Category: archaeology

Moments

December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

Chandra and I had spent the last few hours walking around Knossos, an extraordinary place that we’d both read about in text books for years. It was our first full day in Greece. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the amazing experience of finally visiting a place I’d been studying for years. To actually see the evidence of a civilization from thousands of years ago. To see one of the first and most controversial archaeological sites in the world.

My mind was full of all of these thoughts. It was blissfully hot. I could feel my bare legs tanning in the sun. I smelt of sun screen. We ordered fresh orange juice and sat on a terrace. It was so refreshing, easily the best juice I’ve ever tasted. And it was so perfect, and pure on a hot lazy afternoon. We drank it while discussing history. Maybe I didn’t feel so much alive as right. It just felt right.

In truth, there are so many more moments I could write about. So many times I felt more deeply than I have for most of my life. It was definitely a year of spectacular moments.

Me, in Knossos

Theseus: completed

Last Friday, after many glitches and a great deal of emotional stress, I printed out my dissertation and handed it in.

I am happy with it. I am confident that I did everything I could to make it perfect, and there is nothing I would change. That’s all one can ask for, right?

Now it only remains to be seen what other people (namely my supervisor and two other markers) think about it and if I get a decent grade.

It was my life for an entire month. When it was done I was both immensely relieved and strangely empty. I had no idea what to do with my time anymore.

Luckily, packing came along to keep me busy. That and Firefly.

I’m proud of myself. For finishing this and for getting this far. This is the physical manifestation of all of the work I have done in the last 5 years, and everything I have learned.

And, believe it or not, I think I finally found my niche. Yes, I could talk about pots, myths and political myth making forever.

Theseus: a democratic hero

Title page

It's so beautiful!

180 pages

You dig okay, Ponyboy

#57. Do an archaeological dig.

Today is the last day of my two week archaeological dig at Vindolanda, a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall.

Since I’m doing my MA in Greek and Roman Archaeology and all, I thought it would be a good idea to finally put my trowel where my mouth is. To get my hands dirty, literally. Though, apparently this is not a prerequisite to being an archaeologist as there are many who never do any digging at all and sit around talking about archaeological theory (the bane of my existence last semester.)

The first week I loved it. It was incredibly painful for the first two days. I didn’t know I even had some of the muscles that were hurting the next day! But once that passed, I was so excited to get back in the dirt and start finding things. Walls, nails, tons of pot sherds.

I’m glad I did two weeks. Last week, I was on a physical activity high and decided that I could actually do archaeology as a job. This week, I’m exhausted and I’ve realized that even though I do enjoy it, it will have to be an occasional thing for me because it’s just too tiring for an everyday job.

I had a really good time, though, overall. The people on the dig were great. The volunteers are all ages, from all sorts of places and have all different levels of experience. It would have been a really long two weeks if it weren’t for my trench buddies.

The highlight of my dig? On Tuesday I found a bronze (or copper-alloy!) Roman door knob! It was the only thing I found to get its own small finds bag.

And now… if I never touch another wheelbarrow in my life, I (and my poor wrists) will be very happy.

Wishing I was a hotter archaeologist, like Lara Croft.

Number 57 is the newest addition to my list, because I found out last year that I’d miscounted and forgotten it! So I got to add something a little more related to what I was going to do with my life.

The one where I get stuck in a ruined city

On August 24, 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano in the vicinity of modern Naples in Italy, erupted and buried the surrounding settlements of Pompeii and Herculaneum under a mile of rock and ash, killing up to 25,000 people.

Pompeii and Vesuvius, by me

Pompeii remained buried until the 16th Century, Herculaneum until the 18th. In 1804, the first real excavations of Pompeii began to uncover the city. Large scale excavations of the ruined city continue to this day making Pompeii one of the largest and most famous archaeological sites in the world.

The plan was to get to Pompeii from Rome and back again in one day. Pompeii is closest to Naples, about 2.5 hours from Rome. We arrived at Termini, the central Roman train station, at about 9am on Monday. We struggled through buying our tickets, and spent about 20 minutes with a dictionary trying to read the Italian tickets and figure out where were supposed to be waiting for the train and where we would sit once it arrived.

We boarded the train and found our seats, only to be almost immediately yelled at in Italian that we were in the wrong seats. We tried to show the two ladies our tickets and prove that we were in the right place, but they just kept saying “No, no!” And so, assuming we must be wrong, we left the seats and went up the carriage to ask an employee and another man who spoke English. Both pointed us back to where we had come from. Finally, we squeezed our way through small, crowded hallways to the seats we had started with. The ladies were gone and our seats were now vacant. We sat down and I watched the Italian countryside through the rain on my window for most of the journey (punctuated by naps, of course, because it was quite early still.)

With the train and a transfer to the Metro in Naples, we got to Pompeii at about 1pm. The site is open until 5pm, so we had enough time to see most of it (not all, though, because it really is an entire ancient city.)

It was pouring rain by the time we arrived, and though it was frustrating to have to hold up my umbrella and my camera at the same time, it also made the site a lot more interesting to me. Pompeii is a major tourist location, and I’ve heard that in the summer it’s packed beyond belief. Since it was the off season, and since it was raining, Pompeii really did look like an abandoned, ruined city. A city of the dead. You could walk several streets before running into another person. It gave a very surreal, ghostly aspect to the site.

p1113253

The streets of Pompeii are still paved with cobblestones and still have the stones in place for the pedestrians to cross without stepping in puddles or debris. In the rain, they were more rivers than streets and we were glad for the raised sidewalks on either side. We wandered the streets of Pompeii, walking around a city that was frozen in time in 79AD. It was amazing to see the way a town looked in the Roman Empire. With wall paintings, mosaics and graffiti still in tact, it was easy to imagine yourself a Pompeian in the houses and courtyards.

