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Students Find Ancient Artifacts at Archaeological Dig

August 13, 2014

Laurie Morrissey
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7240

For 20 Saint Anselm College students, returning to campus also means returning to the present. They spent the summer in the distant past, unearthing items that were used by Etruscans and Romans more than 2,000 years ago.

Participants work in the trenches during the 2014 excevationWhile earning academic credit, these students worked at four sites (Orvieto, Allerona, Castel Giorgio, and Coriglia) under the supervision of Professor David George, chair of the Department of Classics. The college's classics department has sponsored archaeological projects every summer for more than 20 years.

Junior Kelsey Latsha, a classical archaeology major on her second dig, was assistant field supervisor at the excavation site beneath the city of Orvieto in Umbria, Italy.

Besides "a lot of lifting of buckets," she says, her role involved tasks such as recording finds, taking photos, and sorting and weighing ceramic tiles. Working with classmates, her professor, and an Italian archaeologist, she learned about her career choice of archaeology.

"It's incredible to hold a bowl or a tile in your hand that's 2,000 years old," she says. "When you bring it to the lab and clean it, you can see exactly what it looked like."

It was the college's third season in Orvieto's underground structures, which have served many purposes, from protection during sieges to raising doves for food.

This particular structure is unique, Professor George says. Built over 2,500 years ago, it has a pyramidal shape and is of unknown use. Using shovels, pickaxes, trowels, and small brushes, the group discovered ceramic and bronze artifacts and more than 100 Etruscan inscriptions.

"It is an exciting excavation," Professor George says, yielding important architectural terra cotta and unique fragments of ancient Greek pottery.

At the site in Allerona, Saint Anselm graduates Molly Gayton Duncan '08 and Kristin Harper '12, assisted by classical archaeology major Chris Somonson '15, led an excavation of Roman foundations beneath a 12th century church.

"We worked on the medieval graves that we discovered last year to remove the skeletons," the professor says. "These graves were undisturbed and allowed us to do archaeometric studies on the remains. One of the skeletons was curiously placed in his grave with a rock stuck in his mouth."

Professor David George (right)Professor George says this likely reflects a practice called maschalismos that seeks to make the dead incapable of haunting the living.

"The folks who buried this fellow clearly suspected that he might be trouble after death."

At the excavation in Castel Giorgio, 2014 classical archaeology grad Kiran Ganguly assisted in overseeing the opening of two chamber tombs and found grave goods as well as items that, according to Professor George, left him, as well as the student archaeologists, perplexed.

Set into a niche in the necropolis was a portion of a column base from a monumental structure.

"We have no idea why," he says. "Maybe next year, we'll get a few clues."

For the ninth year of excavation at Coriglia, the team continued work on a large sanctuary that dates from 800 B.C. to 1600 B.C. Classical archaeology major Tessa Theriault '15 assisted in supervising the excavation of a large pool whose floors were intact dating to the 2nd century C.E. This season, the site also revealed new bath complexes from the Roman period.

Next year, for the first time, the college will offer a semester-long, faculty-led semester in Orvieto, open to students of all majors.