Last night in Italy, for now…

One last day of exploring. Another scorcher — temperatures were pushing 100 again. We had two tours reserved today, both involving going underground: La Citta Dell’acqua, and the remains of the Stadium of Domitian. Both are under modern buildings, about 20’ below street level. The temperatures are much more doable down there.

The first site, La Citta Dell’Acqua, is part of the duct/cistern system from the Acqua Vergine that delivered water into the heart of the ancient city. Today, it feeds the Trevi fountain, and the three fountains in the Piazza Navona.

After cooling off there, we made our way over by the remains of Agrippa’s Baths and found a little restaurant for lunch. The waiter asked if we’d like to see the remains of the baths complex in the basement! They have their wine cellar down there. The conditions are perfect for storing wine, and it makes a nice place to seat guests in the winter. Not a lot remains of the baths, but I love finding little hidden pieces of the ancient city.

After lunch, we walked down to the cat sanctuary at Largo Torre Argentina. We’ve made a point of visiting them every time we are in Rome. They are a non-profit organization, completely run by volunteers, that care for colonies of abandoned, stray, and unhomed cats. They spay, neuter and release thousands of them. They find homes for the ones that want homes, and otherwise see to their care and health. If you love cats, they are an organization I recommend looking into.

From there, we made our way over to Piazza Navona to explore the remains of Domitian’s circus (stadium). I’ve seen parts of it from up on the street, but this was the first time I got to go down inside. We explored the front of the stadium, with the remnants of the main entrance, and then portions of the side structure, across the street. Again, it was nice and cool down there, and not too crowded.

After that, we made one last pilgrimage to Giolitti for gelato, then back to the hotel to pack. It has been a crazy month here, for me. I’m trying to wrap my head around how fast time has flown, how much I’ve learned, how many new friends I’ve made. Central and southern Italy are tough in July and August. It’s very hot, very humid and crowded. But, you learn to deal with it. The ancient Romans managed it, so can I.

Now, I’m looking forward to getting home to my own furry kids, my mountains and my kayak. And, already pondering my next trip to Italia…

What does 38 degrees Celsius feel like?

Yes, it hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit! We felt every degree. We’ve been in Rome since Thursday afternoon, and have managed to get out and explore every day, despite the heat. This is a wonderful city for just walking around, but it has been exceptionally hot this summer. Thankfully, there are water fountains all over the place.

We started out by wandering towards the Trevi Fountain (yes, I throw a coin in every time) and discovered the archaeological zone for the acquaduct. We have a reservation to see that tomorrow. We found gelato, of course, and then pizza.

Yesterday, we took an underground tour of a Roman villa that would was right across from Trajan’s Column. Very cool! After that, we took the Domus Aurea tour!!! I’ve wanted to see that since I first learned about it, almost 20 years ago. It was worth the wait, I’ll leave it at that. From there, we headed to the Campidoglio, and joined a Roma Sotterranea tour of the Insula Ara Coeli: the ancient remains of a 5-story apartment building. That was incredible! Roma Sotterranea is a local group of spelunkers that organizes underground tours all around Rome. I’ve been on their email list for years, but this is the first time I’ve been here to join them. I highly recommend them, if your here when they’re going out.

We found pizza in the Suburra, then walked down to look at the Forum at night, and randomly bought tickets for a ”Light and Sound Experience” in the Forum of Augustus. It was great! Kind of campy, but the information was accurate and, it’s The Forum Of Augustus!

Today we wound our way around to the Campo Dei Fiori market, strolled along the Tiber for a while, then found our way back to the Colosseum. We reserved a timed entry ticket and spent the afternoon revisiting the Palatine Hill and Forum. Overall, a very fun day. Very hot, but I didn’t really notice — I was absorbed in history.

