Field School

A Day in the Life at Boyd Archaeological Field School

The 40th season of the Boyd Archaeological Field School (BAFS) is almost coming to a close and we wanted to share the experiences of the field school for Day of Archaeology 2017!

BAFS is Canada’s only high school credit course where students have the opportunity to participate in real archaeological fieldwork and earn an Interdisciplinary Studies University Preparatory (IDC4U) credit during this two-week long program, offered by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) in cooperation with the York Region District School Board. Since 1975, more than 1,200 Canadian and international students have experienced archaeology through BAFS.

We have found more than one million artifacts, and documented past settlement and activity patterns at several Ontario archaeological sites over the years. This year, students are investigating the Sebastien site in Pickering, Ontario, which was once occupied by the ancestors of the Huron-Wendat First Nations.

During the field school, the students’ days alternate between excavating at the site and classroom studies. While on site, students are taught basic excavation techniques and fieldwork methodologies by TRCA Archaeology staff members, several of whom are alumni of the BAFS program themselves! Over the course of the two weeks, students are then responsible for the excavation of two one-metre by one-metre square units, where they are able to practice and apply their newfound skills under the (very close) supervision of staff and volunteers. In addition to learning about the practical aspects of “How-to-Do” archaeological fieldwork, they are also taught “How-To-Think” like an archaeologist. Students are encouraged to apply their critical thinking abilities to make inferences and exercise their interpretive skills by thinking about how objects may find their way into the ground, consider the people who left them behind, and how their lives were integrated with the artifacts themselves. This allows students to achieve a holistic perspective and interpretation of the site.

When they aren’t working on site, students engage in experiential learning projects that appeal to both academic and applied learners.  Classroom instruction includes lectures by Indigenous speakers and leading professionals, workshops and seminars, as well as hands-on experience in ancient technologies.  The students gain an understanding of the culture and contributions of Canada’s First Peoples, including current Indigenous issues and concerns.

One of the most popular components of the program are the two days spent practicing Archaic skills. Students try their hand at creating tools with only resources that were available over 5,000 years ago. For example, students can make a hunting spear, which requires them to flintknap a spearhead, cut down a small ash tree and debark it with only a stone scraper. They must also create twine and collect pine pitch for hafting the spearhead. Other fun projects include:

  • Basketry with cattails or grass and basswood
  • Fish traps and weirs
  • Collecting food and medicine
  • Fire starting kits
  • Bolas

Students who loved the course and are interested in pursuing archaeology as a career are invited to come back for a second year at BAFS as volunteers, where they have the opportunity to further their archaeological skills, continue gaining valuable field experience, and advance their cultural material education. In addition to participating in the excavation, volunteers help the staff check students’ screens to ensure no artifacts are missed, and assist students in mapping and documenting their units. On classroom days, the volunteers get to work in the lab and process the recovered artifacts. Here, they can then examine artifacts more closely and prepare them for final analysis by the staff.

BAFS has had an invaluable impact on archaeology in Ontario. Over the years, many BAFS alumni have gone on to pursue post-secondary studies, advanced degrees, and careers in archaeology, anthropology, and related fields. In 2005, BAFS was the proud recipient of the Peggi Armstrong Public Archaeology Award from the Ontario Archaeological Society.

Thanks for stopping by! If you, a friend, or know anyone who may be interested in participating in this amazing program,  Like the Boyd Archaeological Field School Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram so you don’t miss out on registration for the 2018 session!

Curious to know what A Day in the Life is like for a TRCA Archaeologist? Read all about it here as we celebrate a Day of Archaeology!

Searching for the Fort — Finding a Changing Landscape

2016 Germanna Archaeology Staff and VCU Field School

The 2016 Day of Archaeology finds the Germanna Foundation and Germanna Archaeology in very different circumstances than one year ago. The 2015 Day of Archaeology found us stabilizing an archaeological site dug more than 20 years ago and largely untouched since. That work has proven successful and the old excavations are safely covered and secured.

This year finds Germanna Archaeology nearing the end of its inaugural excavation season and the first excavations at the site in over 20 years.  The Foundation brought on Amelia Chisholm as Assistant Field Director, and four seasonal Archaeological Technicians — Marissa Kulis, Emily Lew, Rachel Manning and Zoe Rahsman. We were most fortunate to partner with Dr. Bernard Means and the Anthropology program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  We gladly hosted the Field School consisting of nine capable students to round out Germanna’s 2016 Archaeology Team.  The goal for this inaugural season was to find more of the palisade walls for the 1714 Fort Germanna and better define it on the historic landscape.

