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Alyssa Friedman, 2011 Fellow Dig Blog at Poggio Civitate Excavation Project, Italy

Alyssa Friedman recently received her BA in Classics at The University of Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences and with departmental honors. Her senior honors thesis explored the imagery on the body of two Etruscan stone sarcophagi and is titled, "Greek Art, Etruscan Canvas: Iconography and Implications of the Amazonomachy Myth in Etruria". Alyssa's current research interest is in the interplay between Latin literature and the evolving landscape of Rome during the early Roman Empire. Her time spent at on-site lectures and eating the tasty food at the Centro in Rome informs this research. Alyssa is looking forward to participating in the Poggio Civitate Excavation Project in Vescovado di Murlo, Italy for her third time in summer 2011, and will be applying to graduate programs in Classical Art and Archaeology for Fall 2013.

Excavation: Poggio Civitate Excavation Project, Italy

(Director, Anthony Tuck, U.Mass, Amherst)

The summer 2011 excavation season at Poggio Civitate marks the 45th season of excavation at this Etruscan site. The excavation staff at Poggio Civitate will focus on a non-elite occupation on the peripherary of the elite settlement at Murlo. This area has only been explored in one previous excavation season (2006) with the current excavation staff. As a third year staff member, I will work as an Assistant Trench Master on-site, and off-site will work on publication efforts for the 7th century BC tripartite structure thought to be used for religious purposes and located on the main ridge of Poggio Civitate.

Week 1 (June 28th - July 1st):  Welcome to Poggio Civitate

The past week has been a flurry of easing back into excavation preparations, seeing old friends, and settling back down into our beautiful little Tuscan town. Our Italian friends welcomed us on Friday with a huge celebratory pig roast in the forest. We shared dinner, wine, a few good laughs and great music.

The very next day, a festive horserace, Il Palio, was being held in Siena, so we all pulled ourselves from our beds and made the trip into Siena. Most of the students watched from the Piazza del Campo, but I joined a small group in a bar just outside the Campo. We watched the race from TV screens, completely shocked when it started only 45 minutes after it was supposed to. Last summer the race was delayed by at least an hour and a half!

We've only had four full days of work at Poggio Civitate, and we will begin digging near Piano del Tesoro on July 15th. For now, everyone has been divided into research groups to front-end our season with work on publication materials. This way we can focus entirely on excavating when we begin in two weeks. Currently we have several projects to work on. Below, I will provide a brief summary of each project.

Survey of a Medieval Chapel - Andi Rodriguez and Alyssa Friedman

Andi Rodriguez and I will begin mapping and drawing an architectural rendering of a chapel in Montetripino believed to date to the 11th century. We will also conduct a ground survey around the chapel to look for possible related structures.  We will begin this work on Monday July 4th.

Photography Danny Schissler

Our scavi photographer Danny is continuing to photograph digitally finds from previous excavation seasons alongside the documentation of incoming finds. He is compiling these images to be used in archives.

Illustration Ida Floreak

Ida draws what Danny can't capture on camera. She uses a technique called stippling to illustrate features such as cracks, faded symbols, complex symbols, and others, that do not show up as well in photography. She also draws cross sections and interior features on vessels.

Fingerprint Mapping - Mike Ginnard, Taylor Oshan, and Katie Daley

Mike Ginnard, Taylor Oshan, and Katie Daley are currently developing a methodology to scan and analyze fingerprints found on ceramic objects. The goal of this project is to try to find matches on vessels for interpretation in order to map and compare the fingerprints of artisans. If Mike, Taylor, and Katie are able to determine matches, we hope to discover approximately how many craftsmen there were, if they were specialized, what their status was, etc.

Sigla Identification - Rex Wallace and Brooke Norton

Professor Rex Wallace from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Brooke Norton are currently studying inscriptions and siglas impressed and inscribed on ceramics and bone. Their research will hopefully answer questions relating to the literacy of the inhabitants at Poggio Civitate and its periphery settlements as well as the status associated with literacy.

