Archaeological Dig Uncovers Artifacts, Brings Students Closer

Photo courtesy of San Giuliano Archaeological Research Project

Arthur Wang | Reporter

This summer, the San Giuliano Archaeological Research Project will begin a season of excavations, looking to uncover a medieval castle and a number of tombs.

St. Louis senior Emily Varley has been working on the project since the summer of 2017. She plans to return this year to finish her research and to get a better understanding of the landscape through the use of drone photography.

“My project is aiming to understand how the medieval fortifications and habitation zones is a social space, and what are the implications of the site and the social interactions that happened in that space in the medieval time period,” Varley said.

Not all of the students began as History or anthropology majors. San Antonio senior Anna Gibbs said she decided to switch from an elementary education major to an anthropology major after she joined the project her freshman year.

“I went because the professors who run it [Davide and Colleen Zori] were working with me in the the Baylor Interdisciplinary Corps (BIC,) and I kind of just felt an urge to go and then it ended up becoming just something I really got passionate about,” Gibbs said.

The work conducted on the project is split between excavation, where artifacts are extracted from the site and lab work, where artifacts are classified and research is conducted. While several of the tombs that the project had excavated in the project’s early seasons were already looted, the locals that the project works with have helped reveal the locations of various tomba fossae (special underground tombs).

“So while most of the graves we’re digging are tombs that you walk inside and are kind of cave-like in the rock face, these tombs are in the ground,” Gibbs said. “It’s rare that you find tombs that haven’t already been looted, so we’re usually finding scraps of material or pieces of bone. In these tomba fossae, we found full human skeletal remains, and tons of pottery and ceramic, tons of bronze and things like bronze fibulae, which are pins, bronze chains, full vessels.”

In addition to the research and archaeological discoveries done on the project, the students who join the program often become close friends with one another — in part because the groups of students who go are fairly small, being roughly 20 students each season.

“Any field school is a lot of work, and so the students usually walk away after a week really close, because you really have to rely on each other because it is a lot of work,” Varley said. “It’s a lot of physical work, and so I would say within the first week, it almost feels like a month has gone by in regular time just because the students have gotten so close after working in such close quarters, and especially at our site in San Giuliano. They have to rely on each other to finish the excavation and accomplish something that stands up to professional archaeological standards.”

Both Varley and Gibbs said they intend to return to the project this summer – both to continue work on the project and to help new students out.

“If anything, I really hope this summer to return in the capacity of almost a student mentor to future students because I think undergraduate research is really important,” Varley said.