taking a sip? Put your finger over the main spigot to block it and water will arc out of the small hole on top. Or, you can use them to fill your water bottle without paying outrageous tourist prices for water bottles at the coffee bars! Newsflash: the Comune di Roma is offering re-useable water bottles sold for €2 at local tourist information points (PIT).
- Villa Borghese
- Rome’s second largest park with over 140 acres of greenery is the perfect respite from a hot day in the sun. You can walk up from the stairs off of Piazza del Popolo, take a paddleboat, peddle around on a group bike, rollerblade or run under the sprinklers.
- Saving the best for last, don’t forget to sample Roman gelato, which is definitely NOT ice cream. Gelato uses more whole milk and less cream, so it has a lower fat content, and it contains less air so it’s denser which provides a more intense flavor. Some of our favorite gelato shops are*:
Here’s what we have in store this summer…
“I can be moving or I can be still
But still is still moving to me”.
-Willie Nelson, The Tao of Willie
The upside of having to take the bus is that you have plenty of time, every day, to retreat to the sanctuary of your mind. Of course, it’s really great to have a car to drive because you have much more control over your schedule and movements around town. It’s fun to blast whatever music you want to hear—a different listening experience than when you’re using headphones. The downside to having that control, however, is the acceptance of responsibility that driving entails, whereas you could just climb on the bus and drift into the wonderful world of your imaginings. Leave the driving to Mr. or Ms. Driver, and enjoy your responsibility-free transportation experience! (As long as you have a validated ticket.)
Many people read on the bus but I can only read on trains or the metro without getting seasick. Whatever! You can read later. Use bus time as ZEN time. Countless societies value the practice of meditation, prayer, contemplation, the emptying of oneself, etc. Call it what you will, but it is GREAT to space out and it is GREAT to really give your life and relationships a good ponder. The bus is the perfect place for this, especially if you snagged a seat. Autobus zen is excellent because you are profoundly multitasking…you are physically getting where you need to go. You are doing your part to reduce Rome’s street congestion and carbon emissions. You are ALSO advancing yourself mentally by contemplating your life-path, daydreaming to give your brain a break, thinking positive thoughts about your friends and family, listening to music, inventing plausible business ventures, listing what you need from the grocery store, and admiring the beauty of what you’re seeing outside the window. As the wise and beloved Willie wrote in reference to making the most of bus-travelin’ time, don’t forget the options of contemplation and meditation as you are racking up the miles.
Bus-taking will indeed strengthen you as a person, if you so let it. As a pedestrian in Rome, you cannot depend on a system of efficiency and reliability. No, ATAC (Rome’s public trans) will bestow upon you a gift far greater: that of learning to accept and even embrace chaos. One you’re accustomed to transportation mishaps, you will find yourself taking a more serene approach to addressing unanticipated annoyances and problems. Slogging along on the bus in heavy traffic after waiting 30 minutes for it to arrive will help you recognize when it is worthwhile to fret, and when you just need to throw your hands up to the heavens and let it all go. Imagine that you’ve put all your anger and frustration into a red balloon, and release it into the sky. Spin in a circle and toss imaginary stardust over your right shoulder. It’s all good.
(Just don’t be late for class, or they’ll cane you.)
~Julia Elsey, three-peat field school participant, former AIRC intern and programs assistant, voice of Saverome blog in Spring and Summer 2011, and transport philosopher.
Visitors seem completely unaware of the Steps’ rich history and their original purpose. The steps were constructed in the 1720s to connect the Spanish Embassy to the Trinita dei Monti church. The steps were built with the intent of creating a link between the church and Rome, but has since become a tourist attraction instead of a religious destination. As stated earlier the area around the steps, which was originally built to showcase the church, has now been transformed into a major metropolitan area of Rome.Much like the rest of the Europe, the Steps have adapted to the contemporary times.
Potential student excavators beware! If you go with AIRC to dig in Ostia, you WILL feel “Romesick” as soon as you leave!
I participated in AIRC’s Ostia field school two summers ago, and my time in Rome still affects who I am today. I now conduct my discipline of art history/archaeology as well as my life differently because of having learned and lived in this unique environment.