Trail mapping/GIS Survey- Chris O'Conner, Josh Hyden, Taylor Oshan, Grayson Lauffenburger, and Lucy Shipley

A team of 5 staff members are topographically mapping what appears to be an ancient cobblestone pathway leading from the foot of Poggio Civitate to the Archaic phase building. Our survey team is also using a handheld GPS to map topographically many of the structures on Poggio Civitate and to conduct a surface survey to search out any additional structures yet to be discovered. Once entered into a GIS mapping system, this project will help excavators to visualize Poggio Civitate as a three dimensional space.

Osteology - Joe Vansuch, Mary Larkum, and Sara

Joe, Mary, and Sara are examining a collection of bones excavated from Poggio Civitate to identify what types of animals were present in antiquity. They will also attempt to determine their age, sex, and whether they were domestic or wild. This information can possibly speak to the economic activities on site. The sheer amount of bones on site, such as the 13-16 thousand fragments found near the Orientalizing workshop in one trench in 2007, suggests that some sort of animal or bone processing occurred there.

Iron Age Manuscript - Andi Rodriguez and Ann Glennie

Andi Rodriguez and Ann Glennie are compiling a catalogue of materials that are stratigraphically and typologically dateable to the Iron Age to demonstrate that there was occupation on the hill during that period.

Catalogue of Playground Materials - Kelsey Hallerman and Jen Woods

When the Comune di Murlo was constructing a playground in Vescovado, ancient materials were found. Kelsey Hallerman and Jen are overseeing the cataloguing, conserving, illustrating, and photographing of all these materials. These materials are typologically dateable to Archaic phase occupation and thus concurrent with materials excavated in this area in 2006. This information serves as further confirmation that there was a period of non-elite settlement on the periphery of the elite settlement at Poggio Civitate.

Week 2 (July 4th - July 8th):  Taste of Italy and a Start to the Digging

Last week we received exciting news!  The Sopritendenze Archaeologici di Firenze has located a bronze cauldron excavated from Poggio Civitate 1971 season that matches a second cauldron in the Murlo Antiquarium that hasn't yet been conserved. The cauldrons were confused and documentation only indicated that there was one cauldron. According to the authorities, the cauldron was sent to Florence for conservation and display shortly after it was unearthed. Through a series of delays, the Florence cauldron wasn't conserved until much later. The most exciting part of this news is that the conserved cauldron contains an actual axe found in the interior of the vessel. The axe is typologically dateable to the Iron Age. But, the cauldron was discovered on the floor of the Orientalizing period residence, but the axe is chronologically inconsistent with the structure in which it was found and most likely the vessel. This information suggests that there was some sort of continuity of inhabitants from the Iron Age through the Orientalizing period, and that the Etruscan people perhaps emerged from Villanovan ancestors. I hope you're still reading, because...

Thursday night we held the first of our biannual wine tastings. Jason, Mike, Taylor, and Danny drove to Siena to pick up six different varieties of Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino. All of us dressed up in our finest scavi clothing for the event. I think everyone was a bit shocked by how good we could look without dirt and sweat all over our faces.

Regardless, all of the wines were delicious, but the crowd favorite was Mastro Janni. Soon after we moved to jug wine, also known to scavi personnel, as il diavolo. Quickly we all crossed the street to the pool to play foosball and ping pong with the ragazzi Italiani. We ended up in bed far too late for a full day of work the next day. We will definitely be holding our next tasting on a Friday.

