As we seek relief from Rome’s sweltering triple-digit (F) temperatures, it’s a good time to look back at six weeks of fun, hard work, and intensive learning. Here are a few things that struck me, in my capacity as Project Coordinator, about the experience.
Low injury rate. During the course of a typical season we see a handful of cuts or scrapes that require on-site medical attention, as well as a lot of first-week blisters that exhaust the supply of band-aids in no time. This year we had only one cut, thankfully, and not even one band-aid was used.
Plot twists. We started out assuming that the Roman mausoleum in Area B was, at some point after the end of antiquity, transformed into a baptistery, which was subsequently re-worked to accommodate six tombs in the Middle Ages; two bodies were duly found in one of these tombs in the fall exploratory campaign. In the summer not even one additional burial was found in the tombs, while a series of burials was revealed just below the ground surface around the edge of the mausoleum. Proof that, in archaeology, assumptions are made to be modified and abandoned.
Gastronomic adventures. This year everyone looked forward to lunch, which was prepared and served at La Fraschetta del Borgo in Ostia Antica, a stone’s throw from the site. Solideo and the staff served up 23 tasty and abundant lunches, catering to all dietary needs, including prosciutto with cantaloupe, cold cuts and cheese, rigatoni all’ammatriciana, frittata (omelette), pizza, sausage with chicory, and chicken cacciatore with potatoes. The daily dose of gelato was especially popular.
Language lessons. Every edition of AIRC’s Summer Archaeological Field School involves bilingual staff, so you can always hear both Italian and English spoken on-site. This year’s Babel had a particular feel to it. There was the lilting British accent of our Welsh topography intern, Tim Penn. There was archaeologist Larisa (“Larry”) Criscenti’s elegant and studied English. There were the participants’ gung-ho attempts to learn Italian from field director Michele Raddi’s colorful diction. My favorite moment was the attempt to explain to our Italian colleagues the subtle acoustic distinction between “mortar” and “murder.” Two very different concepts, but both very useful in a Roman archaeology field school.
MINISTERO DEI BENI E DELLE ATTIVITA’ CULTURALI E DEL TURISMO SOPRINTENDENZA SPECIALE PER I BENI ARCHEOLOGICI DI ROMA
La Soprintendenza speciale per i beni archeologici di Roma, con l’American Institute for Roman Culture, presenta i risultati delle più recenti ricerche effettuate nel Suburbium di Ostia antica. L’appuntamento con gli archeologi e con gli studenti di archeologia di 14 università del Nord America è fissato per venerdì 19, alle ore 10.00, all’angolo fra via dei Romagnoli e via della Stazione di Ostia antica (v. mappa).
Please join the Superintendency, along with the American Institute for Roman Culture, in the presentation of the findings of the most recent research of the Suburbium of Ostia Antica on Friday July 19 at 10 am. The conference will be held at our dig Parco dei Ravennati in Ostia Antica, via dei Romagnoli and via della Stazione di Ostia antica, see maps below. (more…)
- Count the buckets: When brushing away a mound of dirt with the equivalent of a glorified toothbrush and an oversized spork, it can be discouraging to look at your area after several hours of work and feel you haven’t made a dint in it. In order to prevent dismay, learn to count the buckets of dirt that you fill instead. Nothing says progress more than being able to climb up a pile of dirt and say, “Look, Ma! I spent 5 weeks moving all this dirt from over there to over here!”
- Remember all your hard work will eventually pay off* : Excavation needs to be a slow process
Though this past week was only four days to accommodate a (well-deserved) three-day weekend, we jumped into work, comfortable with our designated roles and team coordination. We also welcomed a new team member, Julia Elsey, AIRC archaeology field school veteran and an unofficial Finds Coordinator. As an artifact intern, I work with Julia to clean, document, and organize our finds from this and the past dig seasons. Julia provided our team with a valuable lesson on marble types, (more…)
Week 2 at Parco dei Ravennati takes us behind the scenes with Katherine Livingston, University of Minnesota (Twin Cities), Near Eastern and Mediterranean Archaeology major:
When people hear that I am in Rome for an archaeological dig, many comments referencing Lara Croft or Indiana Jones pop up. The adventurous and even dangerous connotation that archaeology has developed in the media is generally fictitious. So when I heard Dr. Michele Raddi refer to some of his teachings as “Survival Archaeology” during workshops I let out a small scoff. But over this week I’ve seen that while it may not be risking life or death, surviving means adapting and cooperating for the ensured integrity and success of an archeological site. (more…)
Welcome to the Parco dei Ravennati excavation in Ostia Antica. There is nothing like being on site at an excavation, and nothing better than having hands on reportage of the dig itself. Five participants have volunteered to contribute a blog post about what they are doing at Parco dei Ravennati. From now through July 21, we will feature weekly posts from the point of view of actual dig participants as they get down and dirty in Ostia Antica. Our first post is from Tara Giangrande, an art history and anthropology student from Swarthmore College.
