Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why excavations are a great summer experience, even for non-majors

Why go on an archaeological excavation if you’re not an Archaeology major?
Over the course of ten season we have had a variety of undergraduate majors join our archaeological excavation. Many come after taking an archaeology course with one of our staff members or friends of the project, having experienced archaeology in the classroom or having seen Indiana Jones perhaps a few too many times. Some of these students have already declared a major or minor in Archaeology, Classics, Art History, or some variation of these fields that clearly relate to the excavation of the Ancient World. Excavation is an obvious choice for these students, but we have also had pre-med students, business majors, engineers, and studio artists. Other than the experience, which we think is well worth it, what skills can non-majors gain from working at Gabii?
Area G/H works together to fill out one of their first context sheets.
An archaeological excavation is no small undertaking. Students are assigned to one of our excavation areas and work in groups of five to fifteen other students, supervised by professors and graduate students. For some this is not their first time excavating, some not even their first time at Gabii, they know some of what to expect and can handle the demanding environment. For others the changes of living in a new place and performing physical work in hot conditions takes some adjustment. As these new experiences are occurring you develop a strong sense of community and comradery with your trench mates. While we could assign each person their own small area to excavate, the process moves much faster when working together. In large deposits students team up: one pickaxes, one shovels, and another sorts through the finds in a wheelbarrow. Although people quickly develop preferences for what they enjoy most and what they excel in, a huge part of teamwork is equitable division of labor and we want to make sure that everyone can truly experience each of these elements of fieldwork.
Similarly, the physical excavation is only a part of what occurs on an archaeological site. Throughout the season students are rotated through our finds, topography, botany, and zoology teams. In these specialized units they can see the post processing work that provides crucial information like dates, information on the ancient diet, and how we record everything that we have done. We strive to build understanding and foster respect for all the different tasks that occur in the field. As a part of this rotation, students learn how to effectively and succinctly communicate. All of the recording that is done in the field, primarily by students with their supervisor’s assistance, is available through our open source database. Students learn how to describe archaeological features, different soil textures, and the fine distinction between salmon and terracotta to name a few examples. 
Part of the environmental rotation includes finding and
identifying different types of ancient seeds.
Throughout the course of the summer students are taught to pay attention to detail and to think critically about large scale processes that happened over the past three thousand year at the site of Gabii. From the very start volunteers take an active role in completing paperwork, beginning with learning how to describe what they see in archaeological terms, and ending in producing interpretations of the archaeology that become a part of Gabii record in our database and, eventually, our publications. In order to understand how ancient Gabines lived, we have to understand how different layers were deposited and what those different actions indicate. 
Every new corner of Rome holds
unexpected, beautiful surprises.
Gabii is fortunately positioned to appeal to student’s sense of adventure. While excavating at Gabii, our students live in the eternal city itself, Rome. They call Trastevere, a vibrant neighborhood of Rome that is full of restaurants and shops, home for the five weeks of excavation. Trastevere is not the well-kept secret of Rome that it once was, but that does not detract from the area’s charm and has only improved public transit, making it easier for our students to get out and explore Rome and Italy on the weekends. For those who want to travel further afield, there is easy access to Rome’s train stations. Every year we have students who go to classics like Naples/Pompeii and Florence. Other great weekend getaways include Bologna, Ravenna, any Italian beach, and the hill towns of Tuscany (like Cortona, San Gimigiano, and Siena). Students interested in food, art, culture, history all find something to enjoy in Italy.
Our alumni have gone on to work in a number of different fields (not just academia): for example, law, marketing, journalism, museum work, engineering, medicine, and social media. The critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills developed while on excavation translate into any field or career path and the friendships built at Gabii carry on even after the summer ends. If you are considering what to do for this upcoming summer, consider joining the field team at Gabii, we look forward to meeting you. 
In case you were wondering what the view in San Marino is like.
 I have a feeling this may be a stop on more lists for the 2019 summer.