Tomorrow, we have our acquaduct tour, then will try to visit the cat sanctuary in the old temple ruins near Torre Argentina. Then, more gelato…

Whew! Things got a little busy…

Yes, I had intended to post updates every day, during the project. However, the last several days have proven to be a bit hectic and, now, the field work for this season has wrapped up. We’ve all packed up and gone our separate ways: I’m sitting in an air-conditioned hotel room, in Sorrento. Tomorrow, I’ll take the ferry up to Napoli to pick Lyn up at the airport! Then, vacation begins!!

Our last days on the project were busy with moving a LOT of dirt, discovering three unexpected walls, finding that the burial urns from the small tomb had been removed before the 79 eruption, and bagging 1000’s of ceramic sherds and bone fragments. While the “goal” of this season was to excavate and locate any burials associated with Marcus Vernerius’ tomb, or the small Niche tomb, not finding any was actually very informative. The low walls we found were unusual, and were set down quite a while before Marcus had his tomb built.

In the last week of excavation, we found a second coin (bronze) and some Attic pottery fragments. We found what seemed like an entire mouthful of human teeth, and a few jaw fragments, non of which had been cremated. I was the first person to EVER brush those teeth. Toothbrushes hadn’t been invented in the late Republican period, and based on the 2mm of plaque build-up, you can tell! This guy — I named him Phil, because we found him in the fill-layer — must’ve had serious bad breath.

I also got to work at the ceramics cleaning/sorting table, and spent a day working in the bone lab. Identifying human bones, based on burnt, shattered fragments is a special skill that I never developed. Llorenc Alapont, however, is a wizard. The man can identify a bone fragment based on it’s feel, with his eyes closed. It was something to behold.

I felt much more at home working with the ceramics, having spent a lot of time with potsherds on the Colorado Plateau. Cleaning, sorting, mending, all while working in the shade. We were also set up outside of the Porta Nola Necropolis, so we had quick access to the old city. We were a five minute walk down to the Villa With the Garden, and it’s controversial (to some) charcoal inscription. The House of Orion, just across the street, is also spectacular. I think it might be the best preserved example of Pompeii 1st Style decoration I’ve seen, and the mosaic floor is perfect.

We spent our last day back-filling the excavated area, covering it with gardening cloth and what had to be several thousands of pounds of dirt. It will be safe and protected until the team returns next season, to see what the hell those walls mean…

After one last dinner together at Pizza Oscar, we said our goodbyes and that was that. Now, I’m feeling sleep deprived, and worn out — all in a good way. I’ll post photos of the last week, tomorrow.

Herculaneum and Valencian Paella (and a little Sangria)

For our Saturday Excursion, we all piled into the vans and drove to Ercolano, then circled around a bit and located the parking lot. Once you get used to the traffic chaos, it’s not half bad riding around Campania in a car. Note that I said “riding” not driving. I would never do that. We spent a couple hours visiting Herculaneum, along with the new antiquarium, as well as the climate controlled museum for the boat. The boat was recovered from the beach, below the town. It was carbonized during the eruption, and subsequently buried under several meters of pyroclastic flow debris. I was very excited to see it. Since the theater is still not open to the public, I was at least able to get close to the boat.

After a quick gelato, overlooking the buried town, we piled back into the vans and headed back to the rental house. There, Llorenc and Cimo built a fire out in the garden, and brought out a huge paella pan that Llorenc brought from Valencia. They then proceeded to add ingredients to it, producing an amazing, bubbly, steamy concoction that we all shared at a long table, with glasses and cups of homemade sangria. I will not be forgetting that meal any time soon…. And, now that I have observed the process, I’m going to clear out an area in my back yard, stoke up a fire and try my hand at it. I will probably leave out the rabbit, and just go with chicken, but it looked like a fun dish to prepare. First, I need to go buy a paella pan.

Today, we slept in a little, and then piled back into the vans for a trip to the Villa Misteri train station. A few of us went into Pompeii: I got to play “Tour Guide” for the day, and the rest took the train back to Sorrento, to play in the water. It was hotter in the Scavi today, than last weekend, but it was still wonderful. I love seeing peoples’ reaction when they first walk up the Main Street and enter the Forum. It’s like watching someone look into the Grand Canyon for the first time — wonder, magic, excitement.

