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.
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
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.
Snowboarding the Circus Maximus? Skiing the via dei Fori Imperiali? Yesterday, the rare snowstorm covered Rome with a beautiful white blanket of fun. Our own Darius Arya set out in search of snow and snowmen. Last time Rome had such a snowfall, everyone had big hair and shoulder pads… February 1985 and 1986.
Want to know how we ring in a Happy New Year 2012? We get our hands dirty in history and want you to help! For the first time ever, AIRC is offering a second Summer Archaeological Field School to complement its new project at Ostia Antica. We will be teaming up with Rome’s oldest and most prestigious university La Sapienza to offer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dig in one of the most historic spots in the city, the Palatine Hill.
Location: NE Corner overlooking the Colosseum, along via Sacra between the arches of Titus and Constantine.
History soundbite: The Palatine is where the Romans thought their city was founded, way back in 753 BC. (more…)