To learn more about the Gabii Project and to apply to join our 2019 field season, click here.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Season Well Excavated

This past summer the Gabii Project was happy to welcome 77 team members, representing 20 schools and 7 countries. After ten years of excavation we are still gaining new insights to ancient Gabii and are dedicated to sharing the results of our season with the academic community through our publications and the general public through more informal posts, like our blog.

Photo model of an auxiliary room in Area I
Area I continued to excavate the same building from 2017, attempting to finish work in the eastern section of the structure and extending the trench further west to investigate new walls. The building was standing by the early Imperial period, with some evidence for earlier walls and floors. Mosaic pavements were found in multiple rooms, but the best preserved examples come from two room in the north east of the complex which remain almost entirely intact. Both rooms were paved at the same time and feature black and white geometric designs with circular and rhomboid patterns. This floor decoration was also present, albeit more fragmentarily, in the large central courtyard of the building. Sparse patches of mosaic are present in multiple corners of the room, indicating that it was all paved at one point. At the center of this courtyard there is a chalky, waterproof feature, possibly an impluvium. To the north of the courtyard is another large room with evidence of revetment and a few fragments of decorative marble attached to the socle. The wide entrance into this room, the evidence for decoration, and position of importance relative to the rest of the building indicates that this may have served as an entertainment space.
After the third century BC there is evidence of reorganization. Spaces within the building are blocked off, doorways are closed, and new walls were built to further separate spaces. Most of the rooms contained heavy deposits of post abandonment fill. One long hallway, at the northernmost point of the structure, held fragments of figural wall plaster, pieces of marble, and a small lead and bronze figurine head. It is unclear if these waste materials were taken from the Area I structure and deposited in this out of the way space, or if they belonged to some other building nearby.

Audrey Pierce (U Michigan) reveals beautiful basalt pavers.
In Areas G and H the Gabii team further investigated the road networks of Gabii. Area G focused on a side road extending north from the Via Gabina. Over the course of the season, multiple levels of paving were uncovered: a late Republican basalt paving, an Imperial basalt road, and at least five gravel roads all dating to after the mid to late fifth century C.E. The longevity of this road shows that this route remained an important connector for Gabii even as the functions for different sectors of the town changed. The earliest roads were probably related to accessing the quarries located to the north of the Via Gabina. Later iterations of the road connected southern parts of Gabii with the imperial cemetery in Area B. While none of the Imperial Via Gabina was removed, a large cut feature just to the south of the road allowed us to see a cross-section of the road’s construction including an earlier paving of the road – perhaps form the Republican period –  that may be further examined in future seasons.

Field Assistant Emily Sharp excavating
one of the many post holes in Area C
The excavation’s third trench, Area C, contain the oldest material excavated this summer by the Gabii Project. More of the Latial hut complex was uncovered, including a feature built of stone, wattle and daub that possibly served as a boundary wall around the elite hut complex. Towards the end of the season, two infant burials were discovered within the limits of the compound. Both tombs included remains of an individual under two years in age and an assortment of ceramic and metal grave goods. These graves are suggest that the inhabitants associated with them were of elite status; previous graves from Area C were much less elaborate and modest. Area C hopes to expand their excavation area next year in order to continue delimiting the boundary of this early Gabine hut complex.

Outside of the field, our finds team processed a lot of material (stay tuned for numbers). Storage continues to be a perennial issue, as with all sites that practice comprehensive collection, and the finds team consolidated and more closely examined previous excavation material to free up space. The environmental team continued their blanket sampling of Area C material and also got exciting radiocarbon dates for some of the Area D features. Our topography team dutifully responded to numerous calls to shoot in stratigraphic units, created photo models, and made sure that all of our equipment functioned smoothly, even in the difficult conditions they were exposed to in the field. Paperless recording continues to be a success, allowing for all members of the excavation team to have access to updated data both in the field and back in Rome for after-site work.

