Liz at the Roman Forum (Elizabeth Bastian / MJ)
Liz at the Roman Forum (Elizabeth Bastian / MJ)

BY ELIZABETH BASTIAN,
Managing Editor

Written June 27, 2012 8:38 pm (Roma time)

Ciao my fellow Americans!

I finally have time and a little bit of energy to provide an update on my first few days on the Gabii site.


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Monday was orientation, which was basically tours of the different areas of the site and introductions to the job rotations. That was followed by orientation at the student center for our accommodation company Accent International. They essentially just went over common urban street smarts, which, working in the very urban parts of Detroit, was an easy review for myself.

Things I have had to explain a lot to my fellow diggers not from Michigan:

1) Detroit is not a bottomless pit of decay, we are a viable city that just has too much space and not enough civic assistance.
2) Up north is not Canada, nor is it any true specific place.

But I digress.

Monday night was spent walking around ancient Roma: running around Circo Massimo, seeing the sun set over the Colosseum, trekking through the Palatine to San Sebastian, and so much more. I capped up the long day with a delicious lemon and banana sorbet, a treat even my sensitive stomach enjoyed. Check out my album on Photobucket to see the beautiful architecture I experienced; a picture is truly worth a thousand words in this case.

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Tuesday morning I was up again at 6 am to leave our apartment in Trastevere (pronounced tras-teh-VER-ray) by 6.40 am. This way, we arrive on site around 7.45 am and are ready to work by 8. I was assigned to the osteo (bone) department, joining two other students to spend the day with Francesca. Francesca is an extremely learned professor and archaeologist who has worked with mammal bones for years. It was truly a pleasure to work with an expert such as herself. She answered every single one of our questions, no matter how stupid or amateur they were.

Italy

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After only having background in human anatomy from my anthropology courses, it was fascinating to physically handle, analyze, and catalogue bones from medieval and archaic cattle, sheep, goat, and pig remains. It gave me a huge advantage as far as identifying bone fragments while digging goes.

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We spent the morning counting bags of bones, each containing anywhere from 2 to 400 bones. Francesca easily identified each piece we approached her with asking “What’s this?”. My personal favorite were the cattle teeth; they were archaically majestic, and much bigger than I expected. After lunch, we carried our table and chairs outside and sorted the bones according to parts of the body. We then began to catalogue the bones according to the standard osteo-archaeological process. Sitting in the shade on a lovely sunny day in the middle of the Italian hills analyzing dead things…may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I had to keep pinching myself.

One of the bones ended up being a human ulna, or elbow bone. I must say, you will never think about mortality the same after handling such a find for an afternoon. What an introspective hour!

Today I finally got to dig in the dirt, and I was SO excited. The weather was beautiful. It was a scorcher, but there was a balmy breeze, and with the amount of water I drank/sweat out the heat was very bearable. I spent the entirety of the day utilizing pick-axes, shovels, my trusty trowel, and a hand broom uncovering a particular cut from a previous unknown dig over a hundred years ago.

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I and four other girls managed to knock out the excavation, cleaning, and documenting in about 6 hours. I loved every minute of it. Being covered in dirt and performing back-breaking physical labor in the sunshine may sound horrible, but it’s right up my alley. And it is SO worth it to see the finished product: a clean sheet of bedrock. Satisfying indeed. I cannot wait to be back in the field tomorrow.

What I like most about archaeology is that it is simplistic in certain aspects, for nearly anyone can excavate. Tools are commonplace: a spoon, a dustpan, a broom, a trowel, a shovel, a wheelbarrow and bucket, etc. All you need is a sharp eye and the motivation to just keep digging and scraping.

I do not think I could possibly be enjoying my time here more.

Friday is an Italian holiday (don’t ask me for what) so we have the day off from digging. After going to watch the Italia versus Deutscheland football game tomorrow night, some of my suitemates and I are off to spend the weekend in Florence and the Tuscan country side.

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Time to hang up my laundry and pass out in my bed. Buon noche!