After a week of touring around all seven hills of ancient Rome, the students of this summer’s AIRC archaeological field school began work at Parco dei Ravennati in Ostia Antica. While a few of us had prior experience with excavation, it was an entirely new adventure (more…)
For those of you with visions of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft frolicking through layer upon layer of antiquities, here’s a glimpse at what our excavation looks like immediately before the students start digging into Ostia Antica.
We dig Rome and we like sharing it, so in 2009 we created an AIRC account on Youtube: WeDigRome where we upload AIRC-produced filmettes about our programs (inluding our summer excavation and full-immersion Latin) and our documentary projects such as Fasti Online and upcoming Digging History.
Our latest videos are Unlisted 2013: Conversation for Conservation, our annual cultural heritage conference. If you were not able to attend the conference, take a look in our recently uploaded videos where we feature each Unlisted2013 speaker.
Looking back at our Unlisted 2013 conference, I am proud to say that this year’s conference was our most successful to date. As in years past, the Unlisted conference brought together academics and professionals in a forum to discuss cultural heritage, with this year’s theme “Conversation for Conservation”, i.e. the necessary dialogue in social media for cultural heritage and ongoing awareness.
Over the past few years, we have chosen to accompany and complement our mission to promote cultural heritage by investing time in social media and video production, as we feel these contemporary forums are integral to education, promotion and sharing messages. Our objective for Unlisted since the beginning was never to be a strictly academic conference for archaeologists and conservators but rather more out of the box and on the fringe of academia in the hopes of inspiring ideas and opening eyes/ears to a different kind of dialogue, and likewise expand the audience.
With that in mind, this year, we chose to investigate the overlap of cultural heritage and new media in many different and sometimes unfamiliar areas, leading us to encapsulate our (AIRC and Unlisted participants) interests, questions and potential solutions. This year’s conference was shorter than in prior years- a three-hour program that included presentations and roundtable with a filmmaker, a journalist, two photographers, two social media strategists, along with the AIRC itself.
Unlisted 2013 was like viewing cultural heritage through a contemporary and technological kaleidoscope. Journalist Stephan Faris related our theme to journalism and reportage, while MiBAC’s Giuseppe Ariano discussed the Ministry of Culture’s growing voice and online engagement. Photographer Sam Horine talked about instantaneous communication via photography and Instagram, citing his work during Hurricane Sandy. Photographer Nicolee Drake also discussed Instagram and the use of imagery in promoting cultural heritage. Erica Firpo presented AIRC’s social media progress and its focused methods for cultural heritage, whereas I discussed AIRC work in video and photography projects which include Fasti online (Palatine dig), Digging History (AIRC initiavie), MiBAC eduation, and Comune di Roma. Rose Bonello spoke about her success in engaging communities, finding corporate sponsorship and using technology as an aggregator fueled by passionate storytelling. Most poignant was Brent Huffman as he relayed the power of video film documentary to halt or at least for now retard the destruction of a precious heritage site in Afghanistan.
This year, Unlisted 2013 not only crossed genres – archaeology, film making and social media- but our dialogue also traversed a variety of platforms outside of the physicality of the conference hall. Thanks to Marconi University for live streaming, we had conversations via blogs and twitter, and even saw a brief Vine post [username: ThePlanet]. And in the days following the conference, Albert, Sam, Erica, Nicolee and I traveled around Rome and Naples to put this conversation into action through social media outlets and more specifically the hashtag #culturalheritage. We didn’t invent the tag- cultural heritage has been around forever, but we encourage you to use it when you tweet, tumblr, gram and Vine. Take a look out posts, feeds, galleries– yes, there is a lot going on but we can make it good.