Palisade Trench found and defined in the 1990s

Palisade Trench found and defined in the 1990s

The Fort’s location is known only through a segment of a linear feature found in 1992.  The palisade trench is interrupted at each of its ends by the significant foundations of Virginia’s Lt. Governor, Alexander Spotswood’s “Enchanted Castle” built on the site in the 1720s. While this provided evidence of the Fort’s location, the full limits of the larger Fort’s structure, even today, remain undefined.

Historic descriptions of the Fort suggest it was 5 sided wooden palisade with each side measuring 300 feet (ca 100m).  Such a finished structure encloses 154,843 square feet (14,385 m2) or around 3.55 acres.  For stewardship of these unique historic resources, both the Germanna Foundation and the Commonwealth of Virginia wish to better understanding of the layout of the 1714 Fort.

FG16_Last Day of VCU Field School 024_2

Clearing the trench before end of Field School

This summer’s excavations sought to find more of the palisade trench along with evidence of the changing historic landscape that both preceded and followed the Fort’s short use on colonial Virginia’s frontier.  Over the course of this season’s small scale excavations, Archaeologists and students have uncovered a rich and complex landscape though the remains of the palisade have eluded us.  We have found tools made from gunflints.  We have found colonial era ceramics along with hand wrought nails.  We have identified 19th-century artifacts and the edges of 19th century agricultural fields.  There has been much fun and excitement along with the warm temperatures of the last few weeks.

Sadly, yesterday was the Field School’s last day at the site.  Germanna Archaeology is preparing to wrap up fieldwork over the next couple of weeks.  Taking advantage of the quiet today, the remaining staff is working on washing artifacts in the lab and getting ready to shift work into the lab for the next phase of processing and analysis.

FG16 -- week 3 and artifacts 002 (2)

Molded stoneware found in plowzone


Washing finds and recapping the season today, this “Day of Archaeology”

Looking back to last year’s Day of Archaeology, our progress is remarkable. Germanna Archaeology is a small operation.  Starting a new archaeology program is difficult.  It’s exciting to see the new research questions and future possibilities arising from these initial efforts to better define the cultural resources of Germanna.  Hoping for even greater reports for next year’s Day of Archaeology.


This is Dope: Day(s) of Archaeology in the Virtual Curation Laboratory

by Bernard K. Means, Director, Virtual Curation Laboratory

Today might be the “official” Day of Archaeology, but when you have an active summer of research, Days of Archaeology would be more appropriate. In fact, the Virtual Curation Laboratory joined with numerous other cultural heritage preservation organizations in the Washington, D.C. area to celebrate the 2016 Day of Archaeology on July 16. With a suitcase full of hundreds of 3D printed replicas—much lighter and generally less fragile than real artifacts—I made my way the morning of July 16 via rail and metro to the Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C. on July 16 for Archaeology in the Community’s Day of Archaeology festival. The advantages of 3D printed artifact replicas are also disadvantages, as well. Because I could bring hundreds of artifact replicas I did, and because they can be handled more roughly than most real artifacts, replicas from all time periods and geographic locations were jostling against each other in my little orange suit case.  This meant I needed more setup time, especially if I wanted to arrange items thematically, temporally, or geographically.  This also meant that the one table I had available for my use was insufficient for all the replicas I had brought with me.  Still, the table of replicas definitely caught the attention of over two hundred visitors, one of whom proclaimed positively “This is dope,” e.g. cool.

A young attendee at the Day of Archaeology festival examines 3D printed replicas (Image courtesy of Archaeology in the Community)

A young attendee at the Day of Archaeology festival examines 3D printed replicas (Image courtesy of Archaeology in the Community)

The actual Day of Archaeology, July 29, coincides with the end of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) field school that I oversaw. This year, nine intrepid individuals braved the heat, humidity, and unyielding clay soils of Virginia just a half hour west of Fredericksburg, Virginia: six undergraduate VCU students, two recent VCU graduates, and one new University of Mary Washington undergraduate. This year, the Anthropology program at VCU was partnering with Germanna Archaeology, with Dr. Eric Larsen as the Field Director, and Amelia Chisholm as the Assistant Field Director.

Field school selfie, taken on the last day of fieldwork at Germanna.

Field school selfie, taken on the last day of fieldwork at Germanna.

One of the four interns working with Germanna Archaeology this summer was recent VCU alumnae Zoë Rahsman, who also worked in the Virtual Curation Laboratory as the laboratory manager this past spring. I am sad to see the field school end, and we were not successful in finding definitive traces of the 1714 fort for which we were looking, but the students certainly learned how to conduct a field archaeology project under great instruction, especially from Eric and Amelia, and we hope that our partnership can continue for the summer of 2017.

