2022 Summer Artena Field Work Historical Sites Italy Museums Olivia Bartholomew Research Temple Summer

Piecing together the puzzle: a snapshot of archeological work

Archeological research is a long process. The site we are working on in Artena, Piano della Civita, has been under ongoing excavation for about 50 years. Locals always knew there was some sort of structure at the top of the mountain due to the large flat plane and a retaining boundary wall still surrounding it. An archeologist named Professor Lambrechts got funding for an excavation in the 1970s, and work has been consistent ever since. The current director of the excavation, Professor Gadeyne, has been working on the site for about 30 years. Artifacts spanning thousands of years from the ancient Roman era have been found. While a lot of the history of the site has been pieced together in the decades of work, there are still a lot of unknowns and a lot more to learn from the structures that remain buried.

Since the Temple in Artena program is only four weeks long, we only get a snapshot of the work that goes on in an archeological dig.  To try to give us the most complete picture of what archeological research really looks like, Professor Gadeyne has been giving us experiences across all parts of the process. 

Our mornings start on site. This is the physical part of archeology. When it comes to the act of digging on site, every layer of dirt has to be meticulously removed. We have been out in the sun with pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows uncovering a new section of the site. It’s hot and somewhat grueling, and we have to be careful and precise. We sift through each shovelful of soil for pieces of pottery, metal, glass, and other building materials. When an artifact is found, it must be bagged, tagged, cleaned and identified before it becomes a valuable piece of the puzzle. When we encounter intact walls, we must become even more meticulous and slowly scrape away the dirt from the stone and concrete to reveal the wall. The work takes many hours, and well-coordinated teams to successfully complete.

Our afternoons and weekends offer insight into the process that follows, as well as the finished product that can yield from our meticulous morning work- discoveries being published for the public to see. Some afternoons, we clean the pot sherds that we’ve found. This is also a slow process, as each piece is delicate and could crumble or break in your hand. In the local Artena archeology museum, we saw the collection of materials that have been recovered from the excavation site but have not been completely analyzed and placed within the history of the villa. Later on in the program we will help inventory these pieces to further them along in the analysis process. 

This past week we visited the National Archeological Museum and Temple Complex in Palestrina, the next town over, and the Naples Archeology Museum just a few hours south. In each of these museums, we saw artifacts on display along with the story that they’re associated with. These museums tell the complete story of archeological research that started with a dig similar to what we’re performing, and went through the long process of analysis before the puzzle was finally pieced together.

Professor Gadeyne always reminds us that the goal of archeology is not about finding things. It is about reconstructing the lives and culture of the people who lived in these places once upon a time. Seeing bits and pieces of the process gives us students insight into that reconstruction, and an understanding of humanity and the development of humans from over 2000 years ago until now.

Read along next week to learn more about some of our specific findings and how they inform our understanding of Ancient Roman culture in Artena!

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