Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Week V

The fifth and final week at Gabii was headlined by a trip to the American Academy of Rome. The Academy houses several dozen special finds cassetta from Gabii and other excavations for the sake of saving space on site and the artifacts themselves. Along with the reward of sleeping in past 6am and not wearing steel-toed boots, the Gabii Finds School made the short pilgrimage to see even more delicate artifacts from site.

On this day, each Finds School student was expected to catalog any objects relevant to their final project in addition to researching their finds. Unluckily, I was not able to extensively research my artifacts while at the Academy or on site from the sheer amount of bone hairpins and needles I found. Most of my time was spent recording the dimensions of the bone objects and acquiring other raw data I would not be able to obtain in the States.

Finds School students studying small finds from Gabii: ceramic votives and fibulae, respectively.

This ongoing research amongst other students helped me realize a few things including that archaeological analyses rarely follow scientific method. Although an archaeologist might start researching an object or series of objects with a specific query, whether or not s/he can answer it is highly dependent on the information about the object(s) recorded in prior time. As we delved deeper into researching our objects, we revealed more research questions.

Students researching more commonly found artifacts, myself included, found ourselves repeatedly asking "why has no one written about this before?". The amount of experts or academics solely writing on bone hairpins or fibulae seemed miniscule in comparison to those publishing articles on the handful of Minoan death masks in existence, for example. Ultimately, we discovered that the most commonplace objects often received less attention; the phenomenon is similar to losing house keys in plain sight.

Erica Canavan presenting her research on bone hairpins and needles from  Gabii's Area F. 

In researching bone hairpins and needles in Roman contexts, I realized that I could contribute to a knowledge base for a small finds category. This realization is even more poignant when coupled with the fact that I will begin graduate school in the fall. The Finds School has helped further propel me towards a sense of purpose and thirst for knowledge within Roman archaeology.

I have had a fulfilling, rewarding experience in my second excavation season with the Gabii Project, so the end of this fifth week is naturally bittersweet. While I am content to fly back to Michigan and refresh my Ancient Attic Greek in a hammock in Ann Arbor, I will miss having the routine of the site and the colleagues and friends I have made along the way.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Week IV

After starting the fourth week off with the "Gabiine flu", I entered my first day of Finds School. The Finds School allows a handful of volunteers to take a break from excavation and become more intensely educated about the ceramics and other finds from site.

Each day, finds director Dr. Laura Banducci would teach the school about a given ceramic classification in chronological order from impasto to African Cookware. We were encouraged to ask questions and use resources around us in order to spot date SUs, amongst other things. We would draw vessels based on diagnostic sherds and compare them to published resources of the same typology on a daily basis. I learned that the proper orientation of rims and bases affected my drawing to a significant extent; as a result, the completed drawing affected my own judgement of comparative vessel typology.

Two Finds School students sorting and dating potsherds for a Gabii publication.
After our daily instruction, Dr. Banducci encouraged us to explore the special finds from Gabii that have been recorded over the course of the past seven years. "Explore" qualifies as opening bags and handling the objects found, including coins, bone objects, glass fragments, and miniature vessels, to name a few. As a biologist and archaeologist, I leapt at the chance to examine objects from animal bone and ivory more closely. Once we had settled on a category of objects, the finds students set out to create a catalogue of our objects at Gabii as well as research them in a greater context. I decided to research the bone pins and needles found in Gabii's Area F.

Throughout the week I felt like I either improved or acquired a new, useful archaeological skill every single day. One day we searched a catalogue of terra sigilata comparanda and made joins within African Red Slip wares in order to estimate a minimum and maximum number of vessels the next. While I have taken a course at Michigan revolving around ceramic analysis, evaluating actual wares from archaeological contexts made me feel like I was contributing to the project as a whole, not just to my own knowledge bank. Upon logging my spot dates and drawings, any academic with access to our database might be able to use my data in publications.

Dr. Banducci helping two students modify entries to the database.

While volunteers and staff members alike might be able to tell you whether they prefer working in the field or in finds, I have no such answer. Before joining the Finds School, I felt torn between wanting to work in the fields and wanting to work in finds. Unfortunately, my time in the Finds School has only widened the gap. In either area, the more I learn the more I am emotionally and academically invested in my given projects. By the end of the season, I hope to find my place on site in the field, finds, or something else entirely.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Week III

In my third week at Gabii I spent three days in the field excavating, one day in our finds lab and one day working with our topography team aka "topo". As not everyone is given the opportunity to work with topo for the sake of time, I will be outlining my experience in this blog post.

Our topography team at Gabii is responsible for recording our SUs through visual representations. Essentially, through measuring the elevation of an SU and creating polygons to represent SU shapes, we can form maps true to site. The total station is the stationary component of measuring the SU an elevation points; it fires a laser to the prism, which reflects the light back to the total station. This enables the station to record where the prism is in three dimensions. The prism is moved throughout the day around given SUs documenting points for which the team will connect-the-dots.

Tyler taking the SU points of a cut with the prism.

Before starting the day in topo, Tyler and Emmanuele set up the total stations owned by the University of Michigan. This process involves lining up the total station and prism at fixed points in space. Aligning the total station and prism on site is the most crucial step because it will allow the team to represent SUs in relation to each other. Since we take SU points every day, we need to ensure our data accurately represents the distance and elevation of every previous SU in space, and aligning the total station and prism at fixed points guarantees this phenomenon within a small margin of error.
Emmanuele supervising the alignment of the total station to the prism.

The first step in recording involves a photo model by Matt Naglak. From one physical location, Matt will take photographs of several different angles of an SU before moving to a different aspect entirely. In doing this, Matt is able to create a three dimensional photograph of an SU to be viewed virtually. Ultimately, the photographs can be stitched together to recreate a visual representation of a given area at a specific point in time.

Outlining the SUs with points from the prism completes the process in order to give our photo models significance in space. When Matt's photo models are joined with points from the prism, the data can be entered into a gaming system called Unity. This allows archaeologists to virtually explore the site of Gabii freely back in North America. Additionally, the interface allows for the user to excavate SUs virtually with excavation descriptions to better understand the stratigraphy.

While most of us still don't fully understand the physics behind topography, I think the Gabii workforce would agree that topo's work is not only very cool, but will be incredibly useful for future scholars of the site.