25. Bringing Public Outreach Full-Circle: 2019 Aeclanum Excavation Season Part.2

With the 2019 Open Day at Roman Aeclanum, this post reflects on the last three years of public outreach development I have worked on in Passo di Mirabella, southern Italy.

Frequently, I am asked what on earth I am doing in Italy. Why all the cartoons? What’s it all for?

In 2017, I was given the opportunity to work on an excavation with the Apolline Project and the University of Edinburgh in Passo di Mirabella, Roman Aeclanum, as the Public Archaeology Coordinator. This was an new direction for my work with a lot of exciting potential. The hobbies that I naturally gravitated towards ( included travel photography and illustrating, blogging and other forms of social media) coupled with the subject matter I enjoyed (archaeology and art history) formed a useful starting point for conceptualizing how to approach outreach for an archaeological site with minimal public exposure. Over the next three years, I worked towards creating interconnected projects that were designed to start a narrative of the history of the site and began the groundwork for Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum. With support from the University of Edinburgh’s History, Classics and Archaeology department and the Institute of Classical Studies, I have been fortunate to share these public archaeology activities with the wider academic community working in Classical engagement.

Public Archaeology: why does it matter?

“Public archaeology is really just public relations. It is getting the public interested enough to care and those who care interested enough to engage.”

– Dr. Jody Steele is the Heritage Programs Manager at Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority.

The role of public archaeology, within the umbrella of specialisms of archaeology, is finding relevant and interesting ways of communicating the research objectives and material remains of the site. The sub-discipline is still new, and as such, still strives to justify itself and the importance of the work. Future funders, archaeologists, politicians and so on learn about the importance of heritage as children in most cases and as such, continuing to hone and develop how we deliver these messages about the importance of heritage management and research is fundamental to its continuation. With no exaggeration, if people are not engaged and well-informed about the importance of archaeology, it simply won’t happen nor will it receive funding.

Running a public archaeology programme or project requires marketing and public relations work, it also is heavily reliant upon the skills, expertise and historical knowledge of the individuals behind the work. By focusing first on the relationships within the local community then translating those interactions and efforts more broadly, we managed to do some pretty cool and unique things!

Outreach materials are useful in a variety of contexts! This year, site specialists gave informal seminars to dig students, making use of the boards that we’ve used at previous open days!

These ideas were articulated by our site supervisors this summer in a video made by one of our student volunteers, Jazz Demetrioff. The research objectives set at the onset of the excavation shape the direction the excavation and thus outreach will take. The research questions are answered over the season through the material culture and structures discovered. I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about and trying to articulate why public engagement matters, and how the projects I have had the fortune of working on in Italy are helping me plan future outreach projects.

The progress of inking, watercolour then handing over to Josef to embed the real marble colours! These marble trading characters may or may not be based on Chris and I 😉

Public Archaeology in Aeclanum: 2017-2019

Archaeology Passport covers: 2017, 2018, 2019

First Year: 2017

The formative work with the archaeological site of Aeclanum was a mixture of reconnaissance and coming up with a cohesive set of materials we could begin presenting to the local community. When we arrived there was one pamphlet in Italian with very technical (scarce) archaeological maps, and no site signage or historical narrative for the site. The first steps, then, meant creating some basic materials for young visitors!

Second Year: 2018

We produced outreach materials that focused on the multi-phase bath complex and the role of public bathing in Roman daily life. This included posters for adult audiences and young visitors to the site which reflected the finds that were excavated in earlier campaigns and the current research. A particular favorite was the marble map game, which encouraged kids to explore where the marble in Aeclanum came from! We updated the game in 2018 to include further details like marble traders across the Mediterranean!

Neratia’s Lost Ring: at the baths of Aeclanum

Emily Johnston, an excavation supervisor, worked on a public outreach project with the Apolline Project for 2018, Neratia’s Lost Ring: at the baths of Aeclanum. This exploration of Roman baths in a short-story format, allows the reader to get to know the space and customs as experienced by Neratia (wealthy patrician’s daughter) and Caius (freedman’s son). As the narrative follows the youths trying to find Neratia’s missing ring, the mechanics of the bath complex are explained. I supplied a few illustrations for her story, which were linked into the graphic novella! We are hoping to launch this short story for winter, 2019.

The graphic specialists on site, Lucia Michielin and Josef Souček, worked with me across almost every peice of art that was used for outreach. Their talents were widely appreciated, like finding a pretty rock but not realizing it was a gem till it was polished. Their skills with creating scientific panels based on the research, articulating the architectural findings and included 3D reconstructions of the significant archaeological structures reconstructions were essential to my comic renderings for Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum. Due to the topography of Aeclanum, the bath excavated bath complex straddles a sloping hill and as such has distinctive buttresses, which when digitally rendered, provided helpful insight on how to include the city scenes around it.

Views of Aeclanum: bath complex, forum and theatre, temple and portico

Third Year: 2019

With the first two phases of outreach work at Aeclanum complete (panels, the short story, scavenger hunt and educational games), the next phase I was most interested to explore was getting feedback from the community and channeling this into a project that could capitalize on the knowledge of the team of specialists on-site and include up-to-date site interpretations, woven within the comic narrative. By concluding the 2018 outreach season with a survey and vote by the children from the local community who decided which style I would be drawing the comic in, I had my marching orders to get to work on the comic!

With Vita Romana, I wanted something that might help spark imaginations about how big and interesting this city was during its heyday through a stand-alone story, but grounding it in the real-world buildings and materials of Aeclanum. Also, I had never completed a comic book before and this was a challenge I wanted to dive into!

Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum

Getting the gang together remotely meant that there was revisions and frequent dialogue. Ambra Ghiringhelli was like a fish to water getting the text written with care and historical consideration! Using an a-typical approach of having the storyboard roughed out and the text done afterwards, it was fascinating to see what joke she would come up with to match one of Neratia’s smirking faces or the right tone for a teenage daughter giving her mom some sass.

