Summer Research Partnership in Classics: Pompeii I.14 Project

23 January 2023

In summer 2022 Sidra Michaels ’23, Samantha Zimmerman ’24, and Jordan Rogers, Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics, did field research with the Pompeii I.14 Project. The overarching goal of the project is to better understand the urban development of the neighborhood in the South-East corner of the ancient city of Pompeii, its relationship with Pompeii’s suburban development along the nearby Sarno river, and the diachronic changes—architectural, economic, and cultural—experienced by this neighborhood’s inhabitants in the centuries preceding the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. In summer 2022 they excavated several rooms, discovering a buried cistern, evidence of pottery production, a latrine, and sacrificial offerings left by builders, among other things. Sam and Sidra shared their experiences with the Humanities Center.

Samantha said “I learned a ton about identifying different artifacts that turn up – knowing bone from fossilized plants and plaster from mortar, not to mention mosaic tiles, nails, sea urchin spines, coins, and so many shards of pottery. On our last day of excavation we had a marathon rush to complete our last open trench before it had to get filled in. We got lots of help from other members of the project, even a journalist who was firing questions away in between handing down buckets. We weren’t sure whether we would finish since we were excavating quarry pits and we didn’t know how far down they would go. But we got lucky and managed to scrape away the last layers of human-deposited dirt from the underlying layers.  It was so rewarding to see the rich brown color of the untouched earth emerge under our trowels. Through this experience  I increased my comfort in stratigraphic excavation, sifting, flotation of biological material, and finds processing. I developed skills in working and communicating with co-workers and learned self-direction in a busy workspace.

The project was as much a community-building experience as a research experience. All 20-odd members of the project lived together in a hostel in modern Pompei. We spent time eating together, chatting, walking to the site, not to mention drinking Peroni’s after work. Spending time getting to know other archaeologists was an incredibly rewarding part of the summer. In our last week of work, members of the project went to visit a uniquely Pompeiian establishment, a combination jean store and gin-and-tonic bar; we’d been eyeing it all summer. We had a fun time just chatting and relaxing and going to bed by 9 for work the next morning.”

Sidra added, “One really great experience was working with Mark Robinson, Professor of Archaeology at Oxford University, in the garden area of our dig site where we did some interesting work. We found a well preserved drain with a drain cover, the top of a cistern, a deep pit filled with ceramics, and Mark led us in flotation. Flotation was my favorite activity, and I was able to sort through some charred bones from animal offerings and what appeared to be latrine waste. Additionally, I found a votive figure head and I was able to carefully clean it myself.  I learned more about teamwork–how to work with people doing unfamiliar (or familiar) things for weeks on end in a new environment–and how to stay curious and ask questions. Things are only “boring” if you don’t care to ask about them!

Jordan was great to work alongside. We were separated for most of the excavation as he was leading a different trench, but we had weekly dinners together and were able to talk about the excavation and what each of us were doing.”