A group of us headed to Siena on Saturday to do laundry and walk around. I took Cara, a friend from USC, and Brooke, a friend from my first year excavating at Poggio, to my favorite salumeria in allllll of Italy. It's called Antiqua Pizzicheria and has a big chingiale head right outside the door. Last summer I found the shop and ended up wine-tasting, meat- and cheese-tasting, and desert-tasting for free for about three hours with the owner. When we walked in, he asked me if I had come into the shop a long time before... While cheering on the inside, I responded that yes, I had come in last summer, while he swiftly began cutting meats, cheeses, and Tuscan bread with olive oil to try. Just a little later we walked out with a beautiful spread of salami, prosciutto, porchetta, and capricola, with four different types of pecorino, and cups of pesto, tapenade, pureed red pepper, and a balsamic reduction. He threw in a tupperware of olive oil and bread to dip with, as well as two cookies and a jar of chocolate fondant. We took our bag of goodies and enjoyed all of our Tuscan treasures in front of the church in the campo. We must have looked like we were in heaven because a German woman approached us to ask if she could take a picture of us.

After some digestion time, we capped off the day with shopping in a scavi-famous Chinese shop. Here, you can buy shirts with "English" writing and all types of euro-fabulous clothing. I bought bright pink jeans and a rubber snap-on tie-died watch that will be perfect when were excavating on the hill.

Tonight, three staff members including myself are participating in a lasagna cook off. My lasagna is the only vegetarian entry, so I'm a bit of an underdog. Cross your fingers for me!

And back to the excavating part of this blog... We begin excavation Monday! Last week Andy, Christina, and I laid out the trenches after establishing baselines with a transit and clearing the area of bushes, branches, and trees. (We excavate in a forest). I'll be excavating between the only two trenches we are reopening from last summer, and the two most important trenches. Last year, we unearthed a lens of archaic architectural terracottas, currently believed to be a deposit of materials after the destruction of the Archaic period building. The second trench is a bit of a mystery. In it, the excavators discovered a rock covering that was strewn over a very claylike, almost fatty, blue soil. Blue soil is indicative of decayed waste; though without any animal bones, it may be an area of fecal waste. Whoever said the work of an archaeologist wasn't dirty? In short, I'll be working as an assistant trench master in an exploratory trench only a meter on each side between the two reopened trenches. Hopefully, it will clarify the stratigraphy and topography of the area.

To conclude my second blog entry (woo hoo!) I'll recap a few of the research projects Team Scavi Americani has been working on.

Fingerprint Mapping

The fingerprint team is currently scanning all the artifacts known to have fingerprints on them. They are still developing their methodology for comparing fingerprints.

Sigla Identification

Our Etruscan writing team has located and catalogued all inscribed artifacts in our magazino. Last week they experimented with inscribing etruscan letters on clay to discover the method of inscription. They successfully discovered that many were inscribed by dragging a finger or fingernail through wet clay.

Trail mapping/GIS Survey

Our survey team has finished their survey of the hill and are now compiling data to create a 3D model of Poggio Civitate.


Joe Vansuch and his team of first year students sorted through thousands of pieces of bone for our Zooarchaeologists Sara and Mary to analyze. They are making great headway and will hopefully be able to establish the nature of the vast number of animal bones unearthed at Poggio Civitate.

Catalogue of Playground Materials

Kelsey and Jen successfully conserved, catalogued, and analyzed all of the material uncovered from the playground construction project in Vescovado di Murlo. The majority of the materials they worked with were architectural terracottas and ceramics. They possibly date to the Hellenistic period.

While I'm writing this recap, I'm at our hotel pool drinking a mojito.... La vita e' bella.

Week 3 (July 11th - July 15th):

Monday marked the first day of excavation on Poggio Civitate. Although we planned to excavate in Vescovado di Murlo this season, we are back on the hill for another year.  This settlement area has been coined "the hill" because we hike up to site everyday to excavate.  We only had 5 trenches open this week, and it already appears that two of the exploratory trenches have hit galestra (or sterile soil). This means that we will be opening four more exploratory trenches across the ridge just east of the major building complex on Piano del Tesoro.  In this area, both the Orientalizing period complex and the Archaic era monumental structure are located.   And guess what! I will be opening one of the four test trenches. I'm incredibly excited to be running my own trench, and I can't wait to break ground.