Ostia Antica is a fantastic site to excavate. It seems like it is always a work in progress, with other field schools and preservation projects occurring at the same time as AIRC’s dig. As an excavator, you are part of the process that creates and shapes how tourists and historians will perceive Ostia. Every time you sink your pickaxe or shovel into the ground, you are technically determining how the future will understand the ancient past!! Every day it felt so satisfying to walk back to the train station with everyone, covered in dirt from a hard day’s work and thinking about what laid in store for us tomorrow.
By the end of the six weeks, I loved all of the amazing friendships I made and how much I learned about myself. I still keep in touch with the other USC students who went on the dig with me, as well as many of the non-USC students too. I got to know and learn from Professor John Pollini and the AIRC staffers, and they all have been incredible mentors and teachers to me. I loved the independence and confidence I gained from living in Rome, being able to wander around on the weekends and late afternoons casually exploring the city. I really felt that I knew Rome like a local, like it had always been my home.
Even after two years, my time in Ostia with AIRC continues to aid my eagerness to learn. I went on another dig this past summer, and it was great to already have some excavation knowledge (and impress the field school’s staff with it!!). I could immediately participate in more complicated activities like field surveying and artifact conservation because AIRC gave me a great foundation in proper excavating, preserving, and cataloging techniques. They provided a well-rounded introduction to field archaeology that expanded my future opportunities.
If you aren’t scared of getting dirty, actively shaping Roman history, and living abroad for a summer, then AIRC’s Ostia field school will be a fantastic experience! My time in Rome changed me, and since then I have truly looked at life and the ancient past in a different and exciting way.
~Nadia Pucci SAFS ’11 (Sant’Omobono) shares with us her top five things you really need to know when working on an excavation in Rome:
- Sun screen, water, and gloves: Sun protection is essential, especially in the more intense Italian heat. Water is also important for staying hydrated. Lastly, gloves are a must to prevent blisters from all the troweling.
- Whatever you do, don’t bring: any valuable possessions, leave them at home! You don’t want to risk possible damage or loss of the items(s). Try not to bring your entire house with you to Italy, just bring the essentials since you will end up acquiring several items during your stay that you will have to haul back.
- The good and bad about working/living in Rome: Living in Rome means easy accessibility to various sites – mostly within walking distance – as well as the endless amount of pizzerias and gelaterias. The people and culture can be experienced even while taking a simple stroll to the piazza. There aren’t many words that can be used to accurately describe the endless possibilities that Rome has to offer, but “priceless” will suffice. One not-so-good aspect is transit. The buses can be a little unpredictable! Their bus stops are different from what we know and understand, and there are strikes which shut down most transport mechanisms for a few hours.
- What to do in your spare time: With free time, I loved to venture and explore. From visiting Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican to walking along the Tiber at night under the moon and lights from the busy night markets. Of course, going to beach and swimming is a splendid way to beat the heat
- Who are you- aka Dig Personality: It’s hard to state one dig personality, because I feel that I experienced several at any given time. I definitely think that I was a cheerleader, encouraging my peers to continue troweling. And I do think that over time I became a wheelbarrow warrior! At first I was slightly afraid of the dreaded task of unloading the wheelbarrow, but by the end of the dig I was able to unload it with little or no help! Lastly, dirt magnet is an obvious personality for most people, especially myself, since no matter what the day’s tasks were I seemed to always be covered in dirt from head to toe. It was a challenge to stay clean during the dig!
If my summer digging with AIRC in Ostia were a Roman Emperor, it would have to be Augustus. Not only was it the best summer ever, but it was also a time of personal and academic growth, development, and expansion.
I had worked for a few seasons on a dig near my hometown in New England, and, as an archaeology major, had always dreamed of working in Rome and gaining experience in Mediterranean field archaeology. In terms of skill building, I couldn’t have asked for more. While we spent most of our time digging, there was plenty of time spent getting acquainted with the ins and outs of artifact washing and cataloging, archaeological drawing, wall profiles, and surveying with a Total Station. In short, it was a complete field experience. My favorite times were spent swinging a pickaxe like I had a vendetta against the topsoil, but I am grateful for getting to develop my skills in other areas of fieldwork.
