Since we are not allowed to do survey anymore we were sent back to the excavation site to work today. I won’t lie, I am pretty happy about it. Almost as soon as we heard the news yesterday I could think from only one positive angle, and that was going back to site instead of doing surveying tomorrow. Though I have only been surveying for less than two days, I’d pick digging any day. I feel a little guilty about it. A lot of people who have surveyed before us complained that it could be exhausting to do survey, but I have to admit I found it only to be tedious. Maybe it would have been more exciting if only I had known more about and been more interested in the history of the area, I would have been more excited about the results. This is however merely my experience so far. Several people have told me that they prefer surveying and most say that they would pick survey over Apotheke any day, while I myself really like Apotheke. We all prefer different things.
Today then we went back to site, however as the open trenches are rather crowded the survey team was assigned the task of starting up with the restoration of the walls, which we will be continuing in weeks to come. As you can see from early photos of the site the walls and floors are often protected by large felt-like sheets called tessuto. We removed most of these to uncover the walls. Many of the walls in our villa have already been covered with a concrete cap for protection and today we worked on preparing more walls to receive this care, which we will begin doing on Monday.
As you can imagine this can be rather tedious work, but it is important, and necessary. If you are hoping to become an archaeologist you must remember that being an archaeologist does not mean someone who plays around in the dirt. I probably have not the experience nor authority to speak like this, but I am starting to learn that archaeology is a complex discipline. The superintendents all spend a lot of time writing down notes and doing sketches in their book, and when we work we keep discussing different theories and things like soil changes and find patterns as we go along. There are many more aspects to doing archaeology than simply digging, and for me so far I have realized that especially the kind of work being done in Apotheke is very important as this is where our finds are collected and reported to, documented, analyzed and interpreted.
So archaeology is about much more than what I have written about so far. You can not neglect to see the importance of all these kids of work, documenting, preserving, restoring and learning from the things you find.
Though I was not doing excavation today, I learned that shitty wall turned out to be no wall at all. It figures. Though that was annoying we still had to be careful, since it could have been important. When you excavate you only have that one go at it, which must leave you with an appropriate sense of humility. What mistakes you make may result in something being lost for the rest of time.
Today I was part of the survey team, which was interesting enough since it gave me a larger perspective on the history of the area we are working in. Mapping out the Vulture region and finding out more about its wider history is an important part of this the investigation. We began this morning in a field which could be a possible neolithic site where we found a few examples of pottery and flint. In order to educate us and give us some good examples, we were also taken to two other fields where sites had already been proven, one Iron Age and one Roman site.
The sites that we find are obviously not all Roman villas, and they are not going to be excavated. Surveying can be a means to discover new sites to excavate but in this case the surveying is an end unto itself, made to detect patterns in the habitation and material culture of the area. Basically, if we find a sufficient number of pot sherds or other items in one field that have been churned up and spread around by the peculiar Italian plow, that is enough to map it as a site.
The way we do survey is to walk across a field in a line, typically 5-15 meters apart depending on the deemed likelihood of finding something, picking up anything that we think may have significance. This includes mostly pottery, tile and, if we suspect a possible Stone Age site, lithics. Those of us who are totally new to this often pick up anything and everything, worrying about missing things but feeling dejected when the handful of peculiar rocks or pieces of modern pottery get thrown out as we bring them to the supervisors afterwards. Even things you’re supposed to find don’t always meet the standard of inspection. I found a piece of worked flint at the first field we were walking today when the supervisor went ‘Ah, this is what we’re looking for! But, you know …’ throwing it over his shoulder.
After a long and busy weekend, going back to site was like settling back to a slower pace.
Our boss doesn’t believe strawberry and chocolate to be two but only one context which simplified things a bit for us. We have kept the informal names, though.
I am being assured by more experienced Norwegians here that this kind of archaeological excavation is much, much different from what I will be experiencing at home. For the most part, Northern European archaeology is less laborious and more dull. There are no large stone walled villa complexes or such, and from those important structures there are there are only postholes left. In Norway you might be thrilled at some find which if found here would only provoke a frown and a good aim for the waste bucket.
Furthermore, the work down here is physically more demanding. They laugh about the long breaks of coffee and waffles at excavations at home, while here we perspire in the sun dreaming of twenty minutes of break with dry crackers and cold water from the nearby spring. I have been served horror stories from home though, of trenches having to be emptied during continuous rain, cleared of buckets of snow and worse, having to be uncovered by a pick axe from a thick layer of ice and frozen soil.
I cannot tell from first hand experience about the conditions at home, but I know that the work we do here is physically demanding. We work hard, and we only eat what we strictly need – a diet full of carbohydrates for both lunch and dinner. What makes it especially hard is the heat – I’m not exactly sure what the temperatures are from day to day, but most of us have already by necessity finished a 2 l bottle each day by the end of break. After five weeks my hands are also coarser than they used to be, having worked through some blisters and small cuts. All that being said, we all make it through just fine. If one has a bad day one can just stay at the dighouse to do some less strenuous Apotheke work, nobody expects you to push yourself harder than you feel you should.
Today as well there weren’t many finds. I have learnt a lot from our trench though, also about stratigraphy. As we came about a foot down the soil became a lot denser and we also had the most perfect cut between the stratigraphic layers. It was a beautiful example. There was also another cut in our trench, but less clear. So, our trench really looks like a tricolor ice cream. The three contexts we have are thus informally nicknamed strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. Vanilla is, frankly, totally uninteresting, chocolate has the darkest and most hard packed soil, while strawberry has more lumps in it. This means that we have three different contexts and have to start categorizing our finds into three categories. There are still not many finds though, only strawberry got its own find bags today.
The funniest find from our trench today had absolutely no archaeological value. We found a cluster of lizard eggs and freaked out a bit. They couldn’t be allowed to stay in our wall, but were moved to a different location to keep our head supervisor’s good conscience.