Over the weekends our Project members got to adventure throughout the Italian peninsula, visiting major cities, many archaeological sites, and even making it to San Marino (sadly no passports were stamped on that visit). Pompeii offered a major photo op for our students, although we question just how tired they were when the decided to spell out Gabii, at another, slightly more famous, archaeological site. Within the city of Rome, staff
Weekend visit to the Villa Giulia
members Andrew Johnston, Laura Banducci, and Troy Samuels offered special guided tours of the Roman Forum and Villa Giulia Museum. One of the final summer highlights was the Capitoline Museum’s special exhibit “The Rome of King’s” featuring material excavated by one of the University of Michigan’s other projects from Sant’Omobono. Students also had a good time getting to live in Rome and explore their summer neighborhood of Trastevere. Evening musical performances in Piazza Trulissa, the quest for the best spritz, and frequent visits to the newly opened gelataria down the block from the apartments (Giuffre) were some of the highlights of daily life in Rome. While we were sad to close the books on another season in the field, there is still much work to be done back in the states by the excavation team in preparation for 2019.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

These are a few of our favorite things

Halfway through the season we have learned a lot about archaeology and are now settled into the daily routine of coming to site. Two and a half weeks is surely enough time to develop some strong feels and here are a few of the Gabii Project's favorite things!

Our favorite archaeological terms

The only entry that didn't make the word cloud was "Oh look it's a body!" courtesy of Sarah Gilmer. Luckily, there has been no reason to exclaim that yet this season, but she is ever at the ready. 

Favorite Archaeological Tool
Now tools are an even more contentious subject. There are only so many picks, bags, and other equipment to go around, here is what our team most loves using.

The pickaxe won by a firm margin, it seems like everyone occasionally needs to just blow off some steam. There are a few downsides though, like "when you carefully are troweling back a layer and think that you've found the margin, but then they tell you to just pickaxe it all away" Neda Bowden "imagines."

Our other favorite take away comes from Sadie Sisk, "no one loves to sweep, that would be a lie." Do we have two liars?

 Favorite Pottery Vessel or Finish
As a part of their time all the Gabii students rotate through finds where they learn to identify and draw our ceramics. Now none of what we find at Gabii come close to these images, but they do represent some of the fabrics we can see. Make sure to ask a Gabine which was their favorite when they get home!

One errant entry proposed by Emily Sharp was "cute wear" aka all miniature vessels. While it isn't a pottery type, Kelly Miklas wanted to make sure that we knew she was "all about that base." Of course, our finds supervisor Allison Ritterhaus has the most enthusiastic response as she just starts rubbing bucchero lovingly against her cheek.

Coming to Rome is nothing without sampling the local cuisine. Here are our favorite Roman pasta types! There are plenty more Italian pastas, like the Genoan pesto pictured, ragu Bolognese, tortellini, pasta alla Norma, just to name a few of the non-Roman options out there. Perhaps personal sentiment is best captured by Kyra Webb, for whom "cacio e pepe is life."

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Fun Story About Locks and Limes

I'm Eli Jenkinson and here's a fun anecdote about locks and Limes!

“It’s the start of day three on site and as always its an early start to the morning. Alarm goes off at 6 am and it’s time to start getting ready. Thankfully I had packed my bag the night before so I didn’t have to put any mental effort into that. I had already dressed, eaten breakfast and brushed my teeth, time to get a move on. Getting down the stairs and out the gate, with a short walk to the bus, were the only things left between me and a nap on the way to site. As I walked through the gate I did a quick touch test to make sure the most important things are in my backpack and of course I’m missing something. Oh no! It’s my water bottle. I hustle back up to our third story apartment to get it while trying not to make the bus late. I’m out of the building and rushing to the bus. Thankfully it’s 6:43 and I can see the last group just getting onto the bus, I’m not going to keep anyone waiting! Trust me, you never want to be the one holding up the bus. Then I hear “ELI!”. I whip around having no idea who is shouting my name but I realize it is coming from an apartment balcony. It’s Emily Lime! In a very animated matter she shouts “Help me! I’m locked in our apartment! Tell someone to come get me.” So I double my hustle and hop onto the bus. I tell Darcy and Emily Sharp, who are conveniently both in charge and roommates with Emily Lime, that she needs help. They get her out quickly and we’re off to site. As I nod off to sleep I assume the problems of the locks are over, boy was I wrong. 

