Discoveries in the Dirt at Poggio del Molino

October 18th, 2016 by tjoseph

By Allyn Waller ’18

This past summer, I had the privilege and the pleasure of working on an archaeological excavation at Poggio del Molino in central Italy. Along with two other Holy Cross students, Amanda Kondek ’17 and Eric Fox ’18, I spent several weeks kneeling on rocks, scraping dirt off of other dirt, discovering how much rock looks like pottery, and vice-versa.

A Day in the Life

On a typical day, we would get up early in the morning, eat breakfast, pack lunches and head to the dig site. Five minutes down a dirt road in between fields of grapes and we arrived at the site. After digging for a few hours, painstakingly scraping the dirt up one layer at a time, checking each object for archeological significance and brushing up the dust, we took a coffee break. After half an hour or so sitting in the shade, it was back to work again.

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Preparing to dig are (L to R) Alena, a graduate student in archaeology at the University of Arizona; Allyn Waller ’18 (the author of this piece); Martina, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Bologna; and Amber Groves, who recently completed her Master’s in Archaeology at the University of Indiana. (Photo by Amanda Kondek ’17)

When we found something in the layer we were removing, we would carefully remove the dirt around it to determine if it was fully contained in the layer. If it was, we removed it and placed it in a bag for later cleaning and labeling. Unless, of course, it was actually a rock. Determining whether something was a rock or pottery sherd, however, was not always easy. “Is this rock or pottery?” was a constant refrain for the first few days, at least until one of the grad students at the site explained that we could always lick it and find out. (Apparently, since pottery is porous, it will stick to your tongue if you lick it.)

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Probably not rocks. (Photo by Allyn Waller ’18)

Eventually, it was time for lunch. (That is, if you weren’t full from licking rocks all morning.) During lunch, we had the opportunity to talk to the other people who were working on the site with us. Each week, there was a different group working with us on the dig. One week, it was a group of Italian high school students who were spending their summer trying out different jobs a week at a time, getting a feel for what they wanted to do. Another, it was a group of students from all over Europe and North America as part of a summer program in archaeology. For two weeks, we had a group of restoration experts working on the mosaics of the baths and bedrooms.

History

But Poggio del Molino was more than just a rich Roman’s mosaicked country retreat. It began, in fact, with pirates. The earliest structures we have evidence of at Poggio del Molino are three towers designed for defending the nearby Etruscan settlement of Populonia from pirates. Later, after the Roman republic controlled the area and mitigated the threat of piracy, the site became a factory for producing garum, a sauce made from pickling fish intestines.

During the Empire, as it became cheaper to produce garum in newly-acquired territories like North Africa, it was turned into a country villa for some wealthy Roman family. Sometime in Late Antiquity, the bedrooms of the villa were reconstructed into a small church by knocking all interior walls down and walling up the doorways.

Cool Finds

Due to this varied history, there were lots of really interesting things to be found at our site. Several bronze coins, ranging in size and preservation from a small speck just half the size of a pinky nail up to an inch-wide disc with legible writing and a clear profile were found in and around the area we worked in. We found evidence of iron-mongering operations, including leftover iron slag, hematite ore, and the burns left by furnaces on the floor. I found a small block of lead, which I thankfully recognized before anyone licked it. We found both bronze and iron nails, as well as some larger, but mostly unrecognizable, iron pieces.

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When the same site is used for hundreds of years, sometimes you get walls in between other walls. (Photo by Allyn Waller ’18)

We found pottery, of course. Most of it was fairly coarse cooking ware or simple dining or storage pottery, but I did find a fancy painted black-slipware piece from the fourth century BCE. Of course, the excitement from finding it was slightly marred by the fact that it should not have been there. I found it in the uppermost layer of soil, the humus, under the roots of a big pine tree. Chronologically, we should have been finding cassette tapes and floppy disks, not pottery pushing 2500 years.

That strangely located piece, however, has to contend with another for the best find of the summer: The Italian high school students working the room next to ours found a completely intact clay lamp! It looked as if it had just been pulled out from behind the glass in a museum display. It was absolutely incredible, although my expectations might have been slightly lowered by 87,492 things I had found that day that weren’t pottery, much less intact.

