The Via Consolare Project in Pompeii
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There are a number of questions that we are often asked about Pompeii and being a part of a dig in the ancient city. Here are a few of our answers.
1. Hasn't it all been excavated already?
No, by no means. Only about two-thirds of the city has been uncovered from the volcanic ash that buried it in AD 79. The still-buried third will remain so, protecting the only portion of Pompeii that is not being actively worn away by exposure to weather, tourists, and time. Conservations efforts, though vigilant, cannot keep up with the degradation of an entire city, and so the portion that has not been uncovered already will be the only part to maintain its preservation. Furthermore, Pompeii has undergone comparatively little stratigraphic excavation of its pre-AD 79 levels. It is this type of excavation that we do - investigating the evolution of the city over time and not just the final phase.
2. Have you found anything good?
Yes. Dig most places in Italy and you can't help but find artefacts, and Pompeii is no exception. We find mostly pottery, glass, metal, bone (animal bone), brick and tile that was discarded and broken in ancient times, and we tend to find LOTS of it - at least couple of kilos of pottery each season are added to the stores on site. Most of the materials we find are domestic and/or commercial, and so are not necessarily "pretty" or "elite" in origin. At the end of the day it is the information that we recover about the ancient world from these materials that is the true treasure. Archaeology has long abandoned treasure hunting as an aim, so these materials are quite literally more valuable than gold to us for the information they carry about our research areas.
3. Do you find any dead bodies?
No, we don't find any dead bodies. Our research areas were originally uncovered from the volcanic debris in the 18th century during some of the first campaigns of excavation after Pompeii's discovery. Most of the AD 79 artifacts (including dead bodies) would have been removed then, or during the several other excavations and reexcavations of the areas thereafter. We begin excavation at (roughly) the final phase floor level of the properties, looking for changes in spacial divisions, use of space, and other indications of how the areas were developed over time up until when they were buried.
4. Do you really live in tents?
Yes, we really live in tents. Camping is the cheapest housing available and in the summer in southern Italy can often be more comfortable than an enclosed apartment or house. Also, camping allows members to have their own space that is not shared with roommates. The distinction is slight, but palpable.
5. Are you afraid of the volcano?
We are not afraid of Vesuvius, though it is still active. It erupted last in 1944, and is due now for another catastrophic eruption on the sort of scale that destroyed Pompeii. It is, however, the most closely monitored volcano in Europe and will hopefully give some warning before it buries the southern Bay of Naples again.
6. Isn't digging really tedious?
Sometimes digging can be tedious, but not as much as some people would expect. It does require a good deal of patience and attention. Also, more time is spent recording information about what we're about to dig than actually digging, and that can get frustrating sometimes. However, there is no point to digging unless everything is recorded - otherwise the information we might have learned is lost forever. That said, we do not excavate with brushes (a common misconception). Brushes are used to clean features, artifacts, and walls, and are strictly not used to remove soil. We excavate primarily with trowels, but sometimes get to use big tools (pickaxes and big shovels). We move a lot of dirt in five weeks, so digging quickly but carefully is a must.
7. There's a modern Pompei?
Yes, there is a modern Pompei. Ancient Pompeii is located about halfway around the Bay of Naples, a very populous area of Italy. The ancient city of Pompeii is right between several modern towns, one of which is modern Pompei. In Italy, Pompeii is better known for being home to the Cathedral of Pompei, which Pope John Paul II visited in 2003. There's no getting away from tourists and roads and people and cities and civilization and we are by no means out in the middle of nowhere. It's a quick walk to a very large supermarket, downtown modern Pompei, the southern Italy highway (Autostrada), and all the other amenities of an Italian city (gelato!).
8. What's the deal with the spelling? Is it with one or two I's?
Ancient Pompeii has two I's in English, but is spelt differently in each language. For instance, in Italian it is written as Pompei, but in German it appears as Pompeji. Scholarship is divided over the origin of the name of the city, with some suggesting that is derives from Oscan antecedants, perhaps related to the word for five.
9. Why do you only dig during the summer?
We only dig in the summer for a couple of reasons. The Project is staffed by Professors and other academics, all of whom have to go home to their universities during the academic year to teach and attend classes. Secondly, winters in Italy can be rainy and fairly cold. Mud is difficult to dig and tents provide little protection from freezing weather.
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