Emily’s bad luck with the locks persisted into the day on site. She is the finds intern this season and when she went to get the items out of the finds hut for the day on site that lock broke too! The finds team had to improvise, and a mighty fine job they did at it, until a locksmith was able to come bust the lock. This seemed insane to have Emily have such bad luck with two completely different locks but it transferred itself one more time before the eventful day was over. There is a phone, think old flat face style, that the interns have for contact with the directors if needed at anytime. This thing is very old and the interns hadn’t been able to figure out how to lock it but after just a few minutes with Emily Lime locks them out of it! It seemed too strange to be true. Thankfully Emily Lime has not had anymore problems with the locks but it is quite interesting that things really do come in threes.”

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Gabii Project at Penn

J. Marilyn Evans (Swarthmore College) will give a talk in a colloquium organized by the Department of Classical Studies at the Univeristy of Pennsylvania. The talk, titled "Buried Among the Living: Intramural Burial in Archaic Gabii", will offer a reappraisal of the role of intramural burial in urban development, based on recent finds from the Gabii Project excavations. 

The event is scheduled for February 18, 4:30-6:00 p.m. (402 Cohen Hall). More details here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Gabii Project at the 117th AIA Annual Meeting

Jason Farr will present a paper titled "Lapis Gabinus: Quantifying the Economy of a Roman Tufo Quarry." The presentation is part of Session 3F - The Economics and Logistics of Roman Art and Architecture, and is scheduled for Thursday, January 7th 2:10 p.m. (Plaza Room A, Lobby Level).

Giulia Peresso and Arianna Zapelloni Pavia are scheduled to give a presentation on "Decay or Repurposing of a Roman City: Gabii in Late Antiquity" in Session 6G - From Foundation to Decay: Town-Planning and Urban Development in Ancient Italy on Friday, January 8th 4:15 p.m. (Plaza Room A, Lobby Level).

J. Troy Samuels and Matt Naglak will talk about "Dress to Impress: Elite Status and Textile Production at Early Gabii" in Session 7F - Textiles, Dress and Adornment in Antiquity  on Saturday, January 9th 8:50 a.m. (Yosemite Ballroom A).

Open to all Gabii aficionados attending the meeting!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Perfect Season Comes to an End

It will be a hectic time on site this week until the very moment we finally drop the curtain, but one thing is clear already: this has been a very successful season! After seven straight seasons the archaeological levels in the so-called Area D have been completely excavate, reaching the natural deposits across the entire sector. We now have documented an uninterrupted sequence stretching back to the phase of Gabii's formation. Another major achievement is the conclusion of excavation activities in the Area F building. Our research group looks forward to the next step: study and publication! On the other hand, the important results from Area C have already opened new avenues for the expansion of the excavation areas in 2016. The future fieldwork will provide more evidence on the urban history of the urban core, addressing new research questions.

Such incredible accomplishments would not have been possible without the hard work, unwavering enthusiasm, and passion for archaeology of our 2015 crew. Thank you all! We hope that you will keep in touch with the Gabii Project, and we are looking forward to welcoming you back in the field next year if you wish. A special farewell goes to our long-time friend, supporter and staff member Diane Tincu. We celebrated Diane during our end-of-dig lunch party. To honor her, the project decided to officially name one of the buildings excavated in previous years on site after her: from now on, the Area B House will be known as the Diane Tincu Building. Thank you Diane! We hope you'll change your mind and join us again next season...