But the trench I have been working on for the past week is still a work in progress. We have dropped  the trench about 20 centimeters but are still in topsoil. We have continued to find medieval pottery mixed with ancient terracotta, bronze, and pottery. The good news is that we are reaching a rock feature in the eastern 2.5 meters of the trench that is consistent with the trenches on either side of us. In both of these trenches, a fetid dark blue soil was revealed beneath the rocks.

One of our running theories to explain the dark blue soil is that perhaps it was a ditch that was used as a sort of pen for animals. This theory connects both the immense number of animal bones on site (as they could have been animals for butchering) and the blue soil we find in this area (as the blue soil may be fetid soil from decaying animal fecal matter).

And here's another recap of a few of our research projects...

Sigla Identification

Professor Rex Wallace has finished writing an article regarding all the inscribed material found at Poggio Civitate. Brooke Norton is continuing to update the database so that the materials reflect the sigla team's analysis.


Our bone team is still working on their analysis of animal bones found at Poggio Civitate. One thing they have found is that the bone must have been boiled due to the brittle nature of the bone as it is now.

As for social life in Vescovado...

This past weekend was our 3 day weekend. A few girlfriends and I rented a car and drove all around Umbria and Tuscany to see Cortona, Assisi, Perugia for the Jazz Festival, Via Reggio for the beach, Buonconvento for gelato, and Siena for laundry. I can't believe this was my first year going to the jazz festival in Perugia. The city is literally alive with the sound of music (thank you Julie Andrews) and everyone was dancing, listening, and enjoying. After the last band played, drum circles popped up all over the city.

All in all the freedom of having a car and the ability to get to smaller cities made for an amazing trip. Also, we all showed off our ability to drive standard while only two boys could drive standard in the boys car. It was a little victory. But now I am sitting exhausted on the steps of our hotel and ready to roll into bed at 9 pm. Buonanotte amici.

Ci vediamo a presto ragazzi...

Week 4 (July 18th - July 22nd):

Over this past week most of our publication projects have come into their final stage and almost all of our staff is excavating. Also, the test trenches we opened last week have turned out well. In my trench, there appears to be a spread of small stones, architectural terracottas, and a small amount of pottery that extends lengthwise in a 2 meter by 3 meter trench. As the feature is excavated, the rock and tile spread is receding lengthwise into a concentrated mass. This spread may also continue in a trench parallel to mine. This trench has a similar rock spread that follows in the same line as my trench. A third trench was opened between my trench and the second trench to fully explore the relationship between trenches.

There are a couple of theories flying around about the spread. One might think that the material migrated to this part of the site due to rain, time, and whatever other natural occurrence. But, this part of site is at a higher elevation than the main complex on Piano del Tesoro. One possibility is that it was once a drainage channel that was filled over with stones and tiles in the destruction of the archaic era building on Poggio Civitate. Or, perhaps there was smaller scale habitation here that was destroyed with the destruction the archaic era building. We've only been excavating in this area for a week though, so hopefully, next week will bring answers to some of our questions.

Two more test trenches will be opened next week as well. One will be on the very top of the ridge, where excavation has not yet begun, and the other runs one meter east of a trench reopened from last year. The second trench will hopefully reveal the extent of the later trench's rock and fetid soil feature.

Sadly, this next week is the last week of excavation. We are all hustling to excavate quickly and efficiently, but it looks like a storm is rolling through that may impede any excavation on the hill. We’re all crossing our fingers that the storm passes quickly, though we haven't had much luck with the weather this year. We've already had a few rainy days (add today to the tally), and all the other days have been fairly chilly. This is not the summer Tuscan weather I remember from past seasons.

Next week we also have a heavy social calendar. Tuesday night is our second wine tasting, Wednesday night is our scavi talent show, Thursday night is our student versus staff soccer game, and Friday night our friend from town, Gianluca, is throwing us a goodbye party at his farmhouse. Just another reason I love it here... We have the perfect mix of serious excavation and fun times when we have free time. La vita e' veramente bella...

Ci vediamo a presto!

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