Of course, it wasn’t all kneeling on rocks and scraping dirt out of tree roots. On weekends we were free to take trips to various cities around Italy, so we saw a lot of museums (and gelaterias). To me, though, the most exciting museum was the one in the modern-day town of Populonia, where most of the collection came from Poggio del Molino. I like knowing that the things I excavated could end up in a museum someday, informing future Classicists. Increasing our knowledge about the world of around two thousand years ago is worth a little dirt-scraping and root-kneeling. But maybe not rock-licking.

Allyn, from Atlanta, Georgia, is a Classics major with a minor in Computer Science. He is also completing the Teacher Education Program at Holy Cross.

Alex Simrell ’16 blogs from the University of Zagreb in Croatia

October 6th, 2016 by tjoseph

Alex Simrell ’16 is spending 2016-17 at the University of Zagreb in Croatia on a Fulbright Fellowship. Click here for Alex’s blog, which includes an entry that makes the case for the long-term importance of studying Greek and Latin.

Thomas Köntges presents on Petronian puzzles and possibilities

October 4th, 2016 by tjoseph

Thomas Köntges of Leipzig University in Germany visited Holy Cross on September 29 and 30 to speak with students from Prof. Neel Smith’s “Digital Reading and Writing” course and Prof. Tim Joseph’s “Literature in the Age of Nero” course, as well as members of the Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club.

In his talk titled “Quid novi: a story of five centuries of Petronius research and me,” Prof. Köntges shared his work on the manuscript tradition of Petronius’ fragmentary first-century CE prosimetric novel Satyrica. He emphasized the new possibilities for research that result from recent access to digital photographs of early manuscripts.

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Students take in the discussion of the elaborate manuscript tradition of the Satyrica. Photo by Prof. Ellen Perry.

 

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Prof. Köntges and Prof. Smith at the outset of the talk. Photo by Prof. Ellen Perry.

 

Prof. Martin in the land of the Helvetii

September 21st, 2016 by tjoseph

Earlier this month Prof. Tom Martin was an invited participant in an international workshop on “Josephus Latinus” held at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He and his co-author Prof. David Levenson of the Dept. of Religion at Florida State University made a presentation on their research on Latin manuscripts of the ancient translations of the original Greek works of Flavius Josephus from the first century CE. Their research concentrates on Josephus’ work The Jewish War, an eyewitness account of the famous story of the rebellion in Judaea against Roman control that led to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Students at Holy Cross and FSU made significant contributions to this scholarship through their work in a joint undergraduate/graduate seminar taught in the fall of 2014 simultaneously at both institutions using video conferencing.

In the photo, Prof. Martin is shown in Bern by the light of the full moon illuminating the House of Parliament of Switzerland, known by its Latin title visible just below the pediment of the building as CURIA CONFOEDERATIONIS HELVETICAE. Calling the Swiss people Helvetii goes back to Julius Caesar’s Gallic War, while curia was the Romans’ designation for their Senate House.

ICYMI: Holy Cross Classics links from Summer 2016

September 3rd, 2016 by tjoseph

Click on the hyperlinks in bold to proceed to the pieces:

*In May Gabe Weaver ’04 was named the first-ever Herman M. Dieckamp Post-Doctoral Fellow by the Information Trust Institute (ITI) at the University of Illinois.

*In June the new crime novel Brighton by Michael Harvey ’84 was published by HarperCollins.

*In June Kevin Spinale ’00 was ordained into the Society of Jesus.

*Luis Perez ’17 reflected on his experience in the Maymester program “Rome in History and Imagination.”

*Daniel Cavoli ’80, Latin teacher at St. Edward’s High School in Rocky River, OH, was honored with the Kraft Award for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching for 2015-16, given out by the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS).

*In July Brian Clark ’15, Claude Hanley ’18, Stephanie Lindeborg ’13, Melody Wauke ’17, and Prof. Neel Smith presented research at the Digital Humanities 2016 conference in Krakow, Poland.

*In July Prof. Tom Martin’s new book Pericles: A Biography in Context was published by Cambridge University Press.

*In August Christine Bannan ’14, a third-year student at the University of Notre Dame Law School, wrote about the threat of the “Internet of Things” for the journal Tech Crunch. Christine is the winner of the 2016 Edelson PC Consumer Privacy Scholarship.

*In August Prof. Martin spoke with Quartz.com about the “Games of Hera,” a series of footraces among female athletes described by Pausanias.

Scenes from the 2016 Rome Maymester Program

June 15th, 2016 by tjoseph
Students explore the inside of the Colosseum.

