Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thursday in Pompeii

This will be our first full day of digging. Will we survive or wilt in the heat? Like yesterday, it is in high 80’s before we even start, going for the mid-90’s before we are done.
While we are waiting to start I go back to look at my marble door support. I find chicken tracks around it that have knocked some dirt back on to it. I go to clear it off, when I notice a second depression in the stone that somehow I had over looked yesterday. (The stone is in full sun this morning, where it was fully shaded yesterday.) I grab TT and go to work on it, finding a perfectly square hole, the same depth of the circle, about 3 inches across. A new find!

We are formed into new teams and moved to different parts of the site than we worked in yesterday. There is disappointment, as we have become somewhat possessive of what we found yesterday. I spend of few minutes with the person who will be working on “my” floor so he knows my thinking.

Mike and I find ourselves on the same team again, assigned to the most difficult section of the whole site. (Are you picking up a pattern here?!?!) Our blessed shade trees have produced many off shoots which have become as dense as grass only with much bigger roots. They have grown over and into what should be the back wall of a room that holds the smaller water feature. Our task – clear them away. We struggle all morning with this growth, work made all the more difficult by the fact that we don’t have the tools we need and the ones we do have are as dull as can be. It is more like tearing at branches than cutting. At one point Mike says, “This isn’t archeology, its gardening!” We both have a grim laugh over that.

By lunch, we have found what could be parts of the expected wall. It is very fragile as the roots have gotten into it. (It turns out that roots are the great evil in destroying remains. They burrow thru the mortar and break up the structure of the features, causing them to fall apart when the now supporting dirt is removed.)

While we are resting, I take a look at how “my” floor is coming. As expected, it runs all the way back to the large wall. In some places a bit of the plaster remains, but for the most part it is just the rough concrete surface. The triclinium is now clearly defined. The large “water feature’s” outside dimensions have been established and work is beginning on the inside to see how deep it will go and to see if we can decide if it is a well or a cistern. (One woman will spend the next day and half on this task, getting down about 3 ½ feet. In it she will find a piece of cut marble about a foot long and a foot tall. It has been shaped to fit with other pieces to make up a façade for something. However, the experts are undecided if this is ancient or something far more recent.)
During the day a film crew from Nat Geo has been onsite, taping interviews with our other site director and some of the dig supervisors. At one point, they stage a scene of folks cleaning little bits of pottery. When I ask Gary what Nat Geo hopes to get out of this particular bit, he says, “Women with large breasts.”
This is a good point to talk about gender in archeology today. When we first walked the site yesterday, meeting the grad students I immediately noticed that at least 75% of them were women. During a break we discuss this and Gary says that enrollment at the undergraduate level in archeology these days is 90% women. However, there is still a serious “glass ceiling” in the upper levels of academia. Gary says part of this is due to the fact that “the old guard is not dying off fast enough”.

Anyway, perhaps some day our site will be in the background of a Nat Geo TV special on Pompeii!
After lunch, we tell Gary that without the proper tools going any further into “the jungle” will due more harm than good. He agrees and assigns us to begin digging deeper into the “room” the walls seem to define. We still have not found one of the walls and it might be deeper than where we have gotten to so far. This is far easier work and we make great progress. After an hour or so TT goes clunk again and I quickly begin to uncover what I assume to be the missing wall. Everyone is happy until after exposing 3 feet of said wall it ends. More disappointment and puzzlement. A good place to stop before we keel over.

Across the site in general we have reached the 79 CE level. Gary says tomorrow we will begin the real purpose of the dig in this area – to remove the 79 CE level and see what we can learn about the area’s development over the centuries prior to 79 CE. What takes a little while to sink in is the fact that in order to do that we have to destroy everything we have worked to bring out to this point. Horrors!!! As this is our last night together as a full group, we organize a thank you dinner for Gary and Elana at the best restaurant in town. This turns out to be great fun.

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