A room with wall paintings, by me

When they excavated Pompeii, they didn’t find dead bodies. They were incinerated in the heat. But the way the ash and rock had fallen created pockets of air in the shape of where the bodies had been. Therefore, archaeologists were able to make plaster casts of the people who had died in Pompeii. In the summer I understand that many of these are left in situ, among the buildings of the city so that you can see where they died. In the off season, however, the casts are kept in an open storage area.

Praying, by me

As someone studying archaeology, Pompeii was a wonder to see. I have been reading in textbooks for years of all the things we’ve found out from Pompeii. Because it was frozen in time, it alloys us to see how a Roman city would have looked in the 1st Century AD. Graffiti, wall paintings, amphorae and shops can tells us countless things about the Roman way of life.

Needless to say, we spent as much time as possible at Pompeii.

At around 4:25 we made our way back to the main gate to buy the guidebook. The last admission was at 4:30, so we ran out quickly to get the book and then nipped back in. An employee told us not to go too far, since they were closing in half an hour. We told him that we were going to go see the Villa of the Mysteries and exit that way.

And so, we walked across the city to the Villa. We got there at about 4:50, just in time to see the Villa and exit on time. But when we were done looking around the Villa, we realized that we couldn’t find the way out the book had described. There was a fence that kept us from going any further past the Villa.

We decided to go back up the hill to see if we had missed the exit on our way in. A man told us that we had to go back towards the main entrance. We were confused, but we continued up the hill anyway.

After walking for a while, we realized that the path we were on wasn’t going to lead us to an exit. By now it was 5:20 and dark, and there was no one else in Pompeii. Everyone had left for the day. We still had no idea how to get out.

We had two options, either to go back down into the city and keep walking to the main entrance and hope we could still get out that way, or go back to the Villa of the Mysteries and continue to search for that exit. Standing on top of the hill, we could see Vesuvius, the city of Naples and the intense dark of the dead city below. The only house nearby had dogs that were barking loudly and, in my anxious mind, angrily. I was worried we would have to stay in Pompeii all night.

Stuck in Pompeii at night, by me

We decided to go back to the Villa and try our chances there.

When we got back to the Villa it was about 5:40. We jumped two fences to get past it, trying to follow the signs that said “Uscita” (Italian for exit.) Finally, walking around with only the flashlight on my keychain for light, we found the exit. A woman in the building at the exit saw our flashlight and opened her window. She started yelling in a mix of Italian and English that they were closed, we had to leave. I yelled back “I know! We’re trying! Uscita! Uscita!”

Finally, we got out of Pompeii and didn’t have to spend the night with only two toblerones and a package of Fruit Joys, possibly ending up food for the famous Pompeii stray dogs.

Of course, on the way down the hill in the dark I tripped and went over on my ankle and I ended up having to buy a Tensor (/Ace) bandage to keep me walking all over Rome for the week.

They built a wall…

…the Romans, that is. Starting in 122 CE (or AD if you’d like). They built a wall from one side of Britain to the other, to regulate travel and keep the south safe from Barbarica - in this case, Scotland.

wall

In Rome, the army is power. Caesar came to power because he had support of the troops. When Octavian wanted to claim his inheritance, he bought off the army first. Any ruler worth his salt kept the army happy. And busy. Because a bored army is recipe for rebellion.

Emperor Hadrian was smart enough to recognize this, and put them to work building a wall, some forts and a milecastle every Roman mile. Sure, it was a lot about defence and transportation too. But the most important this is that the legions stationed in the North were too busy to come around and repeat the events of 69 CE (the year of four Emperors, all to fresh in the Roman mind).

Newcastle Upon Tyne stands at the Eastern-most edge of Hadrian’s Wall. Within a short journey is several major forts (Segedenum, Arbeia, Vindolanda, Birdoswald) and some of the most important Roman excavations going on now.

excavationsvindolanda

Being in Northeast, I’ve had a chance to visit some Roman ruins. We went out to Vindolanda about a week and a half ago. At Vindolanda, they found surviving examples of Roman papyri. Written in strange cursive Latin, the Vindolanda tablets show us daily life on the Roman frontier. From birthday party invitations to requests for leave, the tablets offer an amazing insight.

They’ve already done extensive excavations at Vindolanda, and they’re in the process of doing more. You can see a bathhouse, a granary, and several other buildings from the fort and the town that grew up around it to cater to the Roman army. You can see the complex system of wells and waterways that made it possible to supply water to almost every building. You can also see the remains of how they kept themselves warm in the cold Northeastern winter - the heated floors.

bathhouse

The second place I went was Birdoswald, where one of my professors is leading an excavation on a Roman cemetery. He led us through the excavation, and then we walked out to the Wall and followed it for a few miles to see a milecastle and a Roman bridge.

bridge

So I have a new goal. There is a path that follows the 80 miles of Hadrian’s Wall, from coast to coast. There are hotels and hostels on the way. I want to walk the Wall…. in the summer. Apparently it only takes about a week to get from Newcastle to the West coast.