Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Bone: Digging Up Stuff


Thank you all so much for your lovely words (mostly not in blog comments but elsewhere) and for all the support that flowed in after last week's post about starting my new job. Another week has gone by and I'm still delighted- it is Bank Holiday Monday and I can't help wishing (in a sneaky little geeky way) that I'm at work! What a loser! Anyway, as it is a day off, I can blog- and I thought as it's time for a "Bones" post that I'd blog about the things I found this summer that actually connect up to people in the past. Things that you too can look at online, via the Poggio Civitate Excavation Database- we're proud to be fully open access (when the server is working, at least). Twelve artefacts that my team found in my trench made it into the cataloguing system that we use for artefacts that have a meaningful interpretative role to play. Of course, everything we find is recorded and in many cases drawn in our trench books- before being counted and recorded at the close of the book. Don't worry- all the information is safely stored in the magazzino, even to the weight of single pieces of slag.

I'm sorry that I can't tell you more about the features in the trench- I don't want to pre-empt the peer-reviewed publication and presentation. But I thought I'd write up those twelve things, including a link to them all- pulling together what they might mean for the site, as well as how they were recovered.  I often joke around with colleagues about "interpretation at the trowel's edge." This series of posts, I suppose, is exactly that- a biographical account of the discovery of these fascinating yet often mundane objects.


The first of my twelve had the honour of being labelled as PC20130001. It was found when I wasn't even in the trench, as I had gone back to England to have the interview for my new job! Our fab site director Kate stepped in to supervise for me, so this is really a find for her! My trench assistant John "Georgia" Duggan (who will have his own trench next year hopefully as he is a fantastic excavator and a great prospect for the future!) was working on the removal of a large stump, when out popped this particular find, a shining lump of metal. Everyone (I imagine) got excited, as there were little nubs of gilt on this object, which made it look really enticing. Unfortunately, it's not Etruscan. It's probably post-medieval. It's a gorgeous bronze pendant, which would have been covered in gilding, and it's moulded to show the figure of San Domenico on one side, identified by an inscription, and a woman and child (presumably the Virgin) on the other. It's a find that made me sad when I saw it after I got back- and not just because I missed finding it. I imagine a person losing that pendant, and feeling sad and full of regrets- and I know that's just splashing emotions inappropriately all over the past, but that's my honest and instinctive reaction. More seriously, the pendant confirms what we suspected- the area in which the trench was located, Civitate A, was clearly still being traversed by people in the centuries after Poggio Civitate was abandoned- over a thousand years later, someone came through, perhaps a shepherd or traveller, and lost this pendant. 


The next find (PC20130108) is Etruscan, or at least, I assume it was. And unlike the previous find, this one I found myself. I was excavating with my trowel in the eastern end of my trench, working in a locus (the locus system defines the contextual layers of soil in the order that we remove them, which SHOULD be the reverse order in which they were deposited) that was producing relatively large amounts of bone and pottery. I spotted this weird shape with my trowel- a circle, with a dirty cream edge smeared with dark earth. I rubbed the object very gently with my fingers, and pressed in the centre where the mud was- to find that it fell away. A super careful probe with my trowel point, and it was clear that this was a nicely hollowed out piece of worked bone, making a perfect little oval. I pretend that it doesn't matter who finds things, as we're all part of a team- but I was pretty chuffed to have this gorgeous little object turn up. The layer that this piece of worked bone was found in was full of Etruscan material- the area was clearly pretty busy in antiquity! Yet this little fragment proved that larger objects incorporating worked bone were either being made or used in the vicinity. 

The third find is again an industrial one (PC20130112). It looked bloody ugly as it came up- and as we found quite a few examples of these, I can't remember who actually found this one. Sorry! It was probably one of the great students we had on site this year- sharp eyed and sharp brained. One of them probably thought that this was a piece of pottery at first- a heavy, lumpy piece of coarseware.  Then they turned it over, and found a weird covering spread all over the inner face- a little bit shiny where not covered in dirt. The weird covering was actually molten metal- this pot was used in the process of creating iron artefacts- the find was a crucible fragment. So, not only do we have evidence for the presence of worked bone and possibly worked bone production, we also have evidence for metalworking in the vicinity of Civitate A. Someone, somewhere, during the Etruscan inhabitation of the site, was making iron implements.


The final find for this "Bones" post (PC20130136) is a little bit more exciting- and I remember the student who found it (I'm so sorry person who found the crucible fragment!!) as there were not many objects like this found in my trench this summer. Margot, a student from Mount Holyoke College, had quite a lot of excavation experience, and had even worked underwater! It was most likely the green sheen of bronze that first caught her eye- everyone on site knows that the colour hints at something special. Carefully using her trowel to free the delicate object from the soil, she called me over. It was pretty clear at first glance what Margot had found- a fragment of a fibula, or brooch, made of bronze. The coiled end and part of the pin were preserved, but the arch and catch were missing. We didn't find any sign of any other pieces of the fibula this year, even in slightly lower loci. So, I suspect that this object was already broken when it was deposited- thrown away, chucked out. Maybe it was too small to bother melting back down, maybe it broke while being worn and the piece was never recovered by the owner. But an Etruscan person was wearing that fibula at some point in the past, while they were living at Poggio Civitate. At least one person in this area of the site had access to a plain, but still quite classy, decorative pin for their clothes. 


So, there you are- my first four finds. I've linked in the find numbers, so you should be able to click on the "PC" numbers here and see the proper write up by our amazing cataloguer, Theresa. There aren't professional photographs yet- but there will be this time next year. Please enjoy browsing around for what other people found, too. Each find has a little biography, a story like the ones I've described here. The reactions of excavators are always fascinating to me- I would love to find some way of incorporating them into full publications, giving the people who do the digging a voice! How would you feel about seeing that for real? Do you think the internet provides an opportunity to open up archaeological interpretative methodologies? Or is recording instant reactions and assumptions a dangerous business, undermining the wider message published by an excavation director? I'm all for embracing subjectivity- but how far do we go? Let me know if you have any thoughts, or any discovery stories of your own.

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