2022 Summer Artena Field Work Historical Sites Italy Olivia Bartholomew Sustainability

Sustainability in Ancient Artena

One of the biggest adjustments coming from the United States to Italy is the lack of air conditioning. It’s hot in Artena, and with only the occasional warm breeze, there is very little refuge from the heat. Life would be a bit more comfortable with the refreshing cool of air conditioning as we are used to in the U.S, but Italians have a different mindset. Most seem to trade their comfort in the hot months of the year for the more sustainable practice of all windows and doors open and a cross breeze. It is interesting to see how we as a group are all slowly adjusting, occasionally sleeping on our balconies to get the cooler night air, dressing in lighter weight clothes, and just dealing with it.

There are other sustainable practices that I’ve noticed in Artena, like the diligent recycling separation, reusing bottles and other things that we often see as disposable, hand washing laundry, and elevated use of public transportation. People generally seem to be more invested in living a sustainable life.

View of the balcony from our hotel room, with our laundry hanging to dry and mattresses moved to enjoy the cool breeze.

There is a parallel between the modern day Artenese and the Romans that lived here before them at the Piano del Civita when it comes to sustainability practices. Every aspect of the archeological site has an element of reuse. 

The earliest structures were abandoned and repurposed or built up for new use by the next groups that inhabited the space. While much of the wood elements of structures would disintegrate, metal, glass, stone, and cement lasted overtime, even until today as we can still see it. The age of the walls that remain onsite can be identified by their material, style, and depth, and act as evidence of reuse of these walls over several thousands of years in multiple different structures. Many of the early aspects were still in use by the end of its active life.

Some of the site walls that have been uncovered. The closest wall in the photo is mixed construction, built with two different styles of rock. It was rebuilt to be reused.

The Ancient Romans were also sustainable in their everyday lifestyles. Many of the artifacts that we have uncovered in the past two weeks have been pottery shards, suggesting the massive amount of pottery that was used on site. Made from terracotta, everything from storage pots to dishes lasted and were reused over the centuries. We have found shards of general tableware, as well as of amphorae and dolia, which are large storage pots that held grain, wine, food, or other everyday household needs. Not only were pots used over and over again in one generation of people; many were used over millennia.

Diagnostic pieces of pottery, which have an identifiable feature like a rim, base, or handle can be dated based on their shape, specific function, or decoration, which allows us to compare the time period in which they were made to the layer of dirt and corresponding time period in which they were found. Crossover between suggested creation dates and latest use dates offer an idea of a pot’s reuse across time. We can also see evidence of repair of the terracotta when we find a lead filled hole in a shard, which would allow the life of a pot to be lengthened.

Published artifacts in the Naples Archeological Museum. Very similar to findings in Artena, these shards were recovered and reconstructed into the terra sigillata dishware that was no doubt used for hundreds of years.

While the people that occupied the Piano della Civita for thousands of years may not have consciously been working towards a goal of sustainability, the archeological evidence shows that it was very much a part of their lives. It came second nature to them- making the most of what they already had before creating something new. Yes, the world has modernized, and it is now much easier to buy new dishes and build new walls, but does that mean we should not use what we already have? In a world of so much excess, the ancient people of Piano della Civita can teach us to be creative when it comes to using everything we have to it’s fullest extent, and being sustainable in our choices.

Learn more about other students’ experiences with sustainability in their host countries!

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