Waiting for the tour to begin of the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

Waiting for the tour to begin of the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

This last day of field school we were actually on a field trip. I think the students appreciated the break from working in the record-breaking heat we’ve seen over the past week or so. Our field trip was to the White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis lived while in Richmond, Virginia, and presiding over armed rebellion against the U.S. government.  This is not an archaeology place, per se, unlike our other field trips during the field season to Colonial Williamsburg, George Washington’s Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, James Madison’s Montpelier, and Jamestown Rediscovery. However, this place, like the others we visited, focuses on interpreting the past—I want my students to understand that, as archaeologists, they need to be able to tell stories about the past, engage people with the material aspects of cultural heritage, and thing about what is said—and not said—about those who came before us.

Before and after this field trip, I spent the Day of Archaeology 3D printing replicas to add to our collections that I use for teaching, outreach, and research.  Today, the printed replicas included wig hair curlers from George Washington’s Ferry Farm (3D scanned during our field trip there), a groundstone celt from George Washington’s Mount Vernon (also 3D scanned during our field trip there), a beaver femur from the Virginia Museum of Natural History (3D scanned in the summer of 2015), and a small vessel from H.N.B. Garhwal University’s Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography (3D scanned in Sringagar (Garhwal), Uttarakhand, India, in May 2016).

Summer intern and VCU anthropology major Charlie Parker was in during the day to paint the 3D printed replicas to emulate the original artifacts or ecofacts.

Charlie Parker does plastic surgery on a beaver femur

Charlie Parker does plastic surgery on a beaver femur

And, I finished the day preparing for a 3D scanning trip to the Western Science Center in Hemet, California, next week and a different 3D scanning trip to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the week after. This will end a summer of 3D scanning that began with a trip to north India.

3D scanning a figurine at H.N.B. Garhwal University

3D scanning a figurine at H.N.B. Garhwal University

Forensic Archaeology: Indiana Jones meets Gil Grissom

A feature indicative of a clandestine grave.

Image 1: A feature indicative of a clandestine grave.

It’s a sunny April morning and I’m leading a team of professionals in the investigation of an area of disturbed soil in a thickly wooded parcel of land behind a plowed field somewhere in Southern New Jersey.  A few scrapes with a flat-bladed shovel reveal a distinct line between sandier, lighter soil and the darker soil that surrounds it (Image 1).  The team takes photographs with a scale and North arrow in the frame.  They produce a plan drawing of the anomaly and they begin setting up equipment such as a shaker screen, 5-gallon buckets, pointing trowels, and a Munsell Soil Chart.

For those of us experienced in field archaeology, this sounds like a normal day “at the office,” but in this instance the team are wearing Tyvek suits and are setting out evidence bags in addition to the usual archaeological tools.  Instead of human remains from hundreds of years ago, this team is about to excavate a clandestine grave containing a modern murder victim (Image 2).

Image 2: Myself and participants of a 2-day forensic archaeology field course for police and field professionals, April 2016.

Image 2: Myself and participants of a 2-day forensic archaeology field course for police and field professionals, April 2016.

Most of us are familiar with shows such as CSI and Bones and some of us are avid fans (not me!)  In reality crime scene work is not nearly as sophisticated as what is portrayed on television. Many police departments don’t even have dedicated crime scene personnel.  The crime scene units that do exist vary widely in their training and range of capabilities.  Some do nothing more than take photographs and some are staffed by re-assigned police officers rather than specially trained professionals.  National standards of best practice and accreditation do not currently exist in the United States.

Forensic archaeology is the application of archaeological methods, such as excavation, documentation, recovery of artifacts, site interpretation, and site reconstruction, to modern investigative work.  This includes homicide investigation, mass fatality incidents, human rights violations resulting in mass graves, and even archaeological crimes of vandalism, looting, and black market antiquities.  In order for it to be “forensic,” there must be some sort of intersection with the law or judicial proceedings.

Image 3: Police officers learn how to use a total station to map an outdoor scene.

Image 3: Police officers learn how to use a total station to map an outdoor scene.

Forensic archaeology doesn’t have much of a profile in the United States but that is about to change.  In September 2017, Arcadia University will launch a new graduate certificate for archaeologists looking to gain a solid forensic skill set.  Training in police procedures, expert testimony, environmental evidence, forensic anthropology, spatial analysis, and geoforensics are all included.  Graduates of the program will be qualified for positions in death investigation, crime scene processing, human remains recovery, or even traditional archaeological work with an enhanced skill set of mapping, scene documentation, geophysical survey, and human remains excavation (Image 3).

Just as Indiana Jones inspired a generation (including myself) to take up a career in archaeology, Gil Grissom and the CSI team are doing the same today for forensic science.  As archaeology has moved away from the treasure hunting and looting of the late 19th and early 20th centuries into a codified discipline with best practices and ethical standards, so, too is crime scene work.  Archaeology has a lot to offer the forensic community.  It is my hope that by offering forensic training to experienced field archaeologists, we can start building bridges to move all of us forward together.