If you mention Ostia Antica to most anyone, Italian or foreigner, you get only a blank stare and/or a shake of the head. Most modern Romans have never visited it, at least not in their adult lives; in fact, the majority of the roughly 300,000 people who visit the site every year are Italian schoolchildren and foreign tourists. This is a tiny fraction of the nearly five million people who visit the Colosseum every year. Yet there was a time—about 2000 years ago, admittedly—when, if you mentioned the word “Ostia” to anyone who travelled, whether Roman or foreigner, you would get an animated response fueled by mental images of Rome, the greatest metropolis of the ancient world, for which this unpretentious port city was the lifeline to the world. Millions of people from all walks of life embarked and disembarked at Ostia in the approximately 1000 years of its life, from slaves to emperors (Augustus, Claudius, Nero), from merchants to early Christian luminaries (St. Augustine). These people navigated the same streets, drank from the same fountains, and washed in the same bath complexes that we can see today, just 25 minutes by train from downtown Rome.
I first “landed” at Ostia Antica as a graduate student in the summer of 1998. My initial impression of the site then still corresponds perfectly to its appearance today: a beautiful, sleepy, largely empty park packed with an incredible array of structures that beg to be explored. It’s like having a theme park practically to yourself, except this theme park happens to be the closest experience to the look and feel of ancient Rome available anywhere in the world.
Several things struck me then, as now. Ostia is as big as Pompeii, but it offers a much better visitor experience by virtue of being entirely accessible (whereas most of Pompeii is barricaded to keep visitors away), well-shaded by big pine trees, and much less crowded. The one major disadvantage that I recall was having to leave at lunchtime to forage for food in the Medieval borgo next door, an episode that nevertheless had a silver lining in introducing me to a quaint 1000-year-old town.
The food problem at Ostia Antica was soon remedied by the construction of a pleasant glass-walled cafeteria next to the site museum, which allows the visitor to spend the entire day among the ruins. The visitor experience at Ostia Antica continues to improve gradually with every passing year. Recently a cement staircase and ramp were installed on the decumanus maximus (main east-west road) at the corner of Via dei Molini to smooth the abrupt (and dangerous) drop from the Late Antique to the Republican street level, the mosaics in the Piazzale delle Corporazioni were cleaned, and Wi-Fi was installed in the cafeteria.
But if it’s true that first impressions are the most important ones, then much more needs to be done to allow Ostia Antica to make the sensational first impression every visitor deserves. There are many dirty mosaics and frescoes that need to be cleaned and conserved, collapsing walls that need to be patched up, and trees and plants that need to be cut back more frequently. Many of the informational signs are so old as to be faded or peeling, and there are not enough signs to make up for the lack of a good guidebook in English.
We at the American Institute for Roman Culture are big fans of Ostia Antica, and we’re working hard to improve the visitor experience there through a variety of projects. In 2010 and 2011 we created a series of educational videos about the site that were recently cited by The New York Times as an authoritative source. In 2011 we brought much-needed attention to the site by making it a central theme of our first annual Unlisted conference on sustainable cultural heritage. In 2011 and 2012 we tested an innovative approach to documenting and conserving the standing remains. And in recent years our Summer Archaeological Field School has been based at Ostia Antica.
In 2013 the AIRC field school will be held in the Parco dei Ravennati, a practically unexplored public park located between Ostia Antica and the borgo. This three-year excavation will help finally unite the two areas, blending the romantic beauty of Ostia Antica, the imposing majesty of the castle of pope Julius II, and the relaxing small-town charm of the borgo into an unforgettable first impression. It’s also an opportunity to engage the local community and invite them to invest their tangible and intangible resources in the transformation of Ostia Antica into a world-class archaeological experience on a par with Pompeii and central Rome through preservation, education, and promotion, so that everyone will gain something.
We want your first impression of Ostia Antica to be a great one: please consider joining the excavation project, if a student, or just stopping by to say “hi” as you make your way from the train station to the archaeological site.