Students explore the inside of the Colosseum. The Rome Maymester program runs from May 23 to June 16 this year.

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Anna Tanji ’18 and Melissa DeGuglielmo ’18 in the Baths of Diocletian.

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Prof. Aaron Seider talks with students as they sit on the steps of the Gesù, the principal Jesuit church in Rome.

 

Corey Scannell ’18 and Prof. Tom Martin in Trajan’s Market, adorned this spring with tree statues from a contemporary exhibition.

Wide-ranging lineup of Classics presentations at 2016 Academic Conference

May 24th, 2016 by tjoseph
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Michael Shun ’18, Nick Guarracino ’18, Allyn Waller ’18, and Julia Spiegel ’19.

This year’s academic conference launched on Wednesday, April 27, when senior Classics and Catholic Studies major Joseph MacNeill gave his Fenwick Scholar presentation, titled  “Encountering God as Logos: A Postmodern Theology.” Click here for more on Joe’s presentation and here to read about the reading group that Joe formed in the fall.

On Thursday Maggie MacMullin ’16, a Classics major with a minor in Visual Arts, spoke about “Meaning and Making in the Holy Cross Art Department.” Three other seniors presented on their thesis research: Steven Merola ’16 presented “Apologetic Epinoiai: Christ as Light and Wisdom in Origen’s Contra Celsum“; Christopher Ryan ’16 spoke about “A Contemporary Understanding of Free Will in Augustinian Death”; and William Callif ’16, a double-major in Classics and Political Science, addressed “Montesquieu and the Republic.”

Friday afternoon’s events included four presentations by groups in the Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club. Nicholas Guarracino ’18, Michael Shun ’18, Julia Spiegel ’19, and Allyn Waller ’18 addressed their study of Gregorian chant in the presentation “Neumes: Notation and Abbreviation in Tenth-Century Chant Manuscripts.” For more on this group’s ongoing work, click here.

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Liam Prendergast ’19, Kevin Cogan ’19 & Zach Sowerby ’19

Three presentations covered work on the Homer Multitext project: “Observations on Scholia to Iliad 17 in the Venetus A manuscript” by Michael Kelley ’18, Corey Scannell ’18, and Melody Wauke ’17; “Validation and Verification in the Homer Multitext Project” by Chris Ryan ’16 and Alex Simrell ’16; and “Mysteries in the Escorial Omega 1.12 manuscript of the Iliad” by Kevin Cogan ’19, Liam Prendergast ’19, and Zachary Sowerby ’19. Claude Hanley ’18 and Charlie Schufreider ’17 spoke about the Kanones system, which they have assisted Prof. Neel Smith in developing, in a presentation titled “Developing a Corpus-Specific Ancient Greek Parser.”

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Nick Jalbert ’16

Friday’s events concluded with a reading – to a packed room – by Nicholas Jalbert ’16, from his novel manuscript In Sacred Flame. The reading was followed by a lively discussion of the ancient and modern influences on Nick’s characters and themes.

 

 

Photos from the Spring 2016 semester

May 24th, 2016 by tjoseph
Aristophanes class

End-of-the-semester symposium of Prof. John Hamilton’s Aristophanes class, which read Lysistrata and Frogs.

Induction (1)

Eta Sigma Phi President Meagan Freeze ’16 presides over the induction of new members into the society.

April 30

Prof. Tim Joseph, Corey Scannell ’18, Melody Wauke ’17, Fr. John Baldovin ’69 of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, and Charlie Schufreider ’17 at a College event.

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Prof. Ellen Perry’s Roman Sculpture class dresses as the Romans did.

Natasha Meyer ’16 speaks about excavation of ancient infant cemetery

April 23rd, 2016 by tjoseph

By Gregory Chin ’18

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Natasha Meyer ’16 before her presentation to the Introduction to Archaeology class.

This past Tuesday Natasha Meyer ’16 visited the Introduction to Archaeology class taught this semester by Prof. Ellen Perry. Natasha talked to us about her senior thesis work and research concerning the micro-excavations of the Kylindra infant cemetery on the Greek island of Astypalaia. Her goal was to foster an ongoing dialogue and understanding between cultural anthropology and biological archaeology concerning how and why the funerals in the Kylindra cemetery occur. That’s some pretty intriguing stuff, and it is hard to believe that a current student is doing such groundbreaking work — part of the average day and life of a Holy Cross student, I guess.