It’s raining. Not pouring down, just a light drizzle. Like someone is helpfully spraying us with mist. It’s also windy and the temperature can be described as ‘a little bit nippy’. This doesn’t matter. Even though the weather isn’t the best there’s a clear view of the River Mersey and the city of Liverpool to the north-east and Beeston Castle and Moel Arthur to the east and south-east respectively. If you look to the north and squint you can even make out Blackpool Tower. The whole of Cheshire, Merseyside and parts of the North Welsh coast are visible. But the view doesn’t matter either. All eyes are firmly pointed towards the ground. We’re not here for the views. We’re here for the archaeology; ‘here’ being Penycloddiau, the largest hillfort in Wales. Not a bad place to work in all honesty.

We’re here excavating the prehistoric rampart entrance of the hillfort to try and understand how it was constructed; and for good measure we’re also excavating what could turn out to be a roundhouse platform. So far so archaeological but what makes #PyC15 different is that our team is undertaking some fairly intense on-the-job training: they’re all students on their very first dig. Our team consists of students from the University of Liverpool and the IFR. This year alone we have students from the UK, United States, Canada and Australia who study a range of subjects from archaeology to ancient history, anthropology to civil engineering. The variety of knowledge and enthusiasm these students bring to site is astonishing and highlights the best aspect of archaeology: it’s inclusiveness. Anyone can hold a trowel. Supporting these students are a dedicated team of supervisors, many whom were digging here as students in previous seasons. #PyC15 isn’t just a student training dig, but a site where those who truly want to make this their career can develop crucial supervisory and interpretative skills under the direction of experienced directors who work in both the academic and contract sectors.

Here at LAFS though we don’t believe in just teaching our students the ‘basics’. Penycloddiau is also a research excavation and in the framework of Hodder we try to encourage our students to ‘interpret from the trowels edge’. In essence we teach our students the necessary skills to work both on- and off-site. To be able to interpret a context and understand formation processes whilst also seeing the ‘bigger picture’. Our students experience on-site and off-site training in illustration, survey, excavation, finds and environmental processing, and heritage communication. We ensure that students are exposed to all aspects of the archaeological process.

It’s not all smooth sailing of course. The weather can change, our time frame is limited, students inevitably favour one aspect of archaeology over an other, and as often happens when a group of people get together someone always gets ill. These things pass pretty quickly though, no doubt aided by a healthy dose of competition (all our students are places in Game of Thrones style ‘houses’) and 80’s tunes and we all come together to get the job done (from de-turfing to cleaning to excavation).

So on this #DayOfArchaeology, a week into our season, we will be shoulder to shoulder with our students. Working alongside them as we excavate a little piece of prehistory at a time. Bringing them into contact with all the things associated with the field that so many people love: the humour, the mystery, the excitement, the rain, the camaraderie and (hopefully) the rush of unearthing your first find. Our aim is inspire, to guide, and to open their eyes. Judging by the students responses so far we’re well on the way to fulfilling those aims but don’t take our word for it. Come and join us and experience it first on hand on our open days (Saturday, July 25th and Saturday, August 7th).

Join us…and appreciate the view. In the meantime here are a few pictures of our lovely students and site and a video that will tell you more about we do here than I ever could.

Getting a handle of Section Drawing in our dedicated training area

Getting a handle of Section Drawing in our dedicated training area

The team in convoy visiting the #PyC15 sister site Bodari

The team in convoy visiting the #PyC15 sister site Bodari

Starting from the edge and working back: cleaning exposed archaeological layers

Starting from the edge and working back: cleaning exposed archaeological layers

Suns out, Trowels out

Suns out, Trowels out

Dr. Pope, site director, answering a question from one of students

Dr. Pope, site director, answering a question from one of students

Getting to grips with surveying

Getting to grips with surveying

A rampart with a view

A rampart with a view

On-site teaching of finds and survey allow students to expand their archaeological knowledge and skills

On-site teaching of finds and survey allow students to expand their archaeological knowledge and skills

Area 3 cleared and ready for excavation

Area 3 cleared and ready for excavation

A beautiful sight: exposed rampart wall

A beautiful sight: exposed rampart wall

Team work in action

Team work in action

University field schools – the best way to gain field experience or maybe not?

This year’s ‘Day of Archaeology’ sees me working for Historic England at the Reading University Archaeology field school. The project is based around the villages of Marden and Wilsford in Wiltshire, UK located approximately half way between Stonehenge and the village of Avebury. The project is mainly concentrated on investigating the two Neolithic henge monuments located in Marden and just outside Wilsford.

We have been here now for 6 weeks and over 130 folk have passed throught the project…..mainly university undergraduates, but also a number of recent graduates; many A level students (who might be considering studying archaeology at uni) and of course archaeology enthusiasts of all ages. Historic England are providing specialist services to the project, conservation, finds and environmental analysis and in my case, and that of my two HE colleagues, Cat and Dave, supervising the excavation of the ‘Roman’ element of the project. In essence  imparting our combined knowledge and experience to the students.

