Many people ask what a typical day on site looks like when you’re working on an archaeological project, and the truth is in many ways, every day is different, and you never know what might happen. In other ways however, our time here can be quite repetitive! Rather than bore you with a list of our daily routine, we’ve written a “Life in the Day” (yes, you read that right, it’s not a day in the life) to help explain how we spend our days on site!
We arrive from the highway speeding between Arquata Scrivia and Serravalle Scrivia to the small carpark signposted for Libarna. Our site is situated between two railway lines, a highway, and an autostrade (motorway), demonstrating just what an important location it is even in modern times! After bringing up lunch items, machinery, and students, we leave any items we don’t need immediately in the storage room under the visitor’s centre. Libarna is open to the public 6 days a week, (closed on Mondays, following the Italian tradition) and has several wonderful employees who provide great tours for those who visit. Inside the visitor’s centre is a wealth of information – books on excavations, archaeologists, the local area, and a fabulous guide book in Italian and English with some excellent images and reconstructions. It is also where conferences are held throughout the year, we have held one there for the last two years, and our co-directors have appeared via video-link at some other presentations during the winter!
Walking out from the visitor’s centre you are immediately confronted by two major parts of the ancient site – the edge of the forum, and the main section of excavated remains including the amphitheatre and insulae blocks containing shops and houses. These both have spectacular viewing platforms where you can see the site as a whole from above, but they are both accessible for closer viewing too!
Surrounding the excavated remains are working fields, used by the local farmers to grow a variety of different crops. Depending on what the weather has brought the year before, some crops might have been harvested by the time we arrive, and others might still need a little time to grow before we can get into those fields to work. These areas near to the extant remains are one place that we search for undiscovered remains, and in fact during our first season here in 2016 they discovered the Roman baths during some recovery work for the railway. Also during our first year here we labelled all the nearby fields with letters in order to easily distinguish them from each other, and to make it easier to communicate which fields we are talking about. If you ever hear us talk about “field N” or “field E”, that’s why – no secret codes, it’s just easier than saying “that field over there, behind the one with the weird tree and the ditch with the frogs”!
After a morning of working hard in the fields we take a lunch break in the “back yard” of the visitor’s centre, which gives us a great view of the theatre as we eat the sandwiches we made before we left camp, as well as some fruit and maybe a packet of crisps or cookies if we’re feeling generous. The theatre was excavated in the 19th century, and would have seated several hundred spectators. Although this is a Roman site, it has a Greek style theatre, which was not at all unusual for a Roman city. The Romans loved all things Greek, and would have adapted many Greek plays to suit their particular audiences. We can only imagine what a fantastic scene it would have been with a full audience a stage of actors complete with masks and elaborate costumes. This year in fact, the Libarna Arteventi Association organised a troop of actors to put on a performance of Plautus’ “Casina”, originally written in the 2nd Century B.C.!
Sometimes local food trucks park in the Libarna car park, so we might pop down to get some fresh focaccia, farinata (a local delicacy which is a bit like a pancake made with chickpea flour), or a varied selection of fruit! This is also the perfect time for a quick nap (the noise of the constantly running trains soon fades into the background, but it’s the cicadas that will annoy you most), some reading or planning, and generally enjoying the view and each other’s company. We might also get a quick visit from Silvano, Libarna’s caretaker, who is great fun, and allows us to keep all our gear in his garage for 11 months of the year when we’re not using it!
After lunch we have a few more hours work before we get another snack break. This might involve more adventurous work in fields further away from the areas of Libarna that have already been excavated. We know that Libarna was fairly extensive, but the fact that it had no city walls means that we don’t have a very clear idea of where the city finished – it is believed that there was a gate on each side of the city, but whether the activity of the town extended past these gates is unknown…at the moment! It’s something we’re very keen to work on!
By 4pm it’s time to begin packing up our equipment and make our way back to site and then head home to camp. Luckily we are provided with a room at the visitor’s lodge to keep our equipment in overnight, so we don’t have to ship everything back and forth every day. Then we make our way back onto the highway and home to Arquata Scrivia for the evening, which we’ll tell you all about…some other time!