As this was my third year working with Josef, I couldn’t be more grateful for his ongoing collaboration. With his eye for details and in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, I could rely on him spotting all sorts of tiny details (and errors) that improved the whole project immensely. All of the images were sent to him to do his digital magic, fixes and formatting. You would be surprised how much work goes into making a comic look like a comic.

There are always many changes from start to finish!
The polished final English version.

The breadth of things to consider when trying to create a graphic novella attempting to be rooted in archaeological and historical accuracy is astounding. This project has taken me on some really exciting turns which inevitably has meant that I am always learning, always questioning and trying to find evidence for the scenes I am creating.

The majority of influential imagery or material culture references were derived from the collections at the Museo Nazionale, Naples and the frescoes contained in the archaeological parks of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Social media outreach for these sites has been invaluable! With new discoveries coming all the time from Pompeii all the time, by following their Twitter and Instagram, I was able to integrate some of these exciting new finds into Vita Romana. Though Pompeii was covered by Vesuvius by the time our story in Aeclanum would have taken place, the tastes and styles used in decorating homes in these cities could easily be replicated by artisans in communities like Aeclanum. Indeed, the riches of Aeclanum could be much more akin to those at Pompeii due to their size and places along the road networks.

We had a great turn out this July at the comic launch, with hundreds of people visiting the archaeological park! The children’s scavenger hunt activity led them around the site using our third version (a self-directed version) of the archaeological passport as their guide. With Ferdinando crafting the texts and dealing with the translation needs, these materials will hopefully get English versions for download on Archaeokids!

They were asked to find the significant landmarks on the site with general information about their use, and fill out a letter which would lead them to the office piazza that contained the lost doll of Neratia Secunda, completing the narrative in the real world which is introduced in the passport. Once the children completed their scavenger hunt, they received a copy of Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum, whose printing was generously funded by the Institute of Classics Studies (ICS).

The Road Ahead & Archaeokids.com

Seeing this stage of the journey come to a successful conclusion was pretty amazing. I’ve worked with some amazing people and had an incredible opportunity to have so much freedom to explore the ancient world in my favourite medium. The next steps ahead will involve working with the data collected from the launch, and an article which will be interesting to write this winter.

Josef, me and Ferdinando at the launch day in Passo di Mirabella.

As always, I look forward to challenges and adventures ahead! Ferdinando and I are continuing to find new avenues to create and highlight the public archaeology work that started in Aeclanum and is expanding to other sites!

Thank you for reading my blog!

24. Planning on a summer of Archaeology? 10 Pro-tips for going on a dig.

Whether it is your first time on an excavation, or another chapter in your journey of archaeological field or laboratory work, fellow archaeologists, students and specialists have channelled their experience for you!

After years of going on digs, several archaeology students and I are passing on our pro-tips for planning a summer excavation season. From essentials, tech tips to creature comforts, here are some tips for a stress-free excavation!

Since beginning my journey in 2008 with field schools, excavating and studying abroad, I have progressed along in my journey from dig student to project manager. There are always so many more skills to learn and wonderful experiences to share. As the following list items will show, there are some handy things to bring on a dig, while others you can pick up wherever you are doing field work and save yourself the bag space!

10. Start with a good rucksack. Your journey begins by investing in something that is comfortable and that you can move with minimal effort.
Big wheelie bags can seem easier, but if you have any major walking to do, or plan to travel afterwards, aim to have something you can easily move and ALWAYS be able to lift it yourself. I have helped many a random traveler over the years because they couldn’t manage their own luggage.

Packing for field work for a few days (1), a fortnight (2) or a month (3), pick the right bag for the job!

The weekender (1) is good to bring along with you as a personal item so you can spend a night or two sightseeing while you are on an excavation season. The fortnight (2) can cover a two week dig, but if that is all you are packing, pick up towels/toiletries in the location you are ending up. The month-long (3) should be spacious enough for all your necessities and still leave you enough space for souvenirs.

9. Doing your research pays off. Buying your gear off-season is always significantly cheaper. If you cross-check prices on a few different sites once you find a bag that catches your eye, you can often get it for a fraction of the cost. The three rucksacks pictured above were each 50-70% off, totaling £110.00 for all three!

8. Pack for the job you have and the experience you want. My packing list might look a little different than yours might this season, as a big part of my work tends to be organizational (project management) and art /writing (public archaeology) . However, there are some basics for organizing your belongings that are handy no matter what your role on a dig. Organizing by theme, by grouping what those needs are into little related clusters/packing cubes can help you avoid losing things or over-packing. Prioritizing what is a must to bring, and what you can probably just pick up at a shop when you arrive, will keep you on track. Pro-tip: bringing a small bundle of elastic bands and some Ziploc bags helps to compress your belongings in for space (or keep gross things away from nice things) by doing that Marie Kondo style roll, held with a rubber band will do the trick. Packing cubes are quite helpful, as once there you won’t have dressers to put your things away in, and some semblance of organization may spark joy.

Field Gear: Rules and regulations vary by country and sometimes site, but these are some general principles from my experience in Italy. Full-length trousers and steel toe boots are required for excavating. No exceptions. Trench supervisors will check this type of thing, since foot protection is a site safety issue. What styles of boots and trousers is entirely up to you. Long sleeve shirts are going to keep you from becoming a lobster, and a good option for layering between chillier mornings to hot afternoons.

From Primark to Jack Woolfskin, it’s up to you and your budget. There are frequently low-cost options highlighted on online shops, but comfort/breathability are pretty important. Quick dry (wicking) options make laundry less of a chore, especially in Mediterranean heat you can dry your washed clothes in 20 minutes. Pro-tip: break in new boots before arrival to avoid blisters and Merino wool socks help protect your feet from over-heating, wicking away moisture and avoiding odor.

Optional items: Fancy kit and tools is unnecessary for first-time excavations, as the programmes will provide the tools you need, mostly centrally-held by a trench supervisor. You can buy little handy tools and so on, but it is likely to go unused and just adds weight to your luggage.

