Monday, June 26, 2017

The Friendly Neighbour from the North

A quick report from that Canadian who came to Cosa for a week! My name is Drew Davis, a PhD student from the University of Toronto. From June 12 to the 16th I accompanied Prof. Seth Bernard, also of the University of Toronto, to Cosa to assist in his project to produce a architectural energetics model for the Cosan walls. After an initial rocky start which involved a run in with a flea nest (like come on, fleas??), we spent a productive week measuring individual blocks of the polygonal masonry, drawing drafts of the walls, and taking pictures for photogrammetry. We then went to the other sites in the area which have polygonal walls, including Orbetello, Roselle, and Populonia, to collect comparative data. When I wasn't trudging up and down the walls in the heat, I got to help wash pottery, which is always a blast! While at Cosa, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and work with the whole Cosa Excavations team, all of whom were so accommodating and kind for putting up with me invading their site (and residence) for a week. You guys are awesome! Thank you all for everything! Best of luck with the rest of the season!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Floors were found and cookies were caught

As we finish us our third week, we have had a number of exciting developments in the field. But first, let me introduce Kevin! Kevin is an architect who worked at Cosa with Frank Brown and has returned to help with the architectural plans of the bath. His work is a great asset in helping us to understand the big picture of the bath complex and how our individual trenches fit in within the overall plan.

Examining the architectural plan

Kevin preparing to draw a floor surface

In Laconicum 4 a tile floor was found that was probably the lower surface of a hypocaust system, with many fragments of mosaic above. The tiles have a number of finger swipe designs, including even a footprint!

Tile floor in Laconicum 4 with a large fragment of mosaic leaning against the wall

With effort the large fragment of mosaic was removed from the trench, though possible stone colors and patterns remain to be studied.


Preparing to move the large fragment of mosaic

We see it's face at least!

On the other side of the trench Anthony countinues to excavated a possible drainage feature, giving many of us heart attacks with his trench acrobatics.

Most importantly, Emily and Anthony finally completed their epic cookie challenge  with this wonderful wining shot.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dirt, Death, Glory! (Fighting off Roots)

Dirt, Death, Glory!

F*** this root
I will kill it before break
Victory is nigh.

Battlefield Haiku

It is an auspicious day for digging; the sun beats down, strong and radiant, and the artifacts seem to leap forth from the earth.  Things are progressing nicely as the day marches ever onward, and then, everything changes.  Upon the horizon, appearing from the far meters of the trench, it arises: a tree root. This monstrosity is its own breed of evil.  Bursting forth within nothing else in mind but to destroy architecture and archaeological context.  Nothing could be worse.  I see my noble trenchmates do battle with the foe, only to falter, one by one.  I know my time is coming.  I know I must embrace my fate.

A deep breath of fresh air, possibly one of my last, a saw in one hand, and a pickax in the other, and I am prepared to do battle. My foe is daunting, but weakened from its past battles.  I have the advantage, and mustn't relent.  Alternating strikes from saw and pick, gradually I see the root weaken.  The moment is now and I must not, cannot, falter.  One mighty swing from my pick comes down upon the beast, and all goes dark.

My eyes open slowly, and as the world brightens. My vision is filled with the dismembered remains of the root and the battle is won.  I hear a cacophony of cheers erupt around me, almost deafening (albeit they are more likely than not, entirely in my head).  Regardless, I emerge victorious from my bout, bloodied, but unbroken.  The wall will live on, the trench will thrive, and my trenchmates and I shall live to dig another day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Documentation for Days!!

There are many important tasks and activities that go into archaeology beyond the actually digging-in-the-dirt part. Documentation is one of the most important! Because you can’t put anything back or re-dig it once it’s been dug, carefully recording the process is crucial. Today our trench spent the better portion of the day doing just that! Here’s a look at what goes into making sure everything is recorded for posterity.

We record trenches and finds by "SU" or "stratigraphic unit" - these numbered units can be areas of the trench divided by architectural features or by different types of soil. When we want to close an SU and open a new one (when we find a different color soil, or find a wall, for example), we take lots of photos and measurements. First, we clean the trench! While cleaning dirt may sound impossible, some root clipping and brushing up the loose dirt makes a world of difference!

Amy meticulously cleaning the trench for photos
Our trench, looking lovely and ready for photos!
 Then photos are taken. We try to fit the whole trench in the pictures, and use a north arrow, meter stick, and whiteboard with the SU, date, and trench information for references, scale, and orientation!

The photo tools!
Ann taking photos - the location of our trench requires some balance!
Another cool step of documentation is making a 3D model of the trench. This requires taking a bunch of photos at different angles, and then using a computer program to stitch them all together. This is a great technology for preserving the levels of the trenches as they disappear!

Additional photos are taken to create a 3D model of the trench
Hand drawings are done in addition to the photos. These allow you to see details that can be harder to make out in photos, like whether a wall is make of brick and tile or stone.

A dramatically backlit Ann woks on drawings of the trench
Another form of recording is taking elevations and coordinates of SUs and features. These help the drawings and allow us to record exactly where in trench different things are. We use line levels, measuring tapes, and plumb-bobs to do this. We take points in each corner and sometimes high or low points.

Taking elevations requires several hands!
A fun last step in this process is taking the Munsell color of the soil or features. The Munsell Color System is a standard for recording colors, and you get to match up little samples to the soil, tiles, bricks, stones, mortar, and other materials!

Using the Munsell Color System to record the color of mortar
After all of this information is collected, it is entered into a narrative notebook detailing what was done each day, as well as informational sheets for each SU. This is done for certain finds too! These sheets are finally scanned and digitized.

Ann working on paperwork at lunch - so dedicated to the cause
Some of the paperwork that is filled out for each SU
Once we have carefully documented the details of the trench, we get back into the dirt and continue until we find a new SU!!

