Inhaling Ancient Roman Dust

The first weekend of October, my archaeology class, co-taught by famous Italian archaeologist Dr. Carolina Megale, went up to the village of Fiesole, just outside of Florence to take part in an excavation. Fiesole is a pretty cool place, it was first started by the Etruscans in the early 9th century BC, so it predates Ancient Rome. Then the Romans conquered it and created a small Roman city just outside of their Roman city of Florentia. (today known as Florence!) Then after the western Roman Empire collapsed, the Lombards took over around the 6th century AD. As a result, Fiesole has many layers of soil that belong to many different cultures and time periods.

The place where we were excavating had been covered by Lombard tombs and those had been covered by modern day soil layers. These soil layers are called strata, and the most recent is towards the top with the most ancient layers at the bottom. So, to get to the ancient Roman layer of strata, we were continuing an excavation that had began in the 1980’s.

Day One:

We were told to take bus number 7 up to Fiesole, which I had done before so I knew which bus stop to go to in Piazza San Marco. Carla and I got there early and we waited by the stop for the rest of our class. We saw a few buses pass, however, none of them were bus 7. We soon found out that some of the bus drivers were on strike. Apparently, that is just a thing that happens in Italy, especially on Fridays. So we contact our school and they had to call a van to take us up and pick us up later that day. We were supposed to be there around 10:00, but did not get there until around 11:30. Once we got there, Carolina showed us the site and where we were to dig, then gave us trowels and gloves and we got to work. It was hard work, digging through Tuscan clay and soil on your knees while also being aware of what you were digging through. We found bones of animals, presumably pigs and chickens, charcoal leading us to believe there were ovens there, tiles of mosaics, pot sherds and a few coins. We later learned that we were digging in what used to be the ancient Roman marketplace. It was pretty awesome, tiring and dusty, but rewarding.

Day Two:

We took the bus on Saturday and we were actually on time which was great. We all started off with digging and some were cleaning pot sherds and bones from the day before. I found a game piece made out of bone that was completely found on one end and flat and smooth on the other. It was very rewarding and so exhausting. We got time for lunch and Carla, Randi, and I walked down the hill and found a great view of the entire city of Florence; we had a great lunch with a great view. At the end of the day we went into the museum to look at Etruscan, Roman, and Lombard tombs and pottery.

I would definitely do a dig again; the class is actually planning on going to Rome in November to dig in Ostia, the ancient Roman port. It was one of those experiences where it was so physically and mentally demanding that by the end you feel so accomplished.

Archaeological excavation in Italy? Check.



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