Trowel

Not all trowels are made equally. My favourite is the WHS trowel. It is a British design that feels good in your hand and has a lot of durability. I prefer the soft-handle WHS trowel, but many others like the wooden handle. You can check out dig tools on the Past Horizons website: here or Strati-Concept: here. Order your kit several weeks before you expect to head off to dig, because having mail sent to you.

7. Working in the sun safely. Suncare products should be rigorously applied and re-applied throughout the day, especially after sifting for an hour and pushing up your 20th wheelbarrow to the spoil heap. Hats are a must, and shirts with built-in sun protection or that are at least long enough to cover your skin are essential. Staying hydrated is going to be paramount if you plan to get the most out of your field work experience and avoid overexerting yourself. Safety is always the most important thing.

6. Tech: should it stay or should it go? Working on my thesis and part-time job while on excavation means that a lightweight tablet-laptop hybrid is essential so I can take my work with me. The DSLR is also part of my art and field work kit for my thesis and public archaeology. I still optimistically bring dig boots and a trowel every year but my path has diverged slightly from within the trench to working on public engagement. It is worth considering leaving your expensive tech at home if you don’t really need it. I.e, if you aren’t writing a PhD or Masters, you actually may have the summer off, so why not enjoy it? Kick back with a kindle or a real paperback and soak in the sun or debate the classics over wine with fieldwork colleagues!

5. Entertainment items are important additions to your time away on excavation. If you enjoy photography, bring your camera. There will be amazing moments that you will capture through the camera lens that you will enjoy reflecting on. If you are an artist, bring a travel sketch and paint kit! Bringing something small for your downtime, that is still social, is a great way to meet new people. This is a great opportunity to try travel blogging or leveling-up your Instagram game. #DigSeason #ArchaeologyLife #QueensOfTheLab. If after a full day of working with others you would prefer some quiet time, ebooks and headphones are a good (lightweight) idea, as there will be plenty of time to rest and relax. Tech-tip extra: multi-plug usb and universal adapters will save your life. Most dig houses have limited plugs, and 50 people needing to charge their phones can be hard to accommodate.

4. Working with injuries and staying healthy. Many of us have bad knees, sore backs and a host of other potential aches and pains. Knee pads are a must if you have any knee problems, but even if you are blessed with injury-free knees, they are a huge help for long periods of kneeling on hard surfaces. Necessary medications should be brought with you, you might find it hard to find an Italian equivalent. Things like painkillers and hydration aids are commonly available and not challenging to get a hold of.  Keeping healthy extras: bug spray, flip flops (for showers), bandaids (plasters) and hand sanitizer/hand wipes are cheap as chips and good to have in your pack.

If you are going to bring toiletries, just grab enough for the travel to and fro. Anything you need at your dig, you can grab nearby once you arrive.

Hydration in high temperatures is tackled by investing in good insulated water bottles. Gulping down a mouthful of hot water is not the most refreshing while working, so insulated water bottles can keep your drinking water chilled for several hours. I typically have two with me and there are all sorts available on Amazon.

3. Mental health and wellness while working abroad. Excavation situations abroad can be full of life-changing experiences and new friends. They can also be very stressful, living with 50 strangers doing manual labour in a foreign country where you may not speak the language. This might be the first time experiencing a shared eating, washing and sleeping space. Even for those who are not shy or prone to a bit of social anxiety, this can seem like a pretty intense prospect. However, it is incredibly common to feel this way, and there are some great relaxation and mindfulness approaches to help and get the most out of your time abroad!

This might require you to actively seek some time alone on a walk, write in a travel journal to reflect on some of your experiences and don’t be afraid to carve out the time for you that you need to feel rested. If you are lucky enough to be working in or near a town, grabbing some colleagues and having a cheeky dinner out together is a nice break from the larger group.

2. Be open minded to new cultures. If this is your first time abroad or just in the location you will be digging, it goes without saying that you will encounter customs that are unfamiliar to you. Much of what you read online can be quite negative. If you read about places like Naples, there are a variety of opinions that are often quite apprehensive. Treat everything you read with a grain of salt. Some people have had bad experiences, but like all travel a trip is as good as you make it. If you pack smart, don’t flash your valuables around and keep important items secured, you should have no problems. Just as traveling anywhere, train and bus stations are not safe places to hang around full stop and often give a slightly grim impression. Take a breath, chill out and be smart.

Things [in Italy] run a little differently and certainly much slower than many of you will be used to (which you may not like at first), but if you are patient and keep an open mind you will find the beauty within the relaxed style of living, vibrant and passionate people, delicious food, and charming architecture.

Caity Concannon, pottery specialist in-training, Aeclanum
Alex Slucky, Archaeobotany specialist, Aeclanum, presenting culinary delights of southern Italy.

Rather than looking for what is familiar, you are perfectly poised to learn new things about yourself and the world around you. Breaking out of your comfort zone by trying new foods, talking to locals and getting to know the culture and history of the place you are going to spend a few weeks or a full season excavating in is incredibly rewarding.

  1. An Archaeological mindset, positive attitude and a trowel. Really there isn’t much else you need.

You have an incredible opportunity ahead of you. Everyone will have different backgrounds and varying amounts of experience, so use that to your advantage! Ask questions on and off site. You can learn so much from everyone around you. Many people will be coming to your dig without knowing anyone. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with someone, they are likely in the same boat as you! If you are coming with friends, branch out and include others!

Many thanks to the feedback from students: Alex Slucky, Caity Concannon, Chanchal Rm, Erik Niskanen, Jazz Demetrioff, Jessica Staples, Kathleen Emily Ann O’Donnell, Max Ratcliffe, Mickey Ferguson, Emma Watts.
With special thanks to Briana King for modeling gear!

Thank you for checking out my blog and have a great field school and excavation season!

From 2008 – 2018, so many wonderful people have come into my life, and I am so grateful for the experiences we have shared.