Tomorrow we begin our third and final week of work, for this season. Expectations are high that we’ll find a burial urn. We’ll see…

Carbonized boat
Seeing it for the first time
Il Vesuvio
The fire
The meat
The tomatoes
Add water
Lift and Carry
A little something to wash it down
Dinner with friends
My plate!

We have cash!!

We began this morning by cleaning up the top of the curb wall, adjacent to the paved road that connects to the Via Dell’Abbondanza. This low wall separates the tombs from the actual road, and protected their corners from traffic. Marcus’ tomb is situated less than a meter from the road, and there is a white, tufa baluster protecting it’s corner. Moving to the west, along the curb wall, we began hitting the top of another structure, or wall, attached to the north side of the curb wall. Here, on the top of this feature, I uncovered a big chunk of human long-bone, possible a humerus, and what may be some skull fragments. At the moment, they are speculating that it may be a Samnite burial that is bubbling up to the surface. I’ll have to wait to find out on that one.

We also found our first coin: a Roman “denarius” with the Goddess Roma on the obverse (heads) and Jupiter in a four-horse chariot on the reverse (tails). This coin likely dates to the 2nd century BC, and looks like it was minted last week. The director was very excited, to say the least.

So, why haven’t I been posting photos of the excavation? The Superintendent of Archaeology for Pompeii has forbidden us to take any pictures, on the site, or of any features or artifacts. Looting is on the rise in the area, and they very much want to control what information or images of new excavations get out into the public. We aren’t working inside the old city. This is new ground we’re uncovering, that hasn’t seen the sun since 79AD. It’s very unusual to dig new ground in Pompeii, a rare opportunity. So, when the people in charge review all the official photos, and approve them, I can post some images. Until then, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

Week One is Done!

We have completed the first week of the 2022 season, and are beginning week two! Our first week on site consisted of removing all of the lapilli/overburden, some in situ, some previous fill. At one point, we were averaging 300 buckets an hour, weighing around 12-15 pounds each. Best upper body workout you could ask for.

On Friday afternoon, we passed the last bucket of lapilli, swept the surface of the “Eruption Day” level clean, and headed home.

Saturday morning saw us caravanning up to Napoli, to explore the National Archaeological Museum. After that, we headed into the historic center and consumed the best pizza in all of southern Italy: Pizzeria Trianon. If you like Pizza Napoletana, I highly recommend it.

Sunday was our free day — some headed to Sorrento and the beach, I wandered around Pompeii for a few hours, then went to the store for some necessities. It was way too hot to wait for the beach crew to get back, and ride home with them, so I took a cab. My driver was very confused as to why we were staying so far away, and in such a boring area. It really is out in the middle of nowhere here, but it is what it is.

Today, we began proper excavation, with measured levels, screens and trowels. So far, we’re finding lots of potsherds, animal bone fragments and a bit of glass. No coins, yet….

We’re digging!

After spending yesterday getting acquainted with the site, and a very brief walk through the ancient town, we are finally getting to work clearing out the lapilli from the work area, this season. Last year the project discovered the tomb of Marcus Venerius Secundio and sort of blew everyone’s minds.

This season we will be continuing on, clearing the area immediately surrounding his tomb wall, and examining a small tomb containing two urns: one male and one female. Before any of that happens, we have to move all of the lapilli (pumice) from the eruption and get down to the 79 AD level. We got there around 3pm today, and I have to say, it was really a thrill to expose the large, basalt paving stones from the adjacent Roman road, knowing that mine were the first feet to stand on them, since they were buried by Vesuvius almost 2000 years ago.

