Day 2: Augustus to Diocletian

Jo:

Uncovering a nearly-intact Roman amphora is a tough feat to follow, but today proved equally fascinating and productive. With the assistance of the recurring shade and slight breeze, the C Central trench team cleared off locus 662 and dug a little into locus 273 which was underneath, while straightening out wall 30, which was the one on the opposite side of the west drain wall.

Fortunately, since yesterday’s rain did not sip underneath our tarp, there was no need to use buckets to drain before we started digging. We simply removed the tarp and stepped in.

After around two hours of cleaning the locus and wall, Serena and Silvia, two of the main leaders of the excavation, decided to take a picture of our newly revealed locus 273. To prepare for the photograph, we brushed off the loose dirt and cleaned off wall 30. In addition, we brought from the tool shed measuring poles, a ladder, an arrow for compass directions, and a sign that read “Coriglia.” The photo gallery to the right will offer a more visual picture of the picture-taking.

While this was happening in C Central, in C South, one of the trench leaders, Tessa, discovered a Roman coin that was later dated to the Diocletian era, around 293 A.D. This was a fascinating find for two reasons: first off, it was a coin, and whenever a coin was discovered, the entire team was rewarded with ice cream at dinner. Second, the coin was discovered in the vault, which earlier this season had revealed itself to have existed from at latest the Augustan era (there was an Augustan-era coin found). Thus, we know that the vault was used for at least 200 years. This was a reality check for me—I was walking and digging in the same soil as the ancient Romans once did. That was, and is so fascinating.

At around 4:00 P.M., after photos had been taken and the coin discovered, Kristin, our trench leader, and the rest of C Central grouped together in the shade to sort out all of our finds. In locus 662, we recorded that at least 1043 pieces of tesserae were found, three nails, several architectural terracotta, over 15 pottery pieces, and others.

Although the day had ended for most at 5 P.M., Bliss and I drove over to the photography lab with Professor George to sort through Etruscan inscriptions. Having studied and memorized the Etruscan alphabet the previous night, we felt fairly equipped to distinguish sigla from letters, words, and numbers. However, the task proved more difficult than envisioned, as the marks were not as neat as we hoped for them to be.

The difficulty was a learning point for us, though, as Professor George guided us through the first couple rounds of pottery and from there, we started to get the grasp of deciphering letters or numbers or just marks. Again, this was another reminder of the tangibility and proximity between me and these ancient peoples that I had felt so distant from just two weeks ago. I could have never imagined to be touching the same pieces of pottery that the Etruscans had once made.

Maybe in another 2700 years, humans will be attempting to decipher the English language. Maybe they will find it a rather difficult task as well.

 

Perry:

After what was probably my soundest sleep of the project so far last night, I woke up this morning prepared for another day digging, only to be summoned, however, for lab work. Every day, two people take their shifts sitting out of the dig to stay at the convent and today was my turn.

In the morning I worked on floatation with Linda, our archaeobotanist. Joonho already explained this process, but basically it involves running sediments through various water tanks (known as the “flotation device”—not, as it sounds like, a life jacket) to catch the bits which float, most often carbonized plants, shells, or bone. After this is finished, the other dirt is sieved and sorted to make sure there were no floating pieces left behind in the matter which might have been trapped by or coated with dirt. It was an interesting process, and I enjoyed my conversation with Linda about her experiences at a Mayan excavation (as a fellow Mayan enthusiast myself) and studying at Oxford.

After lunch (and a quick break to check my report card) I worked on washing pieces of pottery and bone, similar to what I did last Monday afternoon. This was pretty self-explanatory—I worked on shards from the tomb of Useles and then more medieval objects. I didn’t really find anything particularly interesting—a few pipes, some Villanovan here and there. Anyways, the lab work was a good break from the hot toil of digging in the sun—back to work tomorrow!

Then Joonho and I continued our inscription work with Professor George—only for a linguistics project would I add two more hours to my already jam-packed schedule! Today we sorted between sigla, letters, numerals, and words: a process seemingly easy but actually rather difficult. Because of the fractured nature of the pottery, it was often tough to distinguish whether inscriptions were lines or interrupted letters. Or whether they were individual letters or letters cut off from the rest of the word. In the end, however, it was very satisfying to correctly read out loud some of the Etruscan words and names which haven’t been spoken in years, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to more of this work. For tomorrow, Professor George has sent us a few online links and will lend us a book of Etruscan grammar—on top of my Hindi studies, this will prove to be a very linguistic night!

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