23. Breaking New Ground: 2018 Aeclanum Excavation Season part.1

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Change in life, travel and work are always inspiring to me. With this excavation season, there were several developments in the programme which have already opened many doors. Pushing ourselves towards new skills and challenges, the team that came back together this year is working harder than ever to support the students and in our research. The 2018 dig season at Passo di Mirabella kicked off several weeks ago and for returning students and staff, and after an intense first year in my PhD, it was a pretty great feeling to get back to the site. With a few of us in different positions this year and including a new field project manager (Allison Kidd), and myself moving into project managing off-site alongside the Public Archaeology coordinating. The organizational flow appears to be working well already! The ethos of this excavation is generally oriented away from hierarchies but having people in place to provide additional support in a few key areas has made a big difference!

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These wonderful rogues, Luke and Rory, working hard in Block one removing topsoil.
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Getting back to work

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The expansion of the programme offers a broad array of activities, and this year we have even more students coming for specialist training in pottery, osteology, epigraphy and, of course, longer-term excavation training. Public Archaeology appears to still be a bit of a mystery to students, but maybe one day I’ll have my own little troop to work with, but until then, I am always grateful for the occasional drop-in helping with drawing, activity planning and brainstorming.  My youngest volunteer was arguably the most focused and enthusiastic public archaeologist yet! New teams of students and supervisors are working hard, but also trying to share their experiences via social media. Posting about their experiences on Facebook, Instagram and through personal blogs, students are engaging with the work from a digital perspective while keeping it interesting for their audiences!

Research and Public Archaeology

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This year marks my third season with the project, and second in a Public Archaeology role. It is another ambitious year. I have been working on new activities which aim to bring the participants closer to the daily life of Ancient Romans. This year we have been able to jump ahead towards more sophisticated engagement materials, since we are able to build on the work from last year.Through regular social media updates, my work has been in part illustrating, but the overarching plan for the Open Day and further research is focused on asking questions relating to pedagogical approaches that will be answered via through educational posters and games during the Open Day. The data collected will be assessed in a follow-up project I am working on in the last fortnight of the excavation season. The games and learning materials bridge modern audiences (specifically children but also to encourage adults as well) wtih themes like international trade and community within the urban spaces of Aeclanum. Through a close collaboration between myself (project development and art direction) and the brilliant GIS and digital graphics team (Josef Soucek and Lucia Michillen), and our field directors, Dr. Ferdinando di Simone and Dr. Ben Russell, we are producing materials at a rapid pace entirely in-house, which is unique in my experience and really allows the Aeclanum project to break new ground in terms of outreach. By linking our outreach materials to new research we are undertaking on the site annually and adapting our creative materials to reflect the developments in these research questions, we can integrate students with related research and skills into the work we are doing.

The Open Day is a few weeks away still, but at the rate the students are excavating, we are certain to have an even clearer image of the stratigraphic processes in the trenches, and what this seasons’ research will be able to elucidate before the end of the season.

21.Excavating in Kefalonia: searching for Bronze Age heroes

kefalonia dig site (226)The last 12 months have been eventful, with a lot of life changing things on the horizon to be excited about. In a few short days, I will be heading off for a third (more lengthy) season in the Roman town of Aeclanum, (near modern Mirabella Eclano, Italy). The last year was incredibly formative for me, as I was privileged enough to work on developing materials with the site directors of Aeclanum from the University of Edinburgh and the Apolline Project for public outreach for the Open Day, as well as ongoing learning materials for children to engage with archaeology in schools.The opportunities to share this work are blooming into new areas for me professionally with a lot of creative directions to pursue.

me and the pottery base
Pronnoi excavation site, 2008. Photo by Cait Pilon.

My first dig

Ten years ago, before I knew what I wanted to with my life, I applied for the opportunity to work on a three-month salvage excavation in Poros, Kefalonia. This excavation was organised in collaboration with Simon Fraser University and the Ephorate in Kefalonia. One family in Poros, the Metaxas family, made an incredible impact on my time there. They were strong advocates for this dig, working with the local government to see that the archaeological site was excavated before it was robbed or destroyed once it became apparent that there were tombs located there.

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The view across the valley from the necropolis.

It was a project born out of a local passion with an aim to start documenting and publishing the rich history of the area, which had been under occasional excavation for decades with very little making it into the public record. By the time of our arrival, there was evidence of looting, so speed was of the essence and the local archaeologists worked with a ragtag bunch of undergrads to excavate and document the human remains and small finds.

 

The scientific processes are the same for a salvage dig as a normal one, but the elements that are the focus of the excavation tend to be revealed and in peril, so acting quickly and documenting as much as possible is the priority. Our team worked on the excavation during the day and in the evenings would have classroom time and readings, even the odd Greek lessons. Even on the rainy days where the schedule entailed 8 hours of pottery washing, it was still brilliant to be part of.

Int_4398 (51)The antiquity of the necropolis was evidenced through artefacts which represented multi-period usage on the site for burials, an ancient garbage dump (large amounts of broken pottery and animal bones), and fluted columns and  architectural blocks from some unidentified building structure.

Excavation in Pronnoikefalonia dig site (212)

The excavation work was productive for getting the half-exposed burials out in time before the winter rains began to set in, though occasionally, flash rainstorms would flood the side of the mountain with us on it. 20180603_125948The pithoi were interesting tomb-types that were repurposed from containers for bulk storage of grains or other items to a burial container. Once the ceramic vessel was broken up, a body was interred in a flexed or crouched position, and grave goods were added. The vessel was placed around them with fill, but could be accessed again, if another body was to be added to the burial at a later date.

Grave Goods

Digital camera pictures 024The status of the publication of the finds from the dig is unknown to me, so to avoid getting in trouble, I have made a few artistic renderings of some of the standout artefacts:

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  • Corinthian, silver coin.20180602_190644
  • Lyre player, pottery sherd.20180602_190636

From atop the hill we excavated the necropolis, you could see across the valley with stunning views inland and out to the sea. Putting myself in someone’s sandals from 2,500 years ago and looking out across the same seas they did was a moving experience. Having studied Humanities texts and Art History prepared me in a large way for I was able to see how much more I need to understand before the study of Archaeology or Ancient History. Linking this site in my mind to the Homeric kings and events from the Iliad and Odyssey was only natural, since it was on our reading list, but the chronology of the material culture certainly aided the visualizing of the Bronze Age culture.

