Etruscan Multitasking

It all started as a field school opportunity in the summer of 2001, and I never thought I’d help run an Etruscan archaeological project for 14 years.  From minion, to trench master, to cataloguer, I found my niche there as manager of materials and inventory for the lab and storerooms, or Magazzino, at the Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project, located in Vescovado di Murlo, near Siena, Italy.  Excavations have taken place continuously since 1966 and is now through the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and directed by Dr. Anthony S. Tuck.

I have since left work at Poggio Civitate to continue my professional career at Sardis in Turkey, but I came back to PC this summer to check in and help out for a bit. What is a day in the life of an archaeological multitasker? Well, the morning starts out with unlocking and airing out the storerooms, checking in with the conservator to see how we should best utilize our student workers, and filling water bottles.  As students arrive and are sent to dry brush ceramics found the day before, I check in with the director to establish priorities for the day, and that may involve cataloguing artifacts that have been cleaned and conserved, looking for comparanda for newly excavated objects, cataloguing objects excavated decades ago but never catalogued, pulling materials for scholarly publication, passing objects along to be photographed or illustrated, making inventory lists, tracking down missing information from the find tags made by trench leaders, restarting the database server if it goes down, flipping through old field diaries to find missing information from the database or to provide our GIS specialist with as much data as possible for mapping old trenches, etc. Let’s say I know where information is, whether physical or electronic, and spend the day either providing it or gathering it.

Of course there are the annoying bits, too…tourists wandering down into the storerooms by mistake, the town handyman needing to move a vehicle, but in order to do so, we need to move tables of pottery fragments, letting the cook know how many people are having lunch, eating lunch in a driveway, moving heavy things, killing bugs, and running supplies up to site when they run out.

But as head of the archive, I get to teach students and learn new things from them, work through issues with dedicated, enthusiastic colleagues, poke through boxes and boxes of nearly 50 years of excavation history for objects 2700 years old, and be a part of something that’s much bigger than myself.

At the end of each day I check in with the trench masters to see their new finds, spread out their pottery to dry, and make sure the conservators get their hands on new sets of projects and problems. Sweep the floors, close and lock up the archive, then march back to down for dinner and sleep before starting all over again.