24th July was the Day-of-Archaeology 2015, a day that promotes archeology worldwide. A crowds event born on twitter in 2011, virtually brings together archaeologists of the world and shows them at work: a live story of who is and what the archaeologist does, without filters.
An opportunity to share the value of the profession of archaeologists … a tool to imagine how it SHOULD be for our cultural heritage: alive, vital, essential for our everyday life, to know ourselves, in the sense of community, but also to know themselves as individuals.
I’m Francesca Pontani archaeologist and blogger (for ArcheoTime Blog and for ArcheoTime youtube channel) and so I opened my social media “windows” to show the archaeological dig at the Templum Pacis in Rome, the Forum erected by the Emperor Vespasian to celebrate his victories in Palestine.
All this to let everyone to know what an archaeologist is and what archaeologist really do within eight hours of their life on the dig site (7:30 am to 16:30 pm), a small microcosm in which different skills act and work together.
All this to try to promote a new way of living and feel the excavation site: not a place off limits, outside of the daily reality of all of us, but a place “to live in”. It would be nice, in fact, plan the public opening of excavation sites just to see archaeologists at work.
A Day by an Archaeologist
The day begins at 7:30 am and tasks are distributed to allow everyone to experience various fields: excavation, survey sections, relief of the elevations, washing and labeling shards, cataloging, study of materials (marble, bone, bronze, clay, etc. etc.).
Sitting on your knees (because you cannot sit comfortably on the ground, as you could ruin stratigraphy) with gentle but firm wrist to take away various stratigraphic levels with the trowel. As you progress with brush and trowel you verse all in the bucket, but always eyes glued to the ground ready to seize upon some fragment / important findings to be delivered immediately to the person responsible for the sector of excavation, to proceed to cataloging.
Filled the whole bucket of earth, it proceeds to screening in more detail to retrieve the recoverable; finally, you go to the wheelbarrow where you verse the whole. Then (if it is your turn) vigorously you grab the wheelbarrow and overturn it into the “dump” of excavation.
There is then the Flotation which is a method of sieving with water of a matrix (archeological site), which allows you to recover organic and inorganic materials from the sediment. The materials with lighter gravity than water are floated. The soil layer is removed and placed in a container that is filled with water. It removes the outcropping through a fine mesh strainer.
These are the first levels of intervention on the archaeological dig; moments physically demanding but very important for the documentation. This is because the excavation is a destructive process: if the data is not properly documented as they proceed, all will be lost. And that’s why each layer is documented by photographs, floor plans and reliefs in section: to have every little element then able to reconstruct, to the computer, the original situation.
The ceramic fragments collected are then washed and dried. Then each fragment is labeled writing the US (= stratigraphic unit) number, the abbreviation of the archaeological excavation site and the year, so that even if the contents of the cassettes are accidentally mixed, even after time, we still could reconstruct the arrangement of the materials.
Because every little piece, however small, has its dignity and is fundamental to reconstruct History: because this is archeology, not the search for hidden treasures, but reconstruction through clues. Compiling of cards to document ceramics classes (fire, tableware, land sealed, heavy showcase, thin walls, black paint, etc. Etc.), for each class of pottery notes the number of fragments and the type of the fragments present (lips, tracks, walls, loops, etc.): all data is extremely important and fundamental. Then the ceramic materials are bagged and settled into boxes.
Another important clue is the animal bones that give us much information. Here the Temple of Peace, for example, tells us about the type of power supply in the XIth century at the Forum of Peace. In fact during the Middle Ages the Templum Pacis became a residential area. In the bones have been discovered traces of combustion: then they “tell” us that before being eaten, meat was cooked on the barbecue. Then remains of marine and terrestrial molluscs, pigs, sheep, birds were also found – animals show us what Romans ate in the Middle Ages.
… That’s how all these “cold” data can reconstruct the emotions and thoughts … the invisible footprints left behind by the Romans who lived here, what they believed, what they thought, what they ate and how they lived.
The Forum of Peace
The Forum of Peace, also known as Templum Pacis, was built in the 1st century AD by Vespasian to celebrate his victories in Palestine. The cult statue of the goddess Peace was on the top of a high podium with the sacred symbols of the temple of Jerusalem: the Ark of the Covenant and the menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum. All objects disappeared along with the statue of Peace, during the looting suffered by Rome in the 5th century AD.
Here we are in the great hall that served as a temple, at the end of a wide square porticoes with bushes and flowers in the middle. The front of the hall was decorated with colossal Egyptian red granite columns (high more than those of the Pantheon), aligned in two rows. Today we see them on the ground because of earthquakes, but even so, they tell us about the power of the Roman emperor: the columns were quarried in Aswan (southern Egypt) and transported in special ships along the Nile, then on the Mediterranean, and to the Tiber River, upstream to the center of the port in the Imperial Rome.
A fine colored marble floor decorated the hall.
In the Forum of Augustus and Caesar it was administration of justice: but, here, at the Forum of Vespasian it would seem not. In fact the Forum Vespasian was a sanctuary and a place for study and meditation, as well as a public museum, according to the ideal of spreading culture: a rich collection of works of Greek sculptors and painters was distributed within the complex.
Some authors tell us that there was a library at the side of the Peace statue and, above all, the famous Forma Urbis Severiana: a floor plan of the buildings and streets of Rome, engraved on marble, built by Septimius Severus in 203-211 AD.