Back to (field) school – Archaeology in Action!

As our arrival in Italy approaches, we’re putting the final touches on our plans for the summer. The aim of our project here at Libarna is, of course, research, but a large component of what we do is the LULP field-school that provides students with a well rounded education in archaeology as well as a real cultural experience in a country most of them are visiting for the first time. This might seem like just a fun summer in Italy, (and it is) but it is so much more too! Most of our students are taking the field-school to earn credit for their University course, so it’s important that we make sure they are really learning a lot and taking everything in from the activities we provide and making the most of their time abroad. We take students from all fields, not just ancient history or archaeology, so for some of our students this is their very first taste of the classical world.

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Learning about archaeological mapping

So how exactly do we go about creating this summer school? When students first arrive we give them a thorough tour of the ancient site and explain a little about what the town would have been like all those years ago. They all receive a copy of the guidebook created by the Libarna Arteventi Association and the Soprintendenza, and after reading it they should all have a good idea of where they will be working, what has been found already, and what we might be expecting to find in the coming years, as well as other basic information on the area in ancient times.

One of the most important things we make the students do is keep a journal for the duration of the season. They are encouraged to keep a personal diary of their time in Italy as well, but their work journal is focused on answering questions that we set for them, taking notes on anything new they learn, and any other archaeology related information they’re introduced to throughout the project.

Daily work in past seasons included anything from working with the GPR or RES machine, setting up grids in new fields in preparation for survey, going out with our drone specialist, looking at pottery and other finds from previous excavations, or working on other specialist tasks. For all of these activities, we set a variety of different questions for students to answer in their journals, for example “explain how to set up a grid”, “why do use grids in the first place”, “what difficulties has X machine had and why”. We also provide compulsory readings based around the techniques we are using, and will set questions in relation to these to ensure they have been thoroughly read and understood!

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Students completing journal entries in the field!

As well as archaeology specific questions, we want to enhance our students’ appreciation and experience of the local culture, so we encourage them to think carefully about life in Italy and ask them about what differences they notice between America and Italy. We expect them to note something daily, even if it’s just a few words – “water always comes without ice”, “you have to pack your own bags at the grocery store” and “ketchup tastes different” have all been past answers! This may not seem particularly academic, but it’s an easy and effective way to encourage the students to really think about these little differences between our cultures. We also ask what their perceptions are when they first arrive and then how they have changed by the end of the season.

In addition to journal questions and the main activity of data collection, we also have the students participate in smaller tasks where they learn about other aspects of archaeology such as phenomenology (the study of consciousness and how individual experiences affect the way we think about things)mapping, and learning how geography affects sites both in our archaeological study of them but also in the founding of towns and colonies thousands of years ago.


We also take the opportunity of being on site to show them pottery and other small finds from previous excavations at Libarna, and talk to them not just about our pottery, but how it is examined and processed once it has been excavated, including recognition of diagnostic pieces, labelling, and drawing of archaeological diagrams. There are also a great deal of other things that have been excavated such as bones and beads that we can examine and teach them about.


Now obviously after a week hard at work, we all need a little break at the weekend, but we do require students come to an archaeological museum in the city we send them to, where we will give them a guided tour, talk to them about the area and how it links to Libarna, and in a few museums we can even show them some exciting finds from our site! The cities we visit at the weekends are Genoa, Milan, and Turin, which all have excellent archaeological museums – if you ever find yourself in Italy make sure you check them out!

We are also incredibly lucky to have a museum very close to site in the neighbouring town of Serravalle Scrivia. The Town Hall houses the Capurro Collection, which contains about 60 finds from excavations in the 19th and 20th centuries. Giovanni Francesco Capurro was a (rather unconventional) priest from the town of Novi Ligure, about 6 miles north of Libarna, who tried to save finds from excavations and display them in a museum in order to encourage ordinary people to visit and learn about the area and not simply specialists. His whole life’s focus was on helping the less fortunate, whether that was teaching children the alphabet or creating a free and public museum for everyone to enjoy. We are so lucky that we have this little museum to explore, and incredibly grateful to Giovanni Francesco Capurro for creating it, and the council of Serravalle Scrivia for maintaining it today!

Melania giving our students a tour of the Capurro Collection

Of course, all of these activities take place alongside data collection, which forms a huge part of our daily routine, but is not the be-all and end-all of our project. This field school is about so much more than just collecting data, both for the staff and the students. We want to help create well rounded human beings, educated in archaeological techniques, knowledgeable about the local culture, and experienced in working and socialising with a diverse group of people.

We like to think of this field-school as more than just archaeology – it’s a holistic education experience. Even if you’re not with us in Italy, we hope you too can get something out of our work in Italy through these blogs!



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