There’s nowhere else to dig quite like Ostia.
While still part of Rome, it’s quiet and idyllic; like digging in your neighborhood park (if your neighborhood were 2,000 years old and had a forum built by Tiberius). Since Ostia is often overlooked by tourists, it will feel like it’s your own. For all that, it’s only a 25 minute train ride from the center of Rome. Living right in the centro storico was an unbelievable experience, and I would happily spend my evenings and weekends exploring the little stone-paved streets and parks, or even traveling further afield throughout Lazio. To live in such a city, even for a summer, will challenge and excite you every day.
Ultimately, a field school is only as a good as the people who are part of it. There is so much to learn from the combined knowledge and years of experience of the AIRC staff—even if that means being repeatedly told “No Jonathan, that’s just another pretty rock.” I was surprised to find that many of the other students were not Archaeology or Classics majors, but quickly saw that just about everyone shared my enthusiasm for the subject matter and the work we were doing. We bonded right away, cooking together in our apartments and trying to figure out who was the sweatiest and filthiest on the train ride home. My trenchmates and I are still in touch.
When you sign up for the AIRC’s field school in Ostia, , you are signing up for more than archaeological skills and experience. You will leave with new friends and a unique experience under your belt that will give you a new way of looking at the world. I certainly came out the better for it. As Augustus himself said:
Ostia archaeologatorem marmoreum relinquit, quem geekum latericium accepit.
Good morning, Rome! Set your alarms early for Saturday April 14th because you’re about to play Culture Week, 8 interactive days of free cultural sites, monuments and museums through out the Italian peninsula and islands. Okay, it’s not really a game, more an incentive by the Ministry of Culture to get people– whether locals or tourists– off the caffe chair and into a museum. However, a few years back, I invented a little healthy competition with some culturally enhanced friends where Culture Week meant we would voraciously visit every museum we’ve ever desired, yet not necessarily had the wallet to finance. At the end of the week, we’d throw down our free entry tickets much as much intensity as Patrick Bateman in the infamous business card scene (at 1:29), and winner literally took all.
So as not to confuse, Culture Week is primarily for state-run cultural sites and also includes events such as organized concerts and performances. Yes, there is a bit of a groan because the Colosseum/Roman Forum ticket is deliberately excluded from the free entrances this year. However, that double-header ticket seems a reasonable price to pay if everything else is free and Italy is trying to save some pennies culturally. For Lazio and Rome Culture Week info: take a look at this list of free sites/events in the Region of Lazio . In addition, Comune di Roma (City of Rome) organizes events (other local governments do as well). For information about civic museums participating in Culture Week, visit Musei In Comune, and also click here for event listings.
Are you ready to play the Culture Week game? Though the only rule is to get yourself into as many museums as possible, here are some guidelines to racking up as many points as possible:
- Accumulate points by . . . Visiting as many sites as possible and document– photos, instagram, twitter, who cares
- Get Bonus lives by . . . visiting off-beat, unknown and out-of-zone sites like a trip changing visit to Caserta, or listening to a concert at the Casa del Jazz.
- Lose a Life by . . . not paying attention. Some cultural attractions are privately financed and not subject to the free entrances as deigned by the Ministry of Culture.
My plans? Well, life isn’t always about the ancient so expect to find me traipsing about the Museo Napoleonico, enjoying some modern sculpture at the Museo Manzu, investigating Teatro Argentina, or finally figuring out what the Museo Pietro Canonica is all about.
At the site of Sant’Omobono, located beside the Tiber in downtown Rome, lie the massive stone remains of a Roman sacred area with twin temples and altars from the 6th century BC dedicated to Fortuna and Mater Matuta.
For five epic weeks it was my home, a place where I wielded pick-axe, shovel, trowel and dirt-filled wheelbarrow on a daily basis, sifted through dirt, washed pottery, heaved massive stone blocks of the site’s ancient Roman wall, and learned about archaeology.