Searching for Bronze Age HeroesIMG_1535The antiquity and long habitation of the region was visible in another area, Tzanata, 3 km east of Poros in the Eleios-Pronnoi municipal region, which had a preserved tholos tomb, or ‘beehive tomb’.IMG_1747 This type of tomb has a dome-shaped chamber (like a beehive cut in half), an entrance passage (dromos) and a doorway (stomion) covered with 1-3 lintel blocks. These monumental structures would be buried underground, though accessible, as there could be multiple burials over long periods of time.

The nearby environs of Poros were home to a Bronze Age tholos tomb, which has been dated to around 1400 BCE. This tomb, excavated by Lazaros Kolonas in 1991, contained several sequential burials that could suggest a common lineage.

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While significantly smaller than the most famous tholos tombs of Mycenae, it certainly showed comparable architectural features and represented elite participation in the monumental funerary building of the Bronze Age Mediterranean. Finds in the archaeological museum of Argostoli (temporarily closed) reveal golden grave goods from the Mycenaean cultural influence. Included in these finds were carved gemstones a seal that has been interpreted as ‘royal’ were discovered in the tomb.IMG_1756The proximity to Pylos, among other Bronze Age kingdoms of the area, provide parallels chronologically for local elites of Pronnoi having a similar kind of rule over the area by virtue of using similar funerary cultural practices. However, little is known of this site as the excavation reports remain (I believe) unpublished. If further work has been done on this site, it would open up a lot of interesting questions about the position of Kefalonia within Bronze Age trade and indeed, later into the Classical period.

Kefalonia Dig (240)Suffice it to say, my time spent in Poros, Kefalonia, was fundamental in shaping the direction of my studies and career plans. While I have not been back since 2008, the richness in history, the warmth of the community and beauty of the island is still deeply felt. I am making plans to return and investigate the current findings of the area and reunite with the incredible people who made it such a memorable experience for me.

 

À la prochaine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

15. Mithymna: the Fortress on the Hill

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Roman ruins at the north end, facing Turkey.

There is something breathtaking about the shores, mountains and harbours around Lesbos. Mithymna is a gem of a town, with all the fine features you hope for as a tourist destination, but a significant amount of history is embedded in every corner.  928 (2)As one of the largest Greek islands, and the nearest to Turkey, there is a remarkable amount of cultural fusion and warmth that shaped my experience of living in Mithymna (Μήθυμνα / Molyvos) for several months, some years ago.

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Taking a libation at the Mithymna castle.

While being housed during the spring months in Mithymna, I explored the winding cobblestone streets, photographed dangling flowering plants and occasionally sampled the vibrant restaurant scene at the harbour.

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Mithymna harbour

These elements, along with adorable roaming stray cats and dogs (some of whom we adopted), formed idyllic scenes that made it a beautiful and tranquil location to study some Byzantine History and Reception Studies (in effect, the study of modern interpretations of the ancient world) during my undergraduate degree.

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A charming painting in the old schoolhouse where we took lessons.

What a draw for a historian!Greece 608Like many ancient city centres, Mithymna has a foundation story whose characters possessed the very names of the location – in this case, Mithymna (daughter of a mythical son of the god Helios) who was married to the personification of Lesbos. Hard to prove, so I’ll take the Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World’s word for it.

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Mithymna Castle

The history of Mithymna is actually the stuff of legends, literally. The Bronze Age warrior Achilles was said to have breached the fortifications of Mithymna due to the amorous machinations of King Peisidikis’s daughter.

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View from Mithymna castle of Efthalou.

The city fell to the Achaeans, as the events of the Illiad take place not far away across the water (you can see Turkey from the shores of Mithymna).

Mithymna had been an important location in the Classical period as it was caught  between the Athenians, their ally, and the Spartans throughout the Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE). To and fro, the balance of power shifted from Athens to Sparta, and back again throughout the war; and smaller allied cities were caught in the fight, or served as proxies for the conflict. 957 (2)Mithymna and Mytilene had a solid rivalry throughout this conflict and beyond, which I will go into when I post about Mytilene. But for the time being, some dark business went down during this three decades long war, and Mithymna and Mytilene had some serious issues to work out afterwards.

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Splendid isolation on the beach

Remaining significant throughout the Hellenistic period, Mithymna played politics as it was captured by Macedonian forces and Persians, with tyrants ousting and aligning themselves with the conflicting superpowers when they gained control of the island cities. With the division of Alexander’s brief empire by his successors, King Lysimachus and later Ptolemy would control the island. With the influence of the Ptolemaic ruler, my academic obsession, the cults of Isis and Sarapis were introduced and worshiped.

Which brings us neatly to the Roman period.

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A bit of Roman road and tomb.

Sprinting through so much history, I can barely touch on how many fascinating moments in ancient history in which Mithymna has played a part, but one of the elements which leaves a physical trace, which I was thrilled to see, was the Roman archaeological remains dispersed throughout the city.Roman Tombs Molyvos 3The formal alliance between Rome and Mithymna was dated by an epigraphic source to 129 BCE. The Roman poets and writers spent many words to describe the quality and superiority of Mithymnian wines.

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While staying in Mithymna, I was fortunate enough to meet a local archaeologist who gave us a small tour of the closed excavation.

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Finds from this trench were rich in pottery and sea shells.

At that point, they had a great deal of pottery and many interesting rubbish dumps from the Roman period. It appeared that they were producing pottery, and likely distributing the wines in vessels made at this centre.Roman Tombs MolyvosWith the political upheaval in the 5th century AD of the western half of the Roman empire, Lesbos fell into the orbit of political authority from the Byzantine power-base of the eastern empire. This orientation affected the flavour and practices on the island as Christianity became the prevalent belief system and religious power throughout the empire. Greece 012Thank you for reading my blog!