Ann and Darby consulting on the next steps - tomorrow we'll be back to moving dirt!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Diggin' in the Mines

Digging can be frustrating work, especially when you run up against massive amounts of wall collapse and difficult-to-move earth. Compound that with a wall that seems to end in the middle of its course, two significantly different stratigraphic units in the same trench, and an olive tree whose roots staked their own claim years ago in that same dirt, snaking their way through rock and rubble, and you get a very interesting (and did I say frustrating?) work day, to say the least.

The Coal Mines

Luckily I’ve had the fortune in my first season here at Cosa of digging with some real badasses. As difficult as our passes may be at times (rock, meet maddox), and as filthy as we all may be at the end of the day (our trench has been lovingly dubbed “the coal mine”—see below for evidence), it helps to know that everyone with whom you share trench duties takes their work seriously, to the point where it’s been difficult for me to keep up with them. These guys work their tails off and its been awesome digging alongside them.



**Not pictured—Jay (see his blog post below) and Sophie (sorry, Sophie, I don't have a picture!!)

While frustration might abound, we did come across two interesting finds at the end of the day on Wednesday. The first was something I came across while moving through a significant layer of rubble—a brick with a strange, raised triangle on one side. A weird brick stamp, I thought. But no one seems to have seen anything like it. Perhaps it is a marker of the production process? Possible. Jay seems to think that it is a map pointing towards Hannibal’s gold. He’s probably right. It pointed East, after all.

It turns out, though, that the triangle pointed to another find. This second object was…unique. I’m not sure I can really even describe it, as modern aesthetic terms can’t capture its essence and singular beauty. I can’t reveal any more at this point, as it needs to be analyzed and interpreted by experts familiar with similar forms of art. We call it the Venus di Cosa, and the closest representation I can think of is below.

Pretty sure Boticelli saw the Venus di Cosa before painting this.

Besides these two finds, though, we have managed to find hundreds of pieces of pottery, some nails, many bones, and a few brick stamps—all in just over half-a-meter of depth. It may not be glorious, but Andrea and Darby assure us that the next half-meter will be kinder to us. We can only hope, but for now we can at least enjoy the work, the company, and the finds. I’m sad to be leaving half-way through the season, as I’m sure there are many interesting features just below our feet. And, of course, there is the fact that I have to leave my trenchmates, from whom I’ve learned so much. One thing’s for sure though. Hannibal’s gold is out there.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Monday in the Magazzino (6/5)

(This was written yesterday, but the wifi was fighting me.)
As we drove home from site today, I thought about what a motley group we make, the seven of us, inhabitants of the Torre, cozy in the minivan. Up front is our trusty driver Dan who has successfully thus far navigated the through the treacherous holes on the hill and through the gate in the still standing polygonal masonry walls of Cosa. Ana has shotgun, navigating for Dan but more importantly she adds Russian words to our Italian words of the day (today’s was pulvero, dust)! Three wide in the middle seat were Anthony with his hair safely secured in his Survivor Buff; Ann, the ‘mom’ to us all, who most often knows what’s happening; and Nora, with her dig bag on her lap and freshly painted blue fingernails freshly matte-ed by a healthy coating of dirt. Finally, in the back backseat are two of us: Jordan, who due to the espresso-like dirt of his trench (Elevated Cistern 3) has been variously called mole-man or compared to a coal miner and me, at the other end of the spectrum, only slightly dusty from Magazzino duty.
What’s the magazzino you may be asking? The magazzino is the storeroom for all the archaeological material both from our current dig, but also from the Cosa excavations going back decades. According to Christina’s precise organization, the light objects from our current project are stowed in neatly stacked, clean cassettas, plastic trays, and heavier, more durable objects are stowed in the lower bins. The potpourri of objects deemed significant enough for more detailed study also live in their own, separate catalog bins. Beyond storage, the magazzino and the courtyard are also where all the processing of finds happens. Objects are brought up to the courtyard every day and after communal washing time before lunch through grumbling stomachs, it’s up to the magazzino staff (currently me, Christie, and Christina) to sort the finds by material- marble, ceramic, bone, glass and other subcategories- noting special features like the lozenge-shaped brick found here and the easily recognized sherd of black gloss pottery over there. We also study the special objects, weighing and measuring and most importantly drawing them, my favorite part.
                Today, after pleasantly drawing some finds during the morning, we were confronted with four large SUs (stratigraphic units) of material to process in the afternoon, and so Christie, Christina, and I buckled down to get through it. We worked through the material like a well-oiled machine (surprising, given that its only our third real day working together).  After sorting this type of pottery from that and dividing up the pieces of tile to keep because of their cool shape or the swoop created by someone’s hand as they pressed the clay into the mold, one of us would fill in our paperwork, while another would weigh the different piles of finds we had spread out over our large table, and the third would write the tags for all the finds so they could be neatly packaged to join the thousands of others on the Magazzino shelves. Surprisingly, we got through it all, and had time to tidy and pack not in a rush to be all set to do it all again tomorrow: to arrive relatively clean, do the archaeology, process material, determine what needs further study, and come down the hill, full of stories from the different corners of site, cozy in the minivan. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

I like turtles!

Hey! Guess what I found on Friday!

No, tweren't no Hannibal's Gold (although I haven't stopped searchin'), but it was the next best thing!


I found them just climbin' around on the dirt pile!


The bandana was because the soil was really dry and powdery, not because I started a bank-robbin' gang with the turtles. (Although, now that you mention it, it's probably a good idea. I'll run it by them.)
Don't worry; after I showed my new friends to everyone on site, I put the turtles back where I found them.

And I know what you're thinking: "Those are tortoises, dummy."

But if I call them tortoises, I can't post this video: