By Maxim Chesnokov (taken from my travel journal!)

Day One 30/06/19

– Woke up at 3am and packed everything

– Made it to Naples and took the bus to the Piazza Garibaldi

– We met up with others going on the dig and walked to the Naples Archaeological Museum which had a fantastic hoard of statues and mosaics which we had been studying in previous years

– We were then picked up by a coach to take us to Aeclanum, the site where we would be digging for the next couple of weeks

– We settled into our accommodation and then socialised for the evening and met the others

Day Two 31/06/19

– Woke up at 7am and tackled the showers which had been installed into a very old bathroom

– Popped to a local coffee shop where one of the dig supervisors helped me make my order as there were not many English speakers in the town (this was not a bad thing, as I quickly became an expert in the differences between a latte and a café latte!)

– We were on the site by 8:30am and were given a tour around the site before being given our trench allocations

– I was allocated to the Macellum which is the Latin term for a butcher’s shop. I was told to expect lots of animal bones…

– We were thrown into the deep end of excavation and within minutes I was sifting through buckets of soil for the many archaeological fragments that resided in the trench and then swapping with those who were swinging pickaxes down to dislodge all of the debris

– After a long day with few breaks, we convened at the bottom of the site in the afternoon heat to wash pottery sherds and take part in other activities like brushing dirt off bones and fragile painted fresco pieces.

– In the evening lots of us took a trip to the local mall to pick up some extra clothes and some food to cook, as there was a fully fitted kitchen and pantry in the accommodation

Day Three 01/07/19

– Today at the trench we were wrapping our heads around triangulation which was a very long and arduous process requiring the full concentration of three people plus others to direct them in order to plot points in the trench and subsequently draw a perfectly scaled version of the trench onto a sheet of A3 tracing paper

– We all took turns triangulating and drawing, although my skills in the latter remained at a very low level

– We did more pottery cleaning after lunch and then visited a local restaurant for a group dinner and some cocktails

Day Four 02/07/19

– We had a morning meeting where we were given a refresher on security and reminded to remain vigilant, as there is always a risk of theft on an archaeological site and its potentially valuable finds

– Sadly a lot of grass was being cut near the trench and me and some other hay-fever sufferers had to retreat to the bottom of the site and work on pottery sherds

– I picked up a new skill in labelling each sherd with the site name and a code which identified it to a certain trench. This was a really interesting process as we used a sort of quill-and-ink system to label the sherds over a layer of dried nail polish (so that the label could be removed easily with acetone in the future or if we made a mistake)

– The grass-cutting had finished by the time lunch was over and I had arrived in time for a very exciting archaeological discovery: somebody had found an ancient Roman coin in the Macellum!

– Only a handful of coins on the entire site had been found before so this was a relatively important occasion

– The day had to end slightly earlier than usual as the clouds were getting darker and threatening a storm

Day Five

– Today was dedicated to another new skill: learning how to define a context

– This involved scraping back layers of loose soil with our trowels to reveal the next compact level which indicated a new layer of stratigraphy and thus a new time period to work with

– We were all too tired to cook so most of us went out for dinner at a local restaurant again

Day Six

– Another exciting day as we found even more coins in the trench!

– One of the coins had a really clear face on it which meant that a specialist would be called in at some point to analyse and then date it

– The afternoon for me involved learning how to sort and categorise different pottery sherds and then labelling those sherds appropriately

Day Seven

– This was the first Saturday of the trip and the site was not open on weekends so the supervisors had organised a day trip for us

– We were going to Benevento, a lovely Italian city with lots of museums and Roman remains

– We visited the Iris Museum, which housed a small exhibition on a temple to Iris excavated close by, and then wandered around trying to find a place for lunch which ended up being quite difficult as we had arrived at a time when most of the inhabitants and business-owners were away on holiday

– After lunch we went to see an ancient Roman theatre which was absolutely massive! Just climbing up the seats felt like climbing a mountain

– One museum we visited afterwards really captured my imagination for its collection of painted Greek vases depicting various scenes, mostly mythological

Day Eight

– Today was designated as one for total relaxation before the busy week of digging ahead

– We booked ourselves into the local hotel’s pool and spent the day reading and swimming

Day Nine

– In the morning we were having photos taken of our trench whilst the lighting conditions were right for it so we were sent to the pottery division to cross-compare what we had found to pottery found in publications from the 1970s

– This was basically detective work as we had to mentally reconstruct an entire vase shape from a fragment which was usually only a few centimetres long! It was amazing to be able to learn how to visualise things like that just off a few hints like the curvature of the sherd or the shape of the lines incised into it

– When we returned to the trench I was sifting for the rest of the day and because of the wind I was caked in dirt by the end of it…

– In the evening I went on a walk around the fields near the site which was a lovely place to watch the sun set

Day Ten

– Another unexpected and exciting thing happened in our trench today as a brand new wall began to appear as we dug down

– This was highly unusual for a room of this type and we had to re-evaluate the shape we had initially thought this phase to have taken the form of

– There was some light rain but we worked through it this time

Day Eleven

– We were defining the context again today which had to be done extra carefully so as not to disturb the plaster wall and its (intact!) fresco casing which had been unveiled the day before

– As usual we then moved on to the various tasks around pottery in the latter part of the day

Day Twelve

– I finally found a coin! Eleven coins in total had been found by others in the trench so I felt as if it was about time

– More drawing took place at the trench for the new context and after that an inscription began to be uncovered beneath the soil!

– Lots of time was dedicated to making it more clear, and the letters “HI” were the only surviving legible letters on the fragment of marble (but unfortunately it was not another way of saying “hello” in Latin, it was likely part of a longer name)

– In the evening we had a trivia night where everyone including supervisors got into teams and competed against each other with various questions and challenges including a live recreation of an ancient scene (the winners who were not our team recreated the Alexander Mosaic from the Naples Archaeological Museum)

Day Thirteen

– Today was a fantastic final day

– We found a few more coins bringing up the total coins found to FIFTEEN! That was fifteen more than any other trench had found during our season

– I found another coin which also had clear imagery on it which was another personal success

– The weather took a cool turn which made it even nicer to work as we didn’t have to worry too much about the raging heat which had pursued us for the past two weeks

– We did final tours and talks around each trench and then went back to the accommodation to pack and then head out for a group dinner

Day Fourteen

– Took the coach back from the site to Naples and said goodbye to all the wonderful friends that I had made on the trip

– Visited some final museums with a couple of friends on the same flight as me and then sadly headed back to the airport to go home… I’d like to thank the Go Abroad fund for generously granting me the award without which I would never have been able to experience my first dig. I hope to be back at Aeclanum next year!

Categories: Europe, Go Abroad Fund, Italy

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