Though every day I came home covered in dirt, and on one funny day even with my pants ripped in the crotch area (if you shovel with too wide of a stance in pants that are even slightly tight, the pants will stretch and rip and your boxers will be revealed to gazing tourists, as mine were!), with the work I got to carry out on this dig, the great amount learned (and discovered) in so short a time, as well the great bonds of friendship I forged, I am extremely grateful to the AIRC and University of Michigan Prof. Nicola Terrenato for this experience, especially as it was my first experience in the field.
Things to brace yourself for:
- Hard physical labor, every day for weeks! Some days you will find yourself so fatigued that you come home and just pass out.
- Getting up early, five days a week (but if you get to the site early, you can have a quick cappuccino, making the process easier).
- Filling out database forms
Things to look forward to:
- Hard physical labor, every day for weeks! You’re going to use a pick-axe regularly, and honestly nothing feels better than having the power to smash your way through walls of dirt and rock. Wheelbarrowing heaps of dirt regularly, heaving broken stone bits, and using a shovel will have you in excellent physical shape when you get home.
- Having the opportunity to live and furthermore, work, in the center of Rome! You can check out great sights and restaurants during your free time at night (or perhaps in the morning if, like me, you like to go running).
- Making some really good friends with the people at your dig site. By spending hours beside these people day after day, the bonds will strengthen enough that you will find yourself spending your free time hanging out with the same people after hours, playing soccer, hitting bars, playing guitar, or having fine meals.
- Getting the chance to discover some really cool Roman stuff and excavate at a phenomenal site. Since I relished smashing apart dirt and walls with a pick-axe (so much so that Professor John Pollini nicknamed me “Demetrius Poliorcetes,” Demetrius the wall-destroyer), heaving wheelbarrows, and carrying massive pieces of stone from one side of the site to the other, I can definitely say my dig personality was BEAST OF BURDEN.
With our upcoming Summer Archaeological Field School (June 18 to July 29), we hosted an excavation/life in Rome tweet last Wednesday March 28th AIRC, so that past and present SAFS participants could talk about what goes on a dig, what to expect and what not to expect. For those who were unable to meet up, we will be hosting a second #DigRome tweet-up on Wednesday, April 4, at 5pm EST/ 2pm PCT. Here’s your opportunity to ask questions about our excavations and learn what’s its like to live in Rome for the summer
When: Wednesday, April 4 at 5-6 PM EST (2-3 PM PST, 11-12 AM in Rome, 8-9 AM in Sydney)
How: Check out our customized TweetGrid to send tweets. (You will need to bookmark the tweetgrid page and login with your Twitter account when ready to tweet.) Follow the #digrome hashtag, guest host Julia Elsey on @AIRC_Guest and @AIRomanculture. Or load your Twitter page and search for #DigRome for the 60 minutes of the event.
Participate: Send us questions/comments in advance so that we can feature them. During the tweetup, get chatty and make sure to use the hashtag #DigRome in your tweets so everyone can see your question, answer, contribution, etc.
Not on Twitter?: You can still use the TweetGrid to follow the conversation. Though you will not be able to contribute to the discussion, you can follow all commentary.
Photo by mashable, and yes, everyone on the dig looks like that.
I came to Rome for the first time in June 2001, as a quite naive 24-year old who had never traveled to Europe before. To say that I was a deer in the headlights would be an understatement. I didn’t even know on which side of the street I was supposed to wait for the bus. And nearly two full years of Italian lessons left me feeling totally unprepared when I was faced with my first rapid-fire exchange in an Italian bar, trying to order a simple sandwich. I ended up panicking and pointing. I think that could easily describe a lot of my first few days in Italy.
And then, suddenly, I started to open up to the “Roman way” of doing things. There were a couple of phrases I quickly learned from the always-helpful Romans, when I would nervously try out my Italian, hanging my head in embarrassment.
“Piano, piano…” they’d say to me, reassuringly. Literally it means ‘slowly, slowly,’ a sort of equivalent of our “little by little” … and yet I began to understand that ‘slowly, slowly’ reflects so much of life here in Rome, from public transport (no laughing matter) to taking life as it comes.
Work? “Piano, piano…” — there’s always time for another coffee break. Did you know that 80 million cups of espresso are consumed daily at coffee bars throughout Italy?