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14. Starting a PhD: a non-linear approach

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St. Andrews Cathedral…be seeing you soon.

For the last few months I have taken a hiatus from writing my blog to focus on applying for a PhD at the University of St. Andrews. What a harrowing adventure! From start to finish, it was a good 3-month process with dozens of re-writes, stress and the agonizing wait to hear back. Even starting early, and following advice from friends and online, there were so many unknowns going into it. There were many moments of self-doubt, which had the uncanny ability to creep in when I needed it the least. With the support of some amazing teachers, mentors and friends, I managed to get someone interested in the incredibly nerdy stuff I love – Roman Aegyptiaca. In a post coming soon I will write about what that is, but for now…I will be studying Egyptian-looking things in Roman cities.

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Khoiak Procession from the Nile Mosaic of Palestrina, Italy (2014)

While the outcome might seem straightforward, (person X likes (topic), studies Y = goes on to PhD) the path is rarely as clear as this. An interesting part of the curation on social media, is all of the crap that you don’t want people to see can easily be ignored, not reported or underplayed. I focus and emphasize the things that I am most proud of, that arguably demonstrate a clear connection to my goals and objectives. It’s not always a conscious choice, but it excites me to share upcoming adventures (research trips, excavation work, conferences etc), and even if those activities are the exception to fairly humdrum periods of time, I try focus on the positive and engaging elements in my life. That curation presents a deceptively well-planned and linear pathway however.

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Roman road excavation. Merida, Spain (2014)

Like many people in the ‘millennial’ category, I have taken a strange circuitous route to finding a path. For many years I was uncertain what it was I wanted to do, or how I would even get there. My professional or academic shortcomings would emerge when I contemplated pursuing any concrete direction. Supporting myself through school involved things that looked remarkably unrelated: Italian train information CSR, custom picture framer, freelance artist, call centre CSR, book and video store sales person, maternity store sales clerk, telecommunications CSR, office administrator for an engineering firm, work-study intern with a museum, housing assistant, university credit secretary, repairs assistant, catering delivery driver, and endless amounts of ‘exposure’ work (free) and side-hustle to get through.

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‘Work for exposure? Oh can I?’ Roman wind chime. Merida, Spain (2014)

Despite working in areas that for many would happily suffice as a career, I have always been half in and half out. Every work placement is an opportunity to learn useful skills, but nothing had any real resonance to me or inducement to stay long term. I always had an eye to what might be ahead and to apply to any and every opportunity, often ending comfortable employment for a scrambling uncertainty.

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Egyptian relief. Louvre, Paris (2016)

Sure, I love ancient history, archaeology and art…but what can I really do with all this?
Throughout all of that, I knew I wanted to spend my life studying and sharing aspects of ancient history through art and writing, but unsure as to what my mixed-bag of skills would allow me to do. When I drew all of my work experience, hobbies and passions together a picture emerged that put the question to rest: I want to be an educator of Ancient History. Fundamental to this was attaining a PhD, and getting more focused and industry specific work experience.

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See? So much time spent on ancient walls. Hadrian’s Wall, England (2013)

Having been accepted to St. Andrews, I now have several months to plan and prepare – skills my varied work experience has hammered into me. Much of the existential angst of ‘what will I do and where will I be next?’ can finally be put to rest for the next few years. With the patchwork of experience that has sustained me, now behind, I look forward with more clarity and focus.

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13. Behind the Scenes: Learning to Supervise in Aeclanum

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After the two-month excavation in Policastro Bussentino last year, I was keen to improve on the skills I had learned. I had discovered during that excavation that I was actually really interested in taking more of a leadership role, but was not yet sure how much I knew, or yet needed to learn, to do so. A fortunate meeting with my former teacher, Dr. Ben Russell from the University of Edinburgh, alerted me to a dig that would be happening in Aeclanum (modern Mirabella Eclano) for September 2016. The excavation is an ongoing joint-venture with the University of Edinburgh and the Apolline Project (http://www.apollineproject.org/) with co-director, Ferdinando De Simone.Screenshot_2016-10-09-16-18-38~2With this in mind, I had been anticipating an exciting few weeks with two of my brilliant friends, both currently undertaking PhDs at the University of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh University. Packing for the trip (both passports in tow!) is one of the best parts…slowly I am getting more and more efficient.
With a few days spent adventuring and relaxing in Rome beforehand, we were all ready to get our hands dirty.

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Ms Moodie, Ms King, and Me (from left) surprisingly clean !

 

One of the most interesting parts of getting involved in a dig like this is that while the directors and supervisors were well-seasoned, the site itself was essentially starting in many areas with virgin soil. Previous excavations had been carried out several decades before (in a few areas), and more recently a commissioned archaeological dig had been done by a commercial unit. 20160909_214648But a variety of reasons, the work being done in this season could be viewed as the ground work for the future of the site. That is an exciting prospect for anyone to be a part of, but I was especially keen since my understanding of how to supervise a trench was somewhat problematic. I was fairly sure there was a lot that I did not yet understand, but was keen to get in and learn.

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Saggio Cinque hard at work!

