Sunday, July 19, 2009

The last day in Pompeii

The weather today will be the same as the others. Our group is getting smaller. Some folks have to return to Rome to catch flights home or trains to other destinations. Some are exhausted and just wish to be tourists. We are now down to the hardcore.

But first things first. One place I really want to see is the Villa of the Mysteries, a villa just outside the city that was the home of the members of the cult of Dionysius (or Bacchus). There are some stunning frescos in this villa and as I have just finished a course in the mystery religions of the Greek and Roman world I want to see these frescos for myself.

Using the site map I go off with one other person to find the villa. After a while the road dead ends directly into a villa. I look at the map, but can not figure out how this has happened. We back track but are unable to find a place where we could have made a wrong turn. As we stand there, a group of women (of course) come by, hauling what looks like architectural gear. I ask for directions and they tell us the villa we were in was the one we were looking for! That will teach me to interpret a tourist map literally. Back to the villa, it takes a good 10 minutes of wandering around to find the frescos but eventually they are found and are as awesome as I had hoped.
We walk back to the site. There we find the grad students have moved in and are beginning to lay out the grid that will be used to map the site. I get to use the survey gear and am beginning to feel like a real archeologist! In addition, the group has begun to dig several large pits that should take us down to the natural stone level the city was first built on.

I am assigned to work on the triclinium. I am to clear off the top and sides to give us a clearer picture of how it was made. In short order I find that the top layer of stones is sitting on at least 6 inches of dirt instead of another layer of stones as it should be. Gary and I discuss this, with me telling him that if I remove that upper layer of stone I am going to end up destroying the whole thing. He says to go forward and so I do, slowly pulling the whole thing apart. And that is where the day ends.

Two members of today’s group have found a small item of interest. This is cool as the items go into plastic bags for examination later. (It turns out that plastic bags are a badge of honor.) “My” marble door frame support is to be left in situ. One item is part of a small vessel. The other is an item for personnel use carved out of bone. It has two holes carved in it. No one is sure what is for.

Every Friday the group as a whole tours the entire site, with each supervisor discussing the weeks work and what has been learned. We join them and our site is included in the tour, with a mention going to “my” marble door frame support. I got a powerful feeling of really being part of this team, even if it was only for a short while.


The entire staff has been staying in a 6 story house. One group is ending their work and leaving tomorrow and a party is being held in their honor. We are invited.

We arrive late in the evening to discover that Gary is revealing a new side of his personality – as a DJ. Much drinking and carrying on continues into the night. Although they are graduate students, they still carry on like undergrads. I guess I would too if I had been working that hard in those conditions for that long.

I wander thru the house to see what their living conditions are like and suddenly find myself face to face with an important part of my past. They live just like I did at the Co-op back at Michigan. Several people to a room on small beds, personal belongings everywhere. I swear I can see my 20 year old self sitting amongst the mess in the room saying “Hi, remember me?” It is something of a shock.

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