This week my colleagues, Dr Javier Martinez Jimenez and Sofia Greaves and I were thrilled to launch an exhibition we have been collaborating on for quite some time at the Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology: “Illustrating Ancient History: bringing the past to life.” The exhibition is now fully online!
As a way of reconstructing the past in Vita Romana, which I’ve discussed on this blog before, I worked with the specialists on-site whose scientific background in the materials I was representing informed much of the illustration work. Intersecting with the aims of the exhibition, the work done at Roman Aeclanum exemplified the way that collaboration between artists and different archaeological specialists can be translated into artistic work that help the public understand the archaeological site and material culture more contextually. I have recorded a podcast with my co-host, Liam, for Two Friends Talk History which allowed me to discuss the public outreach programme I coordinated and created in Aeclanum.
Sofia’s work brought together ancient spaces with exploration of the layers of building over time through water-colour and mixed media. Sofia and Javier work together on the Impact of the Ancient City project at the University of Cambridge which is a project that has involved a lot of site visits to ancient cities that have inspired her work.
The opening of the exhibition was scaled-down due to Covid safety protocols, with numbers carefully regulated through registration. The exhibition will be in-place until January 30th, and with luck, as many people as possible will be able to explore the museum’s famed collection of plaster statue casts which frame our exhibition images. With these considerations in mind, the museum moved quickly to create a fully online version of the exhibition which you can see here: CHECK IT OUT!
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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!
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.
Public Archaeology in Aeclanum: 2017-2019
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 itemsare 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Getting back to work
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Pronnoi
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. The 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.
The 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:
Gorgon head, amber.
Corinthian, silver coin.
Lyre player, pottery sherd.
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 HeroesThe 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’. 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.
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.The 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.
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.
The last 12 months have been eventful, with a lot of incredibly life-changing things on the horizon to look forward to. Last week I officially starting my PhD at the University of St. Andrews, and with the other interesting creative academic projects that have come my way, it is a very exciting time. Most of these creative projects have stemmed from the work which I was engaged in this summer in Aeclanum. Over the summer, I shared many images on my Instagram and Facebook pages of the public archaeology project that I was working on this season in the Roman town of Aeclanum (near modern Mirabella Eclano, Italy). I wrote a post in July for the Day of Archaeology annual community outreach publication, discussing some of the surprises and challenges along the way. The aims and plans being developed for this site were fascinating to work on, with much to consider and research.
Caius Eggius Rufus and Neratia Prima, our ancient Roman characters who explore daily life in a Roman city.
For me as an illustrator/artist, coming up with the first crack of public engagement materials was really fun and incredibly rewarding. The directors at Aeclanum, Dr. Ben Russell and Dr. Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone, offered guidance into their objectives and vision with the programme. Foundational research was needed, and for me, many visual references, as understanding how to approach a long-term project like this requires a lot of discussion.
Dr. Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone and I with the stratigraphy roll-up 🙂
Dr. De Simone had spent a lot of time developing the approach he wanted to take, with significant experience for how to engage with the public on these topics, so I was able to learn a great deal about the concerns and approaches that are successful. All of which has led to many avenues for it to continue growing and branching out next year, and thereafter.
Preparation for the Open Day
The brand new Aeclanum activity book and site map!
With a big project like this, having students involved was essential. Due to time constraints (excavating and processing finds all day), most of the work we would do together was at night in the accommodations. The students worked very hard, and came up with some really great ideas (pottery games, stratigraphy exercise, etc) and a lot of good research on Roman baths and roads.
Josef Soucek, digital wizard, here working on the Aeclanum activity book
We were ambitious with the variety and number of activities and materials planned, which inevitably led to some ideas or planned activities being cut or re-configured. Some of the most indispensable collaboration was with the digital specialists, Lucia and Josef. Both are so incredibly talented in a variety of platforms, that for me, it was so exciting to work with them. Taking an idea from discussion to illustration to digitized form, and then adding that into a poster, all at the speed we managed, was really cool!
The Open DayWith many enthusiastic young visitors (and adults!) arriving to the site, the team at Aeclanum put on an awesome display. The efforts made by students and specialists were incredible!
Our crack team of pottery specialists-in-training (from left: Alexandra French, Amy Rabenberg, and Caity Concannon).
As we were somewhat limited by our linguistic abilities, those who spoke Italian guided the children and gave them an opportunity to ask questions and explore.
Alex Slucky, in green, describes flotation to visitors
What was fascinating to see was, regardless of gender or age, the participants connected immediately with the activities and were very hands-on.
This young archaeologist skillfully picked through dried flotation specimens looking for seeds!
Encouraged to explore several facets of the work, they became quite empowered and very good at spotting the elements they were tasked to find.
Even students less comfortable speaking in Italian found a myriad of ways to communicate practices, like flotation, pottery washing and excavation. Games that had gone from brainstorm to reality in 30 days were a huge hit with the kids.
The activity book which they could take home was a big hit with kids and parents.
What we were able to produce for our first event was only the tip of the iceberg. Several energetic students volunteered their time this year, and hopefully we will be seeing them again next year to continue developing this programme. Custom made stamps for the Open Day, each relating to a particular area of Archaeology.
What is happening next?With the conclusion of the excavation, there was a lot of momentum to continue developing the educational and public engagement materials. There are several engagement events upcoming in Italy, helmed by Dr. Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone, which may result in some exciting possibilities for collaborative projects with local companies and schools.
The dark side of VesuviusWorking in collaboration with Dr. De Simone, on a vibrant image of the communities and natural environment of the north slope, is one piece of the puzzle in developing visual aids to better understand the context of the area during the Roman period. Visualizing the presence of roads, rivers and settlements in the shadow of Vesuvius, shines a light on the areas that have been largely ignored. By creating these new materials, hopefully it will paint a more complete picture of the region and how interconnected the communities were.
What is next?The idea of connecting young and old to the history of their region, leaving more knowledge behind than you take away, and continuing to build on the foundations each year going forward, is the approach that I am taking from this year and will bring forward into future seasons. There is much to do and as many approaches as can be imagined.
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.With 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.
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. But 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.
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.
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.The 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.There 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.The 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. Of 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!This 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.
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!
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.All 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 AbsencesMy 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. Whereas, 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:(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. To 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-scavoMirabella 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.Our 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 .
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
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!
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, 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!
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!