I wanted to take this opportunity to digress about university field schools in general. There has been a recent discussion on the BAJR archaeology website about the value of university field schools and whether they prepare students for the ‘real world’ of archaeology, in the case of the UK that being the vocation we describe as ‘commercial’ archaeology.

I will declare my own view immediately. I am a great fan of field schools. I have worked on quite a few both in the UK and abroad. I think they are of immense value to students in acquiring a degree of competence in field skills that may help them if they decide to follow a career in archaeology. If the BAJR discussion is to be believed though, my enthusiasm isn’t shared by all archaeologists. A number  commented on the lack of professional training included in  many undergraduate courses and asked whether  field schools covered the basic requirements of commercial archaeology.

Of course there is a balance to be achieved. As I mentioned before there is only so much that can be learnt in 6 weeks and of course many students only attend for part of the project. Experience is probably the most vital component of a career in archaeology and whilst field schools are akin to dipping a toe in the waves, they are no replacement for the real time, real life immersion in the archaeological ocean…….

There are of course other factors to consider. Although the number of students studying archaeology has remained fairly stable over the past few years, the number choosing to enter archaeology as a profession is relatively small, probably less than 10%. Studying archaeology as an academic discipline does not necessarily mean that the student wishes archaeology as a career.Likewise the A-level students (17 and 18 year olds) are considering their options. Archaeology might be one of several subjects they are looking to pursue at university; but with exam results and firm offers still some way in the future…the general interest participants in the project are  also  attending for a variety of reasons and not always interested (or concerned) in pursuing a career in the discipline….

I do  believe however that field schools provide a fair (albeit  light) approximation of the physical and mental stress that is involved in vocational archaeology. Our ‘successes’ therefore might also be counted  as those folk who realise  that archaeology may not be the career they wish to follow. In general we try to be honest, not diminishing the pressures of the job, the low pay, the lack of security etc etc, but we do try to get across the message  that archaeology can a fascinating and stimulating profession and of course that archaeologists are the nicest group of people you are ever likely to work with.


The Reading project is scheduled to run for a further two seasons… I may be back next year …..but if previous ‘Day of Archaeology’ postings are to go by, I have never yet managed to be doing the same thing 2 years running….

Anyway here are some nice images from this years project….


The excavations across Wilsford Henge (top) and the Roman enclosure (below)


Project site tour – terminal ditch Wilsford Henge




Alex and James and a leaf shaped arrow head


More leaf shaped arrow head


Jim Leary and David Roberts consider a worked flint


Maya Research Program’ s 23rd archaeological field season in Belize

MRP Logo 2013

What is the Maya Research Program?

The Maya Research Program is a U.S.-based non-profit organization (501C3) that sponsors archaeological and ethnographic research in Middle America. Each summer since 1992, we have sponsored archaeological fieldwork in northwestern Belize and ethnographic research in the village of Yaxunah, Mexico. The Maya Research Program is affiliated with the University of Texas at Tyler.

Our goal is, first and foremost, to conduct research that helps us better understand the complex ancient societies of the Americas. MRP is proud to have a diverse staff of talented scientists contributing to this goal and many of our affiliated scholars are recognized as leaders in their fields. Recent support has come from the Archaeological Institute of America, National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, the Heinz Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition, the Blue Creek field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and the project was recognized as the winner of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Excavation Outreach contest.

Another key MRP goal is to encourage the participation of students and volunteers — anyone who wants to experience the real world of archaeological or anthropological research and understand how we learn about cultures may join us. We see this as a critical educational component of MRP’s work and it helps us accomplish our research goals as well. The ages of our participants range from 18 to over 80. So many of our participants return year after year that MRP has become an extended family. About half of our participants are university students under 30 years old and the other half are professionals and retirees. While the majority of participants come from the United States and Canada, we have students from Australian,  European, Latin American, and Japanese institutions as well. For students, academic credit can usually be arranged either via UTT or the student’s home institution. Many of our students go on to become successful graduate students in archaeology or a related field and return to focus on MRP projects for their theses and dissertations.

In 2014 and 2015 we again offer opportunities to participate in our field program and learn about the Maya of the past and today. The Blue Creek Archaeological Project is open to student and non-student participants, regardless of experience. The field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and participants will receive training in archaeological field and laboratory techniques. Academic credit and scholarships are available. We invite students and volunteers to participate in the Maya Research Program’s  archaeological field season in northwestern Belize.

