As our final days in Artena came to a close, we had been finding ourselves speeding through time. What used to feel like days upon days, suddenly felt like mere minutes. Five and a half hours at the site felt like barely one. It almost seemed fitting that we also found many more artifacts in those last few days than we had any other time during the month.
The ferocious heat that had been causing the forest fires only seemed to be increasing in intensity, with multiple fires springing up daily. The fire that prevented us from our dinner in the caves also burned the northern-most right corner of our site, which happened to be where we have been working the most. Thankfully, it didn’t come close enough to cause any damage; the fire only burned away pesky thistles and weeds. The lingering smell of smoke had us all on edge however, as a constant reminder of the heat and the importance of and need for water.
As we wrapped up Thursday, we ran out of things to do and to dig around, as we didn’t want to start anything new only to be cut off in a day’s time. Because of this, we ended up making small talk with some of the locals who have been helping us these last few weeks, laying in the sun, and attempting to not get heat stroke. Learning that it was the last day volunteers could come was a bit disheartening, because even though most of us can’t really communicate very well with them, they brightened our days and made them fun.
Friday we spent doing last minute cleaning, brushing dirt off of more dirt, and honestly feeling pretty useless. Rock piles were moved to form other, further away rock piles, and dirt piles were attempted to be flattened. However, covering our few basins and important walls with new plastic gave us a sense of purpose and a goal for the last day. Covered in plastic tarp and volcanic rocks, the walls, basins, and dolium have hopefully been sufficiently preserved for next summer’s program of students.
Flying home on a grueling ten-hour flight the following morning proved to be a restless time for me, personally. I thought about everything that I would miss, the sites and architecture, the wonderful food and the friendly people. But mostly, I spent my time thinking about how lucky I am to have had this opportunity to experience something that most Americans never can; I immersed myself in a new culture, in their histories, and I effectively became part of the living, breathing history of the Roman Empire.