Classical Studies Newsletter, Volume X, Winter 2004

Digging up the Pastů From a Student's View
By Timothy Webb, Classical Studies Alumnus

The Department of Classical Studies constantly encourages undergraduates to go and see for themselves the monuments, sites and lands about which they learn in Ann Arbor classrooms. Sometimes this takes the form of study abroad (recent students have spent time to Athens, Rome and Ankara). Sometimes this takes the form of independent travel, often with a research 'angle' in mind. And sometimes this takes the form of archaeological fieldwork. Michigan undergraduates attend archaeological field schools, or volunteer on projects, in order to learn more of the 'how to' of field archaeology in the classical lands. The essay below, by Timothy Webb (Classical Archaeology and History, Class of 2003), is one view of what can be learned from such an experience.

Traveling to the Mediterranean costs money, however, and most archaeological field projects 'charge' undergraduates (for lodging, for food and, in more and more cases, for credit). For many of our students, such expenses pose a very real problem. The Department has thus instituted a new Undergraduate Research and Travel Fund, to which the readers of this newsletter are invited to contribute. Contact us for more information if you would like to help!

This summer, I completed my second field season in Pompeii, Italy, with the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii (AAPP). This field school, directed by Professor Rick Jones from the University of Bradford, UK, brings together students and staff from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and a handful of other countries. The goal of the AAPP is to study the urban development of Pompeii, specifically how the city changed from its inception in the fourth century BCE until the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24th, 79 CE. It accomplishes this through the complete stratigraphic excavation of one portion of the site, Insula VI.1.

This project began in 1994 and should be completed in 2006. My first year there was 2002, when I excavated in a section of the insula thought to be an inn during its final phase of occupation. We studied the various chronological stages of the inn and its relationship to the Casa delle Vestali (House of the Vestals), a neighboring elite house in Insula VI. Of the five week digging season, first year students spent four weeks in the trenches and one week recording artifacts and sorting eco-facts.

This year (summer 2003) I returned as an advanced student and worked for five weeks in the Casa del Triclinio (House of the Triclinium). We were attempting to untangle the relationships between the inn, this house and the Casa delle Vestali. Unfortunately, damage caused by an American bomb (dropped during World War II) destroyed the stratigraphy of this area, as well as a large part of the wall abutting the two houses. Furthermore, our discovery of asbestos tiling from some period of modern reconstruction led to our abandonment of this initiative, leaving many questions unanswered. As a result, our team moved out to the city's Herculaneum Gate and to the backroom of a bar adjacent to the original inn. I was also asked to lead a small team to document a minor wall which lay between the Herculaneum Gate and the large ashlar city walls. This wall was not in very good condition, and probably would not have survived another winter. Amedeo Maiuri, the famous Italian archaeologist, had uncovered and recorded Pompeii's walls in the 1920s, but the AAPP investigation revealed (after the removal of much accumulated debris) that his original plans were in some ways incorrect. This is just one example of how archaeological reexamination, with new archaeological tools and technologies, can be extremely useful.

Fieldwork put into perspective just how valuable were the courses I took at the University of Michigan. These classes taught me about the interpretation of finds and the way in which archaeology helps to provide a more holistic view of a site and of a region. The combination of Michigan courses and the AAPP field school was extremely beneficial, allowing me to gain a better understanding of how archaeologists overcome problems, interpret data, and draw conclusions. Finally, digging side-by-side with an international crew, one saw that numerous different approaches to archaeology exist, and that all contribute in a unique way to the discipline as a whole. I hope to return to Pompeii and the AAPP next year as an assistant supervisor, and plan to begin work on my M.Phil. in Archaeology, probably at Bradford University, in 2004.

Index of Topics / Return to the Classics Homepage

  • Letter from the Chair
  • Same Sex Marriages in the Ancient World
  • Papyrus Discovery
  • Digging up the Past
  • A Tale of Two Else Lectures
  • Poems of a Presocratic Guru
  • Bioethics: Ancient and Modern