2014 Season Dates:
Session 1: Monday May 26 to Sunday June 8
Session 2: Monday June 9 to Sunday June 22
Session 3: Monday June 30 to Sunday July 13
Session 4: Monday July 14 to Sunday July 27

2015 Season Dates:

Session 1: Monday June 1st to Sunday June 14th

Session 2: Monday June 15th to Sunday June 28th

Session 3: Monday July 6th to Sunday July 19th

Session 4: Monday July 20th to Sunday August 2nd

If you are interested in joining the team this summer or next  – please get in touch soon as space is limited! If you have any questions – please don’t hesitate to contact us:

Maya Research Program
1910 East Southeast Loop 323
#296; Tyler, Texas 75701
Phone: 817-831-9011

MRP’s 23rd archaeological field season in Belize

The Maya Research Program is having a very successful 23rd archaeological field season in northwestern Belize! This summer we are concentrating on the site of Xnoha. Xnoha is a medium sized Maya center located on the edge of the Alacranes Bajo. We are delineating the architecture of the site core, three of its elite residences, and a possible shrine structure. In addition, we have recorded and conserved the mural recovered from Tulix Mul, secured numerous soil samples from wetland features, and finalized excavations at “Alvin’s Cave” and “Rice Mill Cave 3.” Our bioarchaeology field school is active this session and we are looking forward to our 3D modeling and photogrammetry workshop next week.  If you are interested in seeing weekly updates from the field – you can follow our progress on our Facebook page or via the photo gallery on our website.


The Gabii Project: A Moment With the Field Directors

Gabii Project Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta and Anna Gallone visit Area F to see how things are going.

Gabii Project Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta and Anna Gallone visit Area F to see how things are going.

Greetings from Gabii! As we are a large excavation, it will be my job today to gather reports from our staff and post their impressions of the work they do here and of archaeology in general. But first, a little bit about us…

The Gabii Project is an excavation and field school run jointly with The University of Michigan and The University of Verona. We are excavating the Ancient Latin city of Gabii, about 20 km East of Rome. The city grew alongside Rome through the first millennium, BC, and into the 3rd century AD, when it was finally abandoned. Throughout its existence, the city underwent many of the same changes as its more famous neighbor except for one crucial point: it hasn’t been developed further. This fact allows us pure excavation of the site, without millennia of modernization stacked atop it.

But today, we focus less on the story of the site, and more on those who have cultivated it. First, we have Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta, and Anna Gallone…

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta taking a quick break.

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta taking a quick break.

“Archaeology is one of the best activities ever,” begins Marcello, “because you have the feeling of discovery; I guess that’s what drives us despite the effort, the grueling conditions associated with digs.”

At The Gabii Project, however, Marcello’s work is mainly administrative. As a so-called “big dig,” there is a lot of logistical work to be done not only on-site, dealing with safety concerns, and choosing where to dig and where to spend money, but also during the off season where securing permits, writing and submitting papers, and choosing new staff take precedence.

“The important point to realize is that these are not isolated tasks,” maintains Marcello, “It’s so linked together… and this is not something that starts on June 1st and ends on August 1st, it continues throughout the off season.”

“What happens here in five weeks is the result of ten months of preparation,” Chimes in Anna, whose work is also primarily logistical.

Even with all of the preparations and planning, the two are still very busy during the field season. This affords the two little time to participate in the actual fieldwork, their real passion. While they do make time to buck this trend where they can—such as when they lead the excavation of a lead sarcophagus in 2009—the two long for their days working in the field.

“Our secret dream is to go work as volunteers in another field school, with fewer responsibilities,” Marcello half-jokes, with Anna adding: “Back to the old days, when the only thing that really mattered was excavating a layer correctly and finding something cool.”

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta snag a rare moment to join the active excavation

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta snag a rare moment to join the active excavation

Regardless of the desire to get back out to the field, both are fiercely proud of The Gabii Project and their roles therein. In fact, both of their favorite parts of the program have to do with its inherent structure.

“I’ve been a field archaeologist for 20 years now,” states Anna. “I have never ever seen a site with so many people working together at the same time on so many different aspects.”

As for Marcello, “The project is constantly evolving, I mean the way we started six years ago, you would hardly recognize it. In a way, this is like a living organism, growing and changing, so I’m very curious to see what this is going to look like in 10 years.”

Medieval Castle of Zorita, Spain

P1350271Along the Tajo River around 90km east of Madrid, the ArchaeoSpain High School Field School is excavating the Medieval Castle of Zorita. The castle, said to have never been conquered by force, was built in the beginning of the 9th century as a Moorish fortress for Mohammed I of the Omayyad Dynasty of Córdoba. According to the Persian physician and writer Al-Razi, the Moors used the stones from the nearby abandoned Visigothic city of Recópolis to construct the walls. In 1174, the castle was given to the Order of Calatrava, one of Spain’s most famous group of knights. Zorita became the Order’s headquarters from the end of the 12th to the beginning of the 13th centuries. Our students, hailing from the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Canada, update us on their progress in units next to a Romanesque chapel inside the castle walls.