Learning Italian? “Piano, piano…” — start with the swear words, and work your way up from there.
Eating? “Piano, piano…” — there’s always room for a little more.
Coming from my hectic lifestyle in the United States, where the theory of “piano, piano” would have gotten me nowhere in my fast-paced work environment or my over-achieving brain, I found this advice highly irritating and uncomfortable at first, and then… “piano, piano...” — I started to appreciate its great wisdom.
What else would you expect from a people who have been raised among stunning monuments and archaeological testaments to a civilization that still speaks to us from over 2,000 years in the past?
I could regale you with tales of wonderful meals, colorful exchanges in Italian, harried experiences with transport strikes and elbowing people in crowded non-lines, but frankly, in retrospect, if I had to give one piece of advice to anyone coming to Rome for the first time, I don’t see why I should reinvent the wheel. I’ll take it from the Romans: “piano, piano…” Savor each moment, because each moment in this city is unique and has something different to offer to everyone.
~Shelley Ruelle, is AIRC Director of Programming. Though she still lives by “piano, piano,” she’s always in 5th gear. shelley.ruelle[at]romanculture.org
AIRC 2011 alum Dustin Thomas offers his tips on how to have the best time in and out of the trenches:
- Explore! How often is it that you get to roam (no pun intended!) outside of your home country, much less in the Eternal City of Rome itself? There was certainly a lot that I got to see, learn, taste, and smell just by walking up the street, and I can definitely say that even after six whole weeks of “exploring” I am by no means done.
- When you’re digging, roll up your sleeves! A farmer’s tan is no joke, and it certainly is not sexy when you might decide to spend a Saturday afternoon at the beach. That being said, use sunscreen!!! I have a dark complexion, but I got burnt at least two times because I missed a spot or two with the sunscreen.
- Don’t pass up the opportunity for a late night experiencing some Roman nightlife…BUT don’t complain too loudly when early the next morning you’re struggling to get to the bus heading to the dig site. Balance is key, and there is a lot to experience with your classmates, especially since you should take the opportunity to better acquaint yourselves with people you might not be trench mates with. We used the weekends or even just the afternoons after a long hot day to grab a gelato and a gin and tonic at the local bar-tabacchi or a sultry smoke at the hookah bar later in the evening.
- Get your fitness on! Some of you out there who will be heading to field school this summer are undoubtedly very conscientious of your fitness. Digging is a very physically demanding activity, but sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting a balanced enough workout, and who can forget the days in finds lab? My solution, like many of my classmates, was either to go for a run or just do some daily calisthenics. They got me energized to embrace the rest of the afternoon and evening, when I would otherwise be exhausted and sleep the day away.
In honor of its upcoming Summer Archaeological Field School (June 18 to July 29), on Wednesday March 28th AIRC will host a tweetup for past and present SAFS participants. This is our way of allowing the seasoned veterans of past editions to pass on their hard-won knowledge and wisdom to the next generation of aspiring Roman archaeologists – or just razz them. Multiple SAFS veteran and citizen of Rome honoris caussa Julia Elsey will be our special guest tweeter as @AIRC_Guest. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions about our excavations in Ostia Antica and Palatine Hill, and learn what’s its like to live in Rome for the summer.
When: Wednesday, March 28 at 6-7 PM EST (3-4 PM PST, 12-1 AM in Rome, 9-10 AM in Sydney)
How: Check out our customized TweetGrid to send tweets. (You will need to bookmark the tweetgrid page and login with your Twitter account when ready to tweet.) Follow the #digrome hashtag, guest host Julia on @AIRC_Guest and @AIRomanculture. Or load your Twitter page and search for #DigRome for the 60 minutes of the event.
Participate: Send us questions/comments in advance so that we can feature them. During the tweetup, get chatty and make sure to use the hashtag #DigRome in your tweets so everyone can see your question, answer, contribution, etc.
Not on Twitter?: You can still use the TweetGrid to follow the conversation. Though you will not be able to contribute to the discussion, you can follow all commentary.