The work was a bit tedious — scrape lapilli into a rubber bucket, pass it up to the beginning of the bucket line, and pass it person to person, to the top of the hill. There is a significant mound of lapilli piled up at the top of the hill. This is not easy work in the heat, especially if you aren’t prepared for it. The students working this year are quickly finding out that a majority of archaeological field-work consists of tedium/bucket work/shovel bumming. Just being here is thrilling, and I get a sense that they are starting to absorb the history, or are being absorbed by it, and are falling in love with Pompeii.

We’ll probably be continuing on with the lapilli relocation process for the next 2-3 days. It is unlikely that we’ll find anything in this layer, but it’s always possible that a victim collapsed and died in this strata. We are working well below the fatal, pyroclastic flow layers so, no clusters of fleeing victims where we’re working. Not sure how I’d feel about finding one of those…

I did escape from the site for lunch, today, and walked downtown to the Santuario. A friend I went to high-school with is in Italy, and she made her way down here to say “Hi!” It was kind of surreal to sit in the shade, eat gelato with Sylvia, and chat. It’s a delightfully small world.

Ooh! And, I made friends with three of the resident kittens today. Two gingers, we named them Mack and Cheese, and a little black kitten with copper colored eyes. We call him Apollo and his sister is Diana.

The Gathering…

We started today out by meeting up at a bar, in the airport. A few delayed flights, one cancelled flight, a couple lost bags, one of the directors driving back and forth from Sarno to Napoli. It’s been quite a day.

We found out yesterday that the accommodations the project usually bases out of aren’t available this year. So. they have divided us into two groups, with one staying in a rented house, and the other camped in a “Bed and Breakfast.” I’m in the BnB group — here’s the thing: there’s actually no breakfast, and what I’m sleeping on is only “technically” a bed. It’s really more of a cot. At least the A/C works. And, I can use my iPhone as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot. Otherwise, I would be updating this blog via messenger pigeon, and they aren’t so reliable.

I do believe I’m the oldest person on the team, possibly older than the directors. Most of my teammates were born since I graduated from college. That just cracks me up…. Everyone is very excited to be here, with this project playing a role in how they’ll decide their future career paths. I should warn them, this will be addicting, despite the fact that toilet seats are not included in the price of the room…

A Day in Napoli…

After sleeping in as late as I could, without missing breakfast, I got out and did a bit of wandering today. My hotel is in the historic center of the city, so there is a lot to take in, including Greek walls, Roman baths and more 16th-18th century architecture than can be counted! I did not go into the Archaeological Museum – that will be one of the excursions our team takes during one of our weekends. It is probably my favorite museum in the world, no offense MOMA.

I got swept up in a local Pride Parade/March, this evening, just as I was finishing dinner. The singing and cheering was all in Napulitan, so I didn’t understand much, but the spirit was definitely universal!!

There is no lacking for good eats here – Pizzeria Vesi is my go-to when in Napoli. It is indescribably good. Gelato can be found on every street and up every alley. Just peek into the case and make sure there aren’t any ice crystals built up in the tub. Freezer-burnt gelato isn’t the best. For a pastry-like treat, I recommend Leopoldo Infante! The “Delizia Limone” is very good: not too sweet, not too dense. I ate half this evening, and will have the other half in the morning with a cappuccino.

Speaking of tomorrow morning, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the bus to the airport stops right in front of my hotel, so that’s easy. We are all meeting at a small snack bar, in front of the airport tomorrow at 11;30. Everyone has been checking in via WhatsApp. Quite a diverse group, with folks from, well, almost everywhere. I’m really excited to get started.

Pompeii, here I come!

Ciao, Napoli!

Greetings from the amazing city of Napoli! I’ve made it safe, and sound to Italy, and am remembering how disorienting East-Bound jet lag can be. This will be a very brief post, as I can barely keep my eyes open.

I will just say that it is so good to be back. I love this ancient city, with all of it’s rush, noise and smells. The best pizza in the world can be found here, along with some of the nicest people. Tomorrow, my plan is to sleep in a bit, find a market to buy all the liquids I didn’t pack on the plane, and visit some old haunts. I’ll keep you posted.

Il Vesuvio