Samantha Odrowaz-Sekely, 16, Toronto, Canada:
For the past two weeks I have participated in the ArchaeoSpain program excavating at Castillo de Zorita de los Canes, in Guadalajara, Spain. This castle has a magnificent history: it was built by Arabs in the 9th century, then taken over by Christians, and it fell into the possession of the Calatrava Order. The most remarkable and thrilling find so far was a nearly complete skeleton. We found a skull, with a roof tile embedded in the head, in the first stratigraphic layer. As we continued digging around the skull, we uncovered a nearly complete skeleton! The skeleton, dubbed Rodrigo, was identified as male based on his hip structure. Rodrigo was missing both of his patellas, but was otherwise almost complete. We used small, delicate brushes to remove as much soil as possible while still providing the necessary amount of support for the skeleton. When it was time to remove Rodrigo, each set of bones was removed, starting with the left foot bones, and continued until the skull. Each set of bones was put in a separate bag, with a label to identify the bones. Overall, it is a truly exciting project!
Juan Merino, 17, Valencia, Spain:
We are a group of seven students and two professors who are digging in Zorita castle, in Guadalajara, Spain. The day starts at 6:30, with a quick breakfast and we immediately go up to the castle to start digging at 7:00. Today we were very excited because we were going to take “Rodrigo,” the skeleton we found a few days ago, out of his tomb. It was easier than expected, because Rodrigo’s tomb was only a hole in the ground, and a professional anthropologist helped us. Step by step, all the bones were put in boxes, one for the head, another for the left arm, etc. After a few minutes, the skeleton disappeared in front of my eyes, much faster than it had appeared.  This experience was very exiting for me. In fact, it’s completely different from high school and I can’t stop feeling happy and very interested about all that is happening these days at the site. It’s really an adventure.
Madison Taylor, 16, Knoxville, Tennessee:
Today is the tenth day of our three-week-long excavation of the Castillo de Zorita de los Canes in Guadalajara, Spain. I worked with Kate to clean and to excavate Layer 104, and to attempt to puzzle together what the small room could have been used for.
Layer 104 is in the northeastern corner of area 2 and approximately two and a half meters by three and a half meters. Layer 104 is surrounded by walls (units 105 and 106) that consist of stone and Roman-style plaster and was the first thing we cleaned with brushes and small picks. The dirt throughout the unit was a dark beige color and was very dry, sandy, and dusty and contained many rocks and river stones ranging in size from a half a centimeter radius to 15 cm in length; the rocks made scraping the surface of Layer 104 difficult at times. Also, there are many pieces of charcoal and gypsum ranging in size from grainy dust to 3 centimeters in length. Roof tiles exist throughout the sandy layers and into the layers underneath. Toward the center of the unit is a piece of iron about 12 centimeters long and three jawbones and other bones of goats and sheep. We removed the animal bones but left the iron, waiting to remove it with the earth around it intact tomorrow. We scraped away approximately 3-5 centimeters off of the surface of unit 104 using picks and trowels and brushes. Many more bones were found; all of the bones found are likely animal because we have only found animal skulls and each intact, recognizable bone is animal. Sometimes, there were pieces of charcoal beneath the bones.
Also found were many pieces of ceramic. Smooth, plain, clay-colored shards to large chunks of green and manganese pottery were found. Some pieces had ripples on one facet. The green and manganese plate pieces that were found had a white background with black and white striped patterns in the shape of an eye and spots and shapes of a bluish-green. These pieces are thought to be Arab because of the color and pattern. Also found were pieces of glass about a centimeter in length and very thin and unclear, and iron nails. Overall, ceramic outweighed any find in numbers; about fifty or more pieces were uncovered. Layer 104 contains many different types of objects from animal bones to shards of ceramic to glass to iron. This leads one to believe that this area may have been a rubbish pit. The unit is between the wall of a church and a room, and it is isolated and comparably small, and yields no whole skeletons or whole ceramic vessels. We will continue to excavate to find out if this was a rubbish pit and what was thrown away. The objects inside this unit may tell us who used this pit, what the people of the castle ate, what they used as vessels, and what they burned to cook or fuel a flame with (charcoal). The structure next to the rubbish pit is thought to be a room for a castle prior or priest; this might also help us understand what this corner was used for.
Kate Hodge, 17, Henderson, Kentucky:
Today we began by excavating around a house-shaped structure. I was digging in the stratigraphic layer 104, which is outside the walls of the house in the northeastern corner of Area 2.kate
My goal was to dig down through 104 to see if the two flanking walls had an end point. This question has not yet been answered, as the trench is not deep enough to tell. Layer 104 has gray-white colored soil that is very light, sandy, and extremely dry. The soil frequently yields white, flaky gypsum and chunks of charcoal that are 0.5 to 3 centimeters in diameter. We have found many bone and pottery fragments along with some iron and glass in this layer as well. All of the bone fragments are presumably animal because the most recognizable ones belonged to a sheep or goat. The pottery ranges in color from white, to green-blue, to black. Many of the pieces lack decoration, but some have geometric patters painted or stamped on. This layer is thought to be a trash area because of the volume of random pottery shards, charcoal lumps, iron pieces, and bone fragments.
Sydney Comstock, 16, Kensington, Maryland:
Today was just like any other day on the site, exciting and fascinating. As always, the walk up to Zorita Castle was filled with beautiful views, but the site was where the real finds were waiting.Sydney
The team continued digging in Trench Two, which turned into a room from a few large rocks that begged for us to investigate them. The doorway is facing west with a fireplace in the eastern end of the structure. After brushing and excavating the walls, the team started in on the floor. Working on the southern end of the room was tough going, the soil was quite compact with a sandy brown coloring. Using a little pick, I slowly began to level out stratigraphic Layer 102, which contained pieces of rocks, white gypsum, and some pottery fragments. As I was troweling out the pieces of ground I had just excavated, something didn’t fit in with the light brown coloring of the surroundings. A white, smooth stone had revealed itself and shone differently than all the usual finds. I picked it up and approached the director of the site. Immediately his face lit up and as he showed it to the other director she let out a squeal. As they explained to me that I had stumbled upon an ax head from the Neolithic age! I couldn’t believe it. I had held something thousands of years old and it had survived those many years to tell its story. The room, located directly next to the church, was presumed by our director to be a home of a priest who probably owned the stone. These smooth pieces that were made into ax heads were revered by the many people in the medieval age and were considered to have magical powers. The stone itself was about seven centimeters with a dull but cut edge. On the opposite end of the rock a chip was made so it could be attached to a stick by tying it with leather. This could not have been a greater start to the day.
The rest of the time was spent working on Layer 111 at the western end of the room by the doorway. Although finding the ax head was by far the highlight of my workday, excavating in this new layer was exciting as well. Here, the soil had contained many medieval roof tiles that had fallen when the ceiling collapsed. Those were photographed, drawn, and removed. This layer was also filled with charcoal and white gypsum, giving it an Oreo-like effect. The soil surrounding it was much darker and although it had a sandy feel, a small pick was needed for the firm parts. Altogether the day had been a great one, filled with interesting finds and new information. I wonder what will be discovered tomorrow.