Coming to train on this dig, I was pretty keen to support younger students and help them feel confident. One or two items tend to come up whilst excavating in field schools which I tried to be mindful of. Traveling alone for the first time and living in a large group can push peoples comfort boundaries (shocking, I know). So with experience traveling quite a lot in Italy, and the last six months of working for Italiarail (the American vendor for the train network in Italy, Trenitalia), we were able to give advice and help sort out peoples’ logistical issues fairly easily! All these things in mind, it was a grand opportunity and beautiful location.20160906_104206

The Site
Aeclanum is situated in modern Mirabella Eclano,  Irpinia region of Campania (inland). Connected by the legendary Roman road-building, Aeclanum was situated in a central point along the Via Appia. During the Social Wars (around 89 BCE), Aeclanum had been sacked by Sulla’s forces. It was rebuilt, and seemingly flourished in the 2nd CE when it became the Colonia Aelia Augusta Aeclanum. There is evidence of many phases of rebuilding, additions and repairs/re-purposing until Aeclanum sort of disappears from history after 662 from the campaigns against the Lombards of Benevento.20160913_081552The site itself was set within some idyllic green hills and edible vegetation was scattered throughout. Quite a few buildings were excavated and reconstructed already on the site, which drew tourists to this lovely town. Some building identifications are being reviewed, as new methodologies and interpretations were being applied to this site.20160916_162807There were number of specialists on-site to do digital mapping, ceramic analysis, and even drone photography (which took brilliant photos)! There were many types of dwellings, buildings and some roads visible. The scope of the site is not yet fully known, but there were many intriguing possibilities.20160913_081738The paving stones and hypnotic brick patterns were lovely to see every day. I’ve always been impressed by the effort and artistry of the brick work, especially as recently was pointed out to me, they would have been covered. 20160916_162845Of course! The work is so beautiful on its’ own that it seems a completed decoration. Though I cannot do the architecture justice through simple quick pen sketches in my Moleskin, I do keep trying!Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device005-1This one is, as usual, a bit squint, but it is a lot of fun to have little drawings of my travels to mark the memories.

The Team

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Saggio Cinque (Trench 5). Photo by Crystal Rakes

Our group was a mix of University students from all levels and people who came on this dig to get experience for a career shift as they sought to start a new direction in their lives, which is always commendable!

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The energy and effort of the students I got to work with was excellent. Rain or shine, our team of Saggio Cinque was a hard-working group, and hilarious. My senior supervisor (who I tried to learn as much as possible from) brought very approachable and engaging teaching methods to the site which was a huge help.20160915_185841All in all, these were not box-ticking learning objectives, rather an attempt at trying to give a taste of the concrete outcomes they needed to start a career in archaeology. I may have only a few weeks as a junior supervision, but it was incredibly informative right away being on the other side of a field school.I can’t go in to much detail, or perhaps shouldn’t, as it is an evolving and ongoing project and season, so what I can say about what we encountered in Saggio Cinque (now famously under the hashtag #SaggioCinque) was the following.

The Presence of Absences20160914_175757aMy previous dig experience in Greece included evidence of ancient and modern grave robbing. Working on a salvage dig was fast-paced and quite hush-hush about what we found, since the graves were near the surface and not hard to spot. 20160906_105647Whereas, what was surprising in Aeclanum, was seeing the evidence of someone trying to remove the massive limestone slabs (unsuccessfully) and apparently giving up. Poaching finished building materials and re-purposing them for newer buildings was pretty standard practice in antiquity,  but it was interesting to see evidence of a failed attempt.

Politics and Archaeology
Whilst our archaeological field school lodged in Mirabella Eclano, there was a bit of a press furor going on around us. Some of you might have seen this picture:20160912_133305(Archaeologists in the Nursery, Moms in Revolt) newspaper headline, a local misunderstanding about our accommodations. This strange bit of press, while seeming contentious, actually gave the opportunity for some interviews on site and publicized some of the exciting things we were doing. 20160914_175748To hear an interview with our site directors, you can check out this Sound Cloud link:
https://soundcloud.com/airadioariano/aeclanum-sta-per-concludersi-la-prima-fase-della-campagna-di-scavo20160914_172739Mirabella Eclano
The people of Mirabella Eclano were always very kind and gracious. I had a lot of great conversations using a mixture of French/English/Italian with quite a few locals. There were some real gems of cafes and restaurants; my favourite cafe, Zucchero e Vaniglia, served some incredible pastries and perfect portable coffees- superior additions for a dig break.20160908_075359Our main port of call, however, was the cafe/bar at Hotel Aeclanum. Many drinks, chats and post-dig hangouts took place at this tried test and true hotel bar.
The town of Mirabella Eclano was full of affordable little restaurants and bars, beer festivals, and very pretty views .20160914_172650

If you are curious and would like to find out more or maybe get involved, please check out the Apolline Project Website: http://www.apollineproject.org

Ciao for now!

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4. Athens: Constructing A Classical Past

Creating Classical Athens

Fifteen years ago I went on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. 

It was my first time leaving North America for the wider world, with the best company in the world: my mum and big sister. Long before I became the avid, capable travel planner I am today, I had a great teacher in my mum.

Theatre of Dionysus – 2016

Interested as we were in European history, it was trekking among the ruins and sketching my first real views of Greek temples, stones and statues which would influence the path my life would take thereafter. Athens was the last stop on our month-long trip, but left a resounding impact on my life.

In Greece, I began the process of ruining my life in North America for myself. I fell in love, and knew that whatever it took, I would make my way back and find a way to the columns, capitals and carvings of the Mediterranean.

Greece in particular holds a special place for me. I’ve done my most comprehensive traveling there, trying to see for myself the places I have read about. It is an understatement to say that it’s a place brimming with history, since you find traces of the past basically everywhere.

View of the Acropolis from the Areopagus – 2016

There is a lot of agency in creating the past. We choose to highlight aspects, or periods, which mean something to us, or do so to imbue these places or periods with meaning. It is important, when considering the presentation of the past, we remain aware that at some point a choice was made about what to present on an archaeological site, and how to present it. 

Creating a Historical Narrative:
The archaeological monuments we see before us today are only skeletons of times past, and most notably often illustrating one particular phase of site use. There have been many discussions in the last few decades about the way archaeologists, governments and historians construct and present an image of the past.

For instance, you may not be aware that there was a Byzantine period which saw a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary built right into the Parthenon, which was turned into a mosque! Or a period which saw the Propylaea become part of the Ducal Palace. Not to mention the Erechtheion being turned into the Ottoman governor’s private Harem.  

None of these phases are represented any longer on the site. In fact, archaeologists dug so far down on the Acropolis there is bedrock exposed, which is slick to walk on and would not have been the stuff and muck under a Classical Athenians’ feet.  