– by Albert Prieto, AIRC Associate Director of Archaeology, albert[at]romanculture.org
AIRC is pleased to announce the development of its partnership with California State University, Fresno (Fresno State), as official school of record for all academic program offerings. University academic credit for AIRC programs will now be offered by Fresno State. That includes our upcoming 15-week semester program:
- Fall 2013 Signature Semester Program September 2-December 12, 2013
as well as this summer’s program offerings:
- Living Latin, Living History A unique program in colloquial, spoken Latin language with Professor Nancy Llewellyn
- Layers of Rome, Track 1 History and Art History A comprehensive overview of the ancient Roman world
- Layers of Rome, Track 2 Media Studies A solid basis in ancient Roman studies for producing a real-world media project
- Archaeological Field School An intense hands-on excavation program, now in its 11th year
The partnership, which is administered through Fresno State’s Division of Continuing and Global Education in partnership with the College of Arts and Humanities, support’s the University’s internationalization vision as articulated in its Strategic Plan for Excellence. Russel Statham, Manager for Administration and Global Operations, said, “We are excited about this new partnership and are pleased to be able to expand Fresno State’s role in promoting global education. Our alignment with AIRC will offer hundreds of students the opportunity to receive academic credit for world-class educational programs in Rome, and we are pleased to be a leader supporting international education opportunities.”
AIRC is proud to have Fresno State as its official partner in offering university academic credit for AIRC’s high-quality, one-of-a-kind academic programs in Rome, and is looking forward to the opportunity to now enroll a much wider range of students who require college credit for their academic experience abroad.
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.
Happy New Year! 2013 has already started to ring in fierce! With forty-eight hours left in our Kickstarter campaign “Digging History”, we are proud to share the news that we have 63 backers and have surpassed our target goal. In fact, we are more than pleased (does “jumping up and down” give you a good idea?) with the amount of support we have had over the past four weeks- donations from every level and inspiring group of people spreading the word about our Kickstarter campaign on the streets and through the airwaves. Reaching our goal of $10,000 in three weeks, and then surpassing it (we have now raised over $12,000), is a wonderful feeling! Our feeling is that making history happens by the community, and as we move forward to outlining and organizing the production of Digging History, we look forward to acknowledging you- our supporters and donors.
What comes next? Well, before we can really roll up our sleeves, we have a couple of days left to continue to raise funds. We are pushing hard and reaching out (and asking readers those of you who have already donated) to do the same. More funding will allow us to produce more (and that’s the true goal), to create a fun, accessible hub online that will truly serve to excite and teach K-12, colllege, professional, and the public at large about Rome. Along with donating, another way to support our projects is also by spreading the word about what we do– in particular, our ipetition: Save the Gladiator Tomb— the quick update is that we have over 3000 signatures as we steadfastly approach our goal of 5000. Please keep get your friends, friends of friends and acquaintances to sign. Thank you to the following for their great mentions of these two projects: Katie Parla of Parla Food, Unamericanaaroma.com, Italiannotebook.com, CNN and Ben Wedeman, Fathom Away and Russell Crowe.
~Darius Arya, Executive Director
Reblogged from Executive Director Darius Arya’s blog DariusAryaDigs:
Please join me in voicing your concern for saving the Gladiator’s Tomb, a unique cultural heritage site that runs the risk of being reburied permanently for lack of funding. Together with the AIRC, I am hoping to get 5,000 signatures on the iPetition to save the Gladiator’s Tomb.
In 2008, on the Via Flaminia in the northern part of contemporary Rome, archaeologist found an impressive marble mausoleum, among other noteworthy tombs, along a well-preserved section of ancient road. The press was quick to call this particular tomb “Tomb of the Gladiator” since the tomb itself was comissioned by and for Marcus Nonius Macrinus, an prominent general under the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Macrinus’ life was paralleled in the Oscar-winning film Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott) with the general-then-gladiator character Maximus magnificently played by Russell Crowe. Upon its discovery and nickname, the world responded enthusiastically because of its relationship with the larger-than-life Maximus, who represented so much of Rome and created such enthusiasm for ancient Roman culture, as well as the overwhelmingly important historic, architectural, and epigraphical qualities of the site itself.
Over the past decade and a half of living and working in Rome, I have been fortunate to visit the site on numerous occasions, and I am constantly struck by the enormity of the site-13,000 square meters in area, almost three American football fields. It is beautiful– both historically and physically. I think anyone that comes to the site cannot help but have an immediate connection to the past. I am also in awe of the amount of mud that buried site thus preserving it (45 feet in height)- it gives you an idea of both what the archaeologists had to overcome but also how much lucky they were to even find it.
The superintendency’s recent (and almost abrupt) decision to rebury the site for preservation is laudable in that they want to preserve the site. However, the historical importance of the site merits further attention and excavation, not simply covering up. We have too much to lose here. If we have to pick and choose, this is one worth fighting for. Please join me in signing and sharing this iPetition now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.