I can’t believe it’s close to a year since I was living in Rome. It feels like yesterday when I was making friends to last a lifetime, tasting the freshness of food I’ll never find here at home, and digging up places that the ancients called home. Most of all, while I was touring the city, I constantly felt like I was really walking in the footsteps of human civilization’s greatest thinkers, leaders, artists, soldiers, and entertainers.
If you’re anything like me, you’re enamored by ancient Rome. As a student aspiring to make a career out of Roman Archaeology, I’ve fallen in love with the prospect of investigating and learning about arguably humanity’s greatest civilization. It was a dream for me to actually go to Rome and dig in Italy. I had been on a field school before, but I was in for the experience of a lifetime. I was ready for adventure.
I arrived in Rome not quite knowing what to expect, but as soon as I landed I was practically overwhelmed with a completely new culture and a new way of life that would certainly take some getting used to. I was definitely nervous about who I was going to be living with and, more importantly, who I was going to be slaving in the hot Italian sun at the dig site with. (I won’t lie, I did a little Facebook-stalking to find out about my dig-mates before getting to Italy.)
It turned out that I was going to be spending a lot of the next six weeks with people that had almost the exact same interests as me, and not just with career aspirations or academic focus. Who would’ve thought?- Romies actually turn out to be very similar! Rome became a second home for me, and before long the rest of the AIRC students along with myself were talking about coming back.
So it is with a nostalgic heart that I conclude this entry. I wish everyone the best of luck in getting to Rome and the time of their lives while they’re there. I know I had mine – the dig was definitely a learning experience, especially since I was trained in American archaeology to start– and hope everyone’s experience tops it.
Last week, I woke up to find that AIRC’s twitter account @AIRomanculture has surpassed 500 followers. In an era where celebutantes, actors, sports heroes and gun-toting-fathers rack in thousands a day, 500 followers (in a few months) is merely a blink of the eye. It’s not really even a number. But for us, its a big deal. Why? Aren’t archaeologists, classicists, latinists and any book-toting academics stereotypically nose-deep in text all the time?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Take a glimpse at my archaeo-academic desktop on any morning.
My mornings mean connecting and researching in a world that used to be a bit hard enter into, if you aren’t on campus or at a conference. Reaching 500 followers means we are doing our our job to promote cultural heritage– in other words, getting the word out there, keeping up a continuous dialog and searching out/collaborating with/introducing new people. My world of colleagues and better yet friends has exploded out of Rome and into your computer. I may not know what you look like, but I know what you like and I like what you’re talking about.
Social Media is an incredible and relentless asset for the AIRC. We’ve connected with former students, professors and professionals to find out what they are doing and where they are going, we help in keeping issues current (protecting Greece’s cultural heritage) and we’ve connected with people interested in many of our interests from our academic projects in archaeology, communications and Latin (just take a look at “Latin Tweet Ups”, Pipiatio Latina: aka a lot of people “speaking” Latin on twitter)– to our personal interests such as sustainability in Rome, how Ancient Rome appears in pop culture, gastrotourism, sci-fi literature and art crimes.
So yes, we’ve jumped head first into a kind of contemporary archaeology where history is happening instantaneously. To be honest, I can’t keep up with everything we are “supposed” to be doing or not doing. @Airomanculture has committed the twitter faux pas of following more than our number of followers, but I am pretty sure that we are truly reading everyone we are following– and that their tweets are great. And yes, we do enjoy retweeting information because there are a lot of great people out there on Twitter and Facebook (and I guess Pinterest now) who are sharing great information? Does that make us less personable? I don’t know and I hope not. What I do know is that all of this is good for us, for any academic who may be shy (like me) or not have the time, money, resources, connections, patience to stumble across something new, useful and otherwise mind-blowing. And here’s an update: thanks to Twitter, signatures to stop the proposed landfill next to Villa Adriana,aka Protect Hadrian’s Villa petition, will hopefully surpass 2000 as of March 12, 2012. Sign if you haven’t!
What do you think?
For the past few weeks, we’ve really been talking up a storm about our summer excavation at Ostia Antica and Latin programs. Why? Because we want you to come to Rome and we know you want to. But we realize that getting dirty or speaking colloquial Latin all day may not be your bag. And for the record, those are not the only options if you want to study abroad this summer with us in the Eternal City.