Natasha first delved into the logistical background behind Astypalaia, addressing its population, history, and location. After establishing this foundation, she went about dating the cemetery by using information gained from items found during the excavation, such as amphorae (tall jars) and other burial pottery in which the remains had been placed. This connected almost seamlessly to what we were doing in class (and what we would have to do on a slide exam the following class day!).

She also explained how a “micro” excavation worked, and how members of a field school would have to carefully deal with the infants’ remains, trying to keep them intact and in their exact position before taking pictures and measurements. In addition to this, Natasha acknowledged that, biologically speaking, it would be difficult to uncover the cause of death for the approximately three thousand infants found so far.

However, it would be too easy to stop there, to have an “oh well, we tried” moment that Holy Cross students refer to jokingly in the face of all of our studies. What was perhaps the most interesting point of Natasha’s presentation was her possible explanations for why the infants were buried here at Astypalaia, and in the way they were. Natasha considered and then cast doubt on both infanticide and the existence of a widespread plague or disease as explanations for the many burials in this cemetery. Instead, she argued that the evidence hinted at the possibility of Astypalaia serving as a birthing or healing sanctuary.

Furthermore, according to Natasha’s research, the placement of the babies within the pots perhaps suggested a symbolic rebirth of the infant into the afterlife, a movement proposed to “fix the universe” according to Natasha, Prof. Perry, and her thesis director Prof. Rodgers of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, who was also present for the presentation.

I do know one thing, though. Natasha’s conversation has definitely “fixed” what would have been a normal Tuesday afternoon after class, filling it with questions, answers, and the notion that perhaps the human body is an artifact itself, revealing not only who we are, but who we are in the context of our culture and communities as well. It was an amazing experience, and I can tell that Natasha will go on to do amazing things in the future.

Spirited discussion at student-faculty colloquium on the Aeneid

April 18th, 2016 by tjoseph
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A student group projects and analyzes passages from Books 1 and 12 of the poem.

Troy? The gods? Love? Nature? Arms and the man? These topics and more were the subject of spirited discussion among students and faculty from Holy Cross and beyond at the Classics Department colloquium “Vergilian Beginnings: Looking Ahead from Aeneid 1-4” on the afternoon of April 14.

The colloquium was centered around presentations by groups of students from Prof. Aaron Seider’s spring seminar on the Aeneid. After each presentation, Professors Sarah McCallum of Harvard University and James Uden of Boston University offered commentary and questions, as did members of the audience.

Jack Champagne ’19, Nicholas Jalbert ’16, Liam Prendergast ’19, and Melody Wauke ’17 began the event with a consideration of the epic’s deer similes, a group of passages which lend an air of inevitability to Turnus’ doom at the end of the poem.

Questions of Fate were taken up once more by the following student group, as Toni Armstrong ’19, Claude Hanley ’18, and Julia Spiegel ’19 provocatively questioned whether Fate, like so much else in Vergil’s masterpiece, may simply be a matter of perspective.

Sarah McCallum of Harvard University (second from left) talks with students during the break.

Sarah McCallum of Harvard University (second from left) talks with students during the break.

Offering one last bit of intellectual sustenance before the colloquium’s first break for cheese, cookies, and drinks, Maretta Guiendon ’16, Michael Kelley ’18, Andrew Morfill ’18, and Corey Scannell ’18 provided a bracing take on Aeneas’ leadership or, rather, lack thereof. In the colloquium’s final student presentation, Luke Griese ’18, Chris Ryan ’16, Charlie Schufreider ’17, and Jason Steranko ’17 wove together many of our themes in a nuanced consideration of how the same divine forces that set the epic’s plot in motion return once more in its final scenes.

Lastly, Professors McCallum and Uden treated the group to presentations of their own scholarship on the Aeneid. Professor McCallum spoke about how the genre of elegy enriches Vergil’s epic and Professor Uden discussed the intersection of medicine and poetry in Aeneid 12.

Debate among students over Aeneas' leadership qualities spills over into the break.

Debate among students over Aeneas’ leadership qualities spills over into the break.

With our colloquium complete, all joined in to continue the conversation over refreshments and to begin mulling over questions that will remain with us for the remainder of this academic year and, hopefully, much longer.

Post post by Prof. Aaron Seider.