Charlotte Cowdery, Summer Internship Abroad 2017, Santa Susana Project: Portugal

Posted on November 9th, 2017 by

Archaeology: some people think it’s an exciting glamorous discovering-Pompeii kind of life, while others think all we do is dig around in the dirt. As I learned on my dig this summer, the reality is somewhere in between. All I knew about the site upon arrival was that it was a Roman Villa, first built around 400 BCE. I had seen no pictures of the site, or the town, only of the surrounding countryside. Essentially, I was going in blind.

I thought archaeology consisted of meticulously removing layer by layer of dust without damaging priceless artifacts, so imagine my surprise when I was handed the pickaxe, told that I ”should just go for it” because the dirt was hard as rock. As a geologist, I can tell you that is true. I would’ve had an easier time getting through fluorite than getting through that dirt. I worked so gingerly that I barely got anything done, until Monte, an Australian guy on our dig, smashed a Terra Sigillata bowl into pieces and the head of our dig said “That’s ok, you just made more archaeology!” There was plenty of sweat, dirt, and dust but our beautiful fig tree, which shaded the site, gave us ample cover through our 110 plus degree-days of digging. We had no rain, but we did have a windstorm that forced us to take shelter in a nearby church where we made a cool discovery: the Virgin Mary was seated on a marble column capital that was likely from our site!

The way the villa had been used over the years kept expanding. We found a flowerbed from the 1800’s in what used to be a hallway; some Roman quarried granite blocks in the walls of the 1940’s house built right through the middle of the villa; and a coin hoard on top of the roof, likely from a family running from invaders towards the end of the Roman empire’s rule in Portugal.

Besides all the amazing insights I gained into the ancient world, staying in the modern (or semi modern) town of Redondo was an amazing experience as well. We ate in a small place with only one stove barely big enough to fit our 20-person crew every day. We made friends with the pack of wild town dogs, danced traditional Portuguese 1700s dances, and taught the locals the Cotton Eyed Joe. Portugal and archaeology captured my heart this summer, and I cannot thank the people who gave me this opportunity enough.

This image y Mentnafunangann – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18074572

 

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