So we’ve ripped off the plastic and are launching the brand new Engaging History: Ancient Rome and Roman Culture, a four-week academic program for undergraduate students with interests in Classics/Classical Civilization, (Ancient) History, Art History, Archaeology/Anthropology, and Religious Studies.
The idea is that the classroom is Rome (and central Italy), living, breathing, outdoor program which examines the origins, development, and material culture of the Eternal City and Roman culture from before Romulus through the present day, concentrating on the roughly 1000 years between the city’s foundation and the Christianization of the empire. Get it? It’s history by grabbing you by the collar and getting you outside and involved. . . engaging.
Sounds intense? Think of it more as interactive. Under expert guidance of instructors with more than 40 years of combined experience in and around Rome, the program focuses on explorative mornings investigating significant areas of the historic, monumental center, including well-known sites such as the Roman Forum, Capitoline and Palatine hills,et al, as well as a series of rarely visited sites such as the Testaccio neighborhood, the Porta Maggiore, and the Sessorium palace.
We turn the tables in the afternoons where individual exploration sessions are based on direct assisgnments requiring personal investigation of the city itself to learn about the transformation of Rome between the Middle Ages and today. With Rome as just the first stepping stone, Engaging History walks out of the city and into the Empire with important and amazing sites outside of Rome including Ostia Antica, Palestrina, and the villa of the emperor Hadrian at Tivoli.
If you would like to learn more, we’d love to hear from you info[at]romanculture.org. And more importantly, we’d love you to join us this summer. To apply to Engaging History: Ancient Rome and Roman Culture, click here.
These basalt paving stones have had plenty of centuries to shift out of place. Inattentive walking can be a contact sport in Ostia Antica, and the blocks of volcanic stone and tree roots usually win. Clunk along the old Roman road in your steel-toed boots and breathe in the warm air that smells like fresh-baked bread and wild mint. Take a break from digging to swig some cool water and pick a few blackberries right off the bush.
Ostia is a wonderful place for field school because you have the entire ancient city to yourself. Duck into a mithraeum or a tomb, read an inscription, ponder an in-situ fresco (and interpret it for yourself), photograph another famous black-and-white mosaic every time you go to work. Getting up early is worth it when you have the pleasure of physical labor and intellectual advancement in an idyllic park outside bustling Rome. This way you get the best of both worlds: all you have to do is shower off the dirt and sunscreen, and you’re ready to enjoy the nightlife and incredible cultural attractions in Rome’s city center.
Ostia is a surprisingly pastoral ghost town of stone, brick, and concrete with hardy vegetation that both adorns and threatens it. The largest excavation campaign was in preparation for the 1942 World’s Fair, but a large chunk of territory both inside and outside the fence remains to be explored. That which has been exposed could do with further documentation and study, and AIRC is doing its part to strike a sustainable balance between uncovering the new and rediscovering the old. We are a staff of extremely passionate people who truly want to help you achieve your professional and academic goals, whether or not they lie within the archaeological discipline. We also hope that your experience of studying in a foreign country enriches you as a person. You will find that having to deal with everyday life in Italy can increase your patience and adaptability.
What can you expect to gain from your time at Ostia?
- A solid grounding in good archaeological methodology
- Several lasting friendships
- A grasp of ancient Roman history and Ostia’s place within it
- An excellent farmer’s tan
- The ability to wield a pick axe with panache
- Improved self-reliance and empowerment
What will you love, probably?
- Living in and getting to know Rome, transport strikes and all
- Working in a peaceful, beautiful environment
- Your trench and trenchmates/all other dig people
- Finding awesome stuff
What will you love, probably…not so much?
- Remembering how to fill out context sheets
- Your turn on finds duty (it’s okay, I love them enough for both of us…)
- Getting up early
- Returning to your home country at the end of your odyssey
~Julia Elsey is a three-peat field school participant, AIRC intern and programs assistant, lightning wit and long-distance friend. She scribed the Saverome blog in Spring and Summer 2011, and is tied with Albert Prieto as the best person for a bit of perspective on Life in the Trenches.