Day 5: Pickaxes and Shovels


Today began very similarly to Thursday—we woke up, reluctantly, behind schedule, trudged into the van, and 15 minutes later found the trenches drenched and not able to be excavated. It’s funny that the weather is completely different from the typical sunny Umbrian June skies—perhaps it’s the fact that we spilled water on our altar to the Etruscan god Tinia, or maybe my general presence (we’ll never know).

Therefore, we journeyed back to the convent to do some lab work for the morning. I spent time at the float station—a part of the laboratory meant to sort certain materials such as charcoal, bone, and shell from the rest of the soil. Having grabbed a tray and a handful of dirt, I spent two hours with a paintbrush picking out the aforementioned particles (less than 3 millimeters wide). It was tedious labor, and I cannot imagine how the liters upon liters of dirt taken from the site are sorted, with it taking that much time to scour through merely one handful. Afterwards, however, I rewarded myself with a pastry and cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate, though in Italy this more resembles hot chocolate pudding), ordered, of course, completely in Italian.

After lunch we headed back to Coriglia for a long-awaited afternoon of digging. The Friday, pre-weekend mentality really kicked in at this time as we continued our work on the rock pile of locus 658—previously we attempted to peacefully trowel out and examine each and every rock and tile in search of artifacts, but now we just assaulted the pile with picks. So much for the pottery! This heap was created in modern times, as indicated by the Renaissance age of the pottery I found yesterday, so there was probably nothing of historical, ancient interest in there anyways. This tactic finally offered me my first chance to use a full-size pickaxe. Wielding such a tool was a great way both to knock out many rocks and vent my end of week frustration all at once. Although my technique was rather off at first, I gradually grasped it and look forward to using this tool again. Joonho did a good job with it, as well… When we weren’t using the pick we were shoveling, which was actually even more difficult than using the pick. I had to throw my full strength behind my efforts and support the shovel’s shaft with my thigh to dig deep into the rocky soil. “Picking,” shoveling, dirt-bucket hauling, and wheel-barrow dumping all consumed a lot of strength under the hottest, most piercing sunshine this week, yet Joonho and I were both truly satisfied with our hard work and celebrated with a trip to the grocery store to buy chips, cookies, and other snacks for breakfast and post-dinner.

As for today’s finds, we were really more focused on destroying the rock piles, but at the other end of the locus the supervisors found another two wall extensions and a new locus between them that likely was a tiled floor. One of the wall extensions runs parallel to the new wall uncovered under the heap yesterday, and the other perpendicular and meeting the first one. Near the new wall was another pipe-shaped drain channel, composed of flat tiles in a style known as al cappuccino (not sure of the spelling, to be honest, for I tried speaking to this supervisor in Italian today). All these new loci are yet to be named, though, so I will have more information on Monday.




Day 5 may have been the most exhilarating and tiring day. The continuously poor weather, filled with rain and dark clouds prevented us from doing much in the morning. However, several members of the dig were still able to take advantage of the gloomy weather.

After visiting our Coriglia site, only to find that muddy water had drenched each trench, we began using sponges, plastic water bottles, and a giant bucket line of people to dump out the water from the cavities of dirt. Because the tarp had protected most of the actual dirt from becoming a mud pond, we removed the layer that had collected all the water and hoped that the inside would not be too muddy.

We were unlucky. The tarp had not been able to fully prevent the rain from soaking our trenches, a fact that implied that we would not be able to work until the afternoon.

This was a bummer, but on an archaeological dig as large as “Dig Umbria’s,” there was always something we could be doing. First, one of our trench leaders, Darlene, drove a group of six students to load artifact boxes from the convent to the cave site, the Cavita. If you take a look in the photo gallery, you will be able to see the beautiful view from the Cavita, which is at the top of the city of Orvieto.

After lunch, Darlene figured C North would be dry enough to dig, and took seven students and supervisors to Coriglia, where we battled the surprisingly and suddenly scorching sun. Our main goal for the day aligned with Day 4’s, SAXA DELENDA SVNT. Using pickaxes and shovels, we cleared about two feet long, three feet wide, and one foot deep layer of dirt in order to even out the locus layer. By doing so, we hoped to discover the depth of the locus layer and ultimately find a wall.

Although the pickaxing was extremely arduous, especially under the sweltering sun, it was almost therapeutic, as each strike released tension and emotion. As Darlene said, “it’s cheaper than counseling.” Several jobs were distributed during the afternoon, including wheelbarrow rolling, bucket moving, pickaxing, shoveling, etc. With Darlene and Will as leaders, everyone had the opportunity to do each job, and I learned much about the techniques required, thanks to them.

After a long, hard afternoon of digging, Bliss and I headed to the Obelix Bar, sat back, and watched the first UEFA Euro game of the tournament: France v. Romania.

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