Apulum Mithraeum III Project in Alba Iulia 2014

The archaeological campaign of 2013 on the Cartier Cetate site, findspot Mithraeum III, from Alba Iulia, Alba District, is part of a multi-annual research project developed by the National Museum of Unification.

Alba Iulia worked together with the Princeton University (USA), Babeş-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca and the Institute of Archaeology and History of Art Cluj-Napoca. The main scope of this campaign, carried out in July – August 2013 and 2014, was to systematically uncover the building identified in a 2008 rescue excavation as the sanctuary of Mithras, using a complex, interdisciplinary approach.The investigations led to the identification of a complex stratigraphy, consisting of several layers belonging to different chronological phases, which were dated according to the archaeological evidence. Besides the structure of the sanctuary, which has a NW – SE orientation, the excavations also uncovered a large refuse pit that predates the building and a part of a rectangular timber structure, both belonging to the Roman period, as well as a part of a medieval house.

The recovered inventory consists of: altars, architectural elements, pottery, objects made of glass, iron, bronze, stone, coins and a large quantity of animal bones. Sets of palynological, archaeobotanical, archaeozoological, soil and radiocarbon samples were also collected.

Our team is two weeks into the second season of the Mithraeum III Project and so far, progress is being made. We have made important finds and are moving in the right direction to understand several layers of different occupation occurring on site. The hope of the site is to unearth the mithraeum structure in it’s entirety and to understand the human occupation surrounding. This year we have a geophysical science student collecting geophysical data of unexcavated areas near the excavation and we hope to understand what is happening around the Mithraeum.

We are staying in the University of Alba Iulia’s accommodation, about twenty minutes from our site, and our day begins around 7:30am and we work until 4:30pm with lunch and a few breaks in between from Monday to Saturday (Saturday is a half-day). Sunday is our free day in which we go to select locations in the Transylvanian region, such as the mines of Rosa Montana or the Roman capital of Sarmizegetusa as our team visited last year.

As the Student Education Coordinator, I have had the pleasure of working with the directors to plan a weekly lecture for the students and creating a manual for quick archaeological information. This has been a sensational project to be a part of and this season promises to answer many questions our team holds. Thank you to all members of the excavation team, universities, museums, and the city of Alba Iulia for your support!