Ottoman period building near Monastiraki station, one of the few visible reminders of the 400 year occupation – 2008

What does all this mean? 

From 1833 onwards, following the expulsion of Ottoman rule from Greece, the interest in the cultural florescence of the “Classical Period” of Greece would direct the new freedom the Greeks felt. Perhaps, it was appropriate to hearken back to a period following the expulsion of the Persians, after living so long under the rule of the inheritors of the Persian Empire. 
With an interest in archaeology, the new leadership of Greece under Otto, Prince of Bavaria, focused the gaze on the Classical period architecture to develop a new sense of Greek identity, officially making Athens the capital of Greece. His initiatives for conservation and restoration attempted to look back to a period of self-determination and incredible inventiveness which had so set them apart in the ancient world.  

A 19th Century painting depicts the presence of a minaret on the Ottoman building, illustrative of the romantic notions brought by travelers who admired the ruins, and wrote poetry about them in the din of the moon….as one does. 

Unfortunately, the 19th century interest in presenting the period of ‘Classical Athens’ required the removal of structures from other periods. This has left a disjointed archaeological impression and historical representation. We know from sketches and paintings made by gentleman travellers in the 1800’s how the landscape has been changed. Those other phases of history have been deconstructed and left unspoken in many areas. 

Early Photograph of ‘Classical’ elements of Athens

When viewing archaeological monuments and cities like Athens, it is worth remembering that the image you are presented reflects a moment in time and often is meant to symbolize how the people in power wanted to signify their rule. King Otto wanted to be seen as a liberator from the occupation by the Ottomans. Following a long established practice (especially in Athens), which we will look at in the Hellenistic and Roman posts upcoming, Otto focused on rebuilding and patronizing a period of history which saw the Greeks as leaders in Mediterranean politics and culture. None of what we see today is by accident.

Thank you for checking out my blog!

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2. Studying Archaeology: field work finds

A background in a variety of disciplines is important for the study of Classical Archaeology. For instance, you need to understand the various historical contexts surrounding the archaeological materials, have the ability to interpret the iconography, understand the archaeological excavation practices and documentation, have a background in ancient languages and several modern ones (ideally), and understand how the art/archaeology fits into the wider narrative of history.

As any self-aware student discovers, the deeper you dive into your studies, the more there is for you to learn. I will be looking towards further schooling and specialization within this field, so despite my existing credentials (B.A., B.G.S., M.Sc) there is still a way to go. I am merely a Padawan focused on the goal of becoming a Jedi of Archaeology.

What you find often depends on luck. Frequently one can dig an area which seems promising, but not fruitful. Getting down in the dirt, so close to the soil you are at times only an inch from it is – for me – one of the most interesting parts of the whole experience. You start to ‘hear’ the difference in soil types and composition, you can genuinely see when something has changed, and it is terribly exciting. Then sometimes you even find stuff, ancient stuff!

Pottery

2. Classical Archaeology means what precisely?

One of the added bonuses of a Fine Arts Diploma was having to take pottery courses, which have made a lot of what I am looking at comprehensible. For instance, understanding the curvature of ceramic vessels, even without a handle or lip, knowing how ceramics are made helps identifying what you see. However, I have not taken directed studies on pottery typologies formally, so that is another thing to add to the bucket list.

Sometimes the find is gorgeous examples of figurative painting, colourful striations and less refined pottery of the Early Middle Ages. Then there is coarse-ware pottery.

If you can imagine so, the rough-and-ready DIY of the pottery quality spectrum is like when you authentically make your own soaps, or boutique mason jar candles. It gets the job done, but not the most precious of discoveries.

All joking aside, you can learn a significant amount of information from the coarse-ware pottery! You can see the types of vessels were people using en masse, what types of local materials were being produced and possibly statistical information about population density and consumption patterns. Animal bone can be a significant contribution to the finds, though of course it all depends on the type of site on which you are digging. But as a rule, in any location where people lived and dumped their refuse, you will find some kind of animal remains. This is an area where my background is limited, so I have a lot to learn. Hopefully as I do, I will be able to provide some titillating tidbits!

Small finds

Amber Medusa head watercolour, Poros, Kefalonia.

Small finds, like glass, game pieces, bronze items and stone materials can be found as well. These are often quite exciting, as you may suddenly come upon a loom weight, fibulae, a ring, or best of all – coins! Nothing helps the understanding of a site quite like finding a coin. Happy days!

Poros, Kefalonia – Glass Bead

Human Remains

Different countries handle the discovery of human remains from antiquity in different ways. I have been lucky enough to work on two excavations which allowed me the opportunity to unearth the remains of four individuals. Handling human remains by the guidelines set by whichever country you are working in is, of course, incredibly important. It can be a sombre event, and even quite upsetting for some.

Perhaps it is through being an artist and archaeologist that the experience of excavating human remains actually excites and inspires me deeply, each and every time I have done so. I see a great deal of beauty in the lines and the shapes of the bones, and can vividly imagine the care that went into their final resting moments.

One of the more forward-thinking moments I experienced in my undergrad was taking a course in Human Osteology. Making my own study guide to quiz myself was a good investment, and genuinely very helpful when coming across human remains in the field. Humans are the subject of my art, their history the subject of my studies, and what they created with their hands is the subject of my excavations. When stripped down – even just the traces of the individuals that remain – are just as beautiful, graceful and impressive.

Coming face-to-face with a individual who lived during the Peloponnesian Wars or the Roman Empire, 2,000+ years after they have been carefully buried, is a humbling and exciting experience. Laboratory tasks tend to include: washing and sorting pottery, cataloguing, and illustrating artifacts which may have some diagnostic relevance. I took an archaeological illustration course at Edinburgh which was helpful but – as in all things – different teams/countries will tell you to do something differently.

As an artist (and huge nerd) I spend 70% of my free time drawing anyways, so this is just fun! Possibly even one of the top five things I love about this field. I will be posting further artifact illustrations, discussion, and more depth to these topics later on, but I hope this little introduction to some of what is studied on an archaeological dig!

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