Undergraduate fieldwork bursaries 2015 - Kathryn Goulding and Marcus Losty at Vagnari, Italy

Kathryn Goulding

We spent 3 weeks pickaxing and shoveling the dry earth to dig to a context, of at least 50 cm, to form our trenches, all the while as we dug carefully making sure to pick up every sherd of ceramic and every piece of metal, glass, bone and an other finds and artefacts we found while excavating and digging the trench. Very hard and very tough but satisfying work! After 4 weeks of pickaxing, shoveling, trowelling, and all the while drawing plans and sections, recording all the finds such as thousands of pieces of Roman ceramic, pieces of Roman pottery and metal and glass, as well as beautiful bone hairpins, a bone spoon, metal implements, a bronze dagger, as well as window glass, we uncovered huge doliums in 3 huge basins in the mortar floor, as well as huge amount of Roman tile from a collapsed roman roof next to walls of the foundations of a building.

The most incredible and completely unexpected find was during the last weekend, where the un-articulated re-deposited remains of an adult male skeleton was uncovered in one of the doliums in one of the three large storage basins in the mortar floor, which I was given the honour of unearthing, picked by the supervisors as they told me they thought I'd be perfect for the job of very gently and carefully but quickly uncovering and labelling in paper bags as I was a perfectionist and very careful when trowelling, brushing or uncovering. All and any finds were significant but the basins, the metal and glass, and of course the human burial was most important, and all involved were elated, exhausted, and very pleased with the end results.

Very hard and very tough but satisfying work!

Kathryn Goulding

BA Classical and Historical Archaeology student Kathryn Goulding excavating at Vagnari, Italy

Over the 5 weeks I was also given the chance to draw some of the finds, as Professor Maureen Carroll knew I wanted to try and practise some archaeological drawing because I plan on becoming an archaeological illustrator and want to pursue that field. Over the last 3 weeks of my time in italy, I would illustrate artefacts and tiles we had excavated on-site 3 or 4 times a week. This gave me chance to teach myself how to draw archaeological finds, practise my illustration, as well as give me some quiet peaceful time to myself to be absorbed with a personal and independent piece of work. I enjoyed it immensely and was grateful for the opportunity. To my great surprise and honour Maureen and the supervisors told me they thought my drawings were “beautiful” and that I had the job for the weeks we were there, considering our team did not have a professional illustrator unlike the canadian team who did.

Professor Maureen Carroll knew I wanted to try and practise some archaeological drawing because I plan on becoming an archaeological illustrator.

Kathryn Goulding

What an adventure. Looking back I have learnt so much and am so grateful I was given the opportunity and the means to live and work in Italy, as part of a different culture for the summer, to live and learn, to explore and wander, to experience and absorb, and to work on such an amazing project. I worked hard but had some fun and learnt also about the pros and cons of living in a community of people who you also work with.

Students excavating the Roman vicus at Vagnari, Italy.

Reviewing a morning’s work excavating Roman imperial estate at Vagnari, Italy.

Marcus Losty

During the summer, I participated in an archaeological dig at Vagnari, located in the southern Italian town of Gravina in Puglia, in order to gain hands-on experience to support my BSc Archaeology degree. The excavation that I took part was aimed at determining what industrial production took place in the vicus, and in addition uncovering the approximate size of the vicus building.

Arriving on site for the first time our trench had already been marked out, and, as the site is in a field the first step in the vicus excavation was clearing the trench of plants so that mattocks could be used to start digging. Clearing the trench involved pulling the chickpeas that had been planted in the field out of the ground and disposing away from the trench in an area that would eventually become the spoil heap. Once the chickpeas were mostly removed, the whole trench was levelled a small amount with mattocks, to remove any remaining chickpeas, as seen in figure 1.

The trench was split up into two smaller trenches, so that the mattocking could be more focussed. After mattocking down to 30cm, a basin was found in the southern end of the trench. Unfortunately, no remains of a dolium were found in it. Having cleared the first basin using trowels, two other basins were found in the immediate vicinity of the first. The three basins formed a line going east- west. In the second basin it was found that the base of a dolium was still set in place at the bottom of the basin, as well as parts of the side of the doleum. In the third basin the base and sides of a doleum were intact. Even more interestingly, two skeletons were found at the bottom of the third basin under a large rock. It was determined by the bioarcheaological field school that one skeleton was male and the other was female. It was also noted that the bones had also been dug up from their original burial and disposed in the basin.

At the other end of the trench, the first feature found was a stone wall running north-south. We uncovered the wall using trowels and brushes, and discovered it continued for the whole length of the trench. After discovering a second wall, perpendicular to the first, we then began excavating the area inside the two walls. While digging in the corner where the two walls intersected, window glass was discovered stacked on top of one another, this being a very rare discovery in the archaeological field.

Through the opportunities that this dig presented I learnt the practical skills needed for archaeological digs.

Marcus Losty

Also digging we discovered a huge pile of roof tiles in part of the room that the two walls created. They were determined to be roof tiles from their large size and unique shape. Underneath the roof tiles remnants of charcoal was found, which enabled us to make the assumption that part of the building must have burnt down, causing the roof tiles to collapse in that area. While examining the tiles, some were discovered to have either thumb prints on them, and one even had a cat paw on it. This sort of design, with the exception of the paw print, was a common design feature in southern Italian roof tiles.

Through the opportunities that this dig presented I learnt the practical skills needed for archaeological digs. I learnt how to properly mattock and trowel without disturbing important features, and how to take grid points of features in the ground using a plumb-bob, as well as handling and cleaning finds. Most importantly however this dig helped to reinforce my interest in Archaeology while giving me the practical experience that will be useful for future digs, and count towards my Archaeological passport.