Kayla Farr | Reporter
This past summer, the anthropology department assisted in an excavation in Italy as part of a study abroad. This new program allowed students to participate in primary research in the field.
Nineteen students went on a five-week study abroad trip to Lazio, Italy to uncover over 400 tombs, said Dr. Colleen Zori, a lecturer of anthropology.
“They played a huge role in the way that we do the work there,” Zori said. “We developed new forms for recording information, and students would come back and tell us what worked.”
Austin junior Leah Walsh said students were able to jump right in on the first day at the site.
“The first day we went out, they handed us a walkie-talkie and a GPS unit and told us, ‘Here is your area, go find tombs, bye!’” Walsh said. “We had never worked like that before, and it was a ‘figure it out as you go’ thing. It was crazy because we looked at each other like, ‘What?’”
Students uncovered many artifacts in their dig such as a small bowl, horseshoe nails and a very long, thin arrow used for penetrating armor. Zori said she found dice to be one of the most interesting things they uncovered during their excavation.
“We found them in an area called La Rocca, meaning ‘the rock,’” Zori said. “They were darling. They are bone dice and about two centimeters across. They are just the same as the dice we use today. It’s interesting because you can sort of think about the guards with their weapons, and they would play dice when they got bored. They used them to keep themselves busy and gamble, maybe.”
Austin senior Lama Zakzok said the experience was enlightening, and she enjoyed being out in the field.
“As I look back, the field school really pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to explore in ways I never would have on my own,” Zakzok said. “Even the people that were on the trip with me, we all grew extremely close in such a short span of time due to the extreme situations we had to tackle together. In many ways, it paralleled the experiences of my freshman year; it was a new setting with unfamiliar people and a constant flow of knowledge occurring between distinct minds.”
The experience in Italy and being able to earn six credit hours over the summer made it an indispensible opportunity, Walsh said.
“So many cool things happened every day,” Walsh said. “I think my favorite moment was when I was digging in the trench on the plateau and we were finding all of these arch stones. I thought I had found another one, and then I realized that it was a threshold. And I dusted it off from one end to the other end, and it was a doorway. That was cool because I was able to figure that out for myself without having to ask my professor.”
After working hard during the week, students traveled around Italy during the weekends. Zori said they went to local sites and museums in addition to traveling to Rome and Pompeii.
“We also had the chance to spend a couple of days a lake called Lake Bolsena,” Zori said. “It was lovely because we were at a hotel that had pools and a lake and the students could relax, but we also had them doing post- excavation work. I think the students had a really good balance of getting exposure to Italy.”
Walsh said this experience was not like anything she had done before.
“It was definitely something I’ll never be able to forget,” Walsh said. “It was really fun. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I totally would. It was very different from a classroom setting where they explain it and you get tested on it. It was like you figured out the theory as you were doing it, not before you were doing it.”
Zori said she was impressed with the primary research work the students did during their trip and how well they got along.
“The thing about a field project is that there is a certain chemistry, and this particular group had such an amazing chemistry,” Zori said. “They worked together well, and the students really liked each other. There was a lot of camaraderie, and they pushed each other to give it a hundred percent every day. They were constantly bringing the level up, constantly bringing the energy up, constantly bringing the work up. It really did exceed all of our expectations.”
Zori said the students really bonded during this trip and still spend time together.
“I have been doing field projects for probably 15 years, but I have never been part of a group that all comes from one university,” Zori said. “It’s been fantastic to come back this fall and seeing them hanging out together. This experience has really knit them together as a group.”
Zakzok said she liked how the professors communicated with the students.
“They made sure we were a part of all the major decisions, and it truly felt like the project was ours,” Zakzok said. “We weren’t just there as students or assistants, we were all there as archaeology professionals, and we put our heart and soul into this research.”