Our names are Kiana and Addie, and we are high school volunteers helping to excavate a forum in the ancient Roman town of Pollentia. We are there through a program called Archaeospain, one of the few programs that offers authentic excavation experience for high schoolers, particularly those living in the US.
Pollentia is a Roman city on the island of Mallorca, and despite the fact that the site has been active since the 1920s, this project has been going on since the 1990s, working with The University of Barcelona and La Laguna University of the Canary Islands. This year a group of about thirty people, a mix of students, volunteers, and professionals, are working on the Forum and surrounding area. Addie and I are excavating a room that would have been a shop in the Roman market. We spend our mornings from 7:30 to 1 on site, and the afternoons from 3 to 5:30 washing and organizing pottery. This is the first week of a month long excavation, and the past few days have been spent “cleaning” the site, removing the weeds and the “superficial” layers of dirt. But even in just cleaning we have uncovered several pounds of pottery and bone. The most difficult aspect of the digging itself is not the actual finding artifacts, but finding the “layers” they belong to; understanding the differences in the the colors of the dirt and what they mean, how the layers correlate chronologically, and how to find the age of a section, or whether it has ever been uncovered before.
Part of our area has already been partially excavated, meaning that we also get to work with the “Roman layer,” the section that we know to be from the original city. Here, we have to be much more careful, working not with pick axes but with scraping tools and brushes, sifting all excess dirt to make sure we haven’t missed even the tiniest shard of pottery.
In the afternoon we sit around buckets of water and scrub our findings with nail brushes, whilst attempting to communicate with the slew of international students and volunteers, laughing and speaking Spanish to the best of our ability. Then we lay the pottery shards out to dry and label and file yesterday’s pottery in specific bags, which are then stored for later analysis.
While the digging itself is hard physically, and the labeling and analyzing can be tedious and time consuming, but each shard of broken pottery sparks excitement as we take one more step towards understanding the past of humanity.