Missing Libarna

We’re gearing up for the Libarna Urban Landscape Project’s second season which means we have spent many months missing the lush canyons of Alessandria, the Serravalle River, the enchanting ruins of the Libarna itself, and of course, our fantastic first crop of students. This July, we will have a whole batch of new faces, but for now, we thought it would be fun to take a look back and let TTU undergraduate, Chloe Morris, share some of her favorite memories of Libarna.

Being part of the Libarna Urban Landscape Project has been life changing. Before I came on this trip I didn’t know exactly what the archaeological process looks like and I’d never been to Europe, now I know about both! Although I already know that survey isn’t the exact career I want I still think it is critical to understand and appreciate the entire process. It feels amazing to know that I helped collect the data to make future discoveries possible. I also loved being able to see the many different aspects (of archaeology) with us surveying, the soprintendenza excavating the baths, and the rest of site that is open to the public. It also felt really cool to be working a lesser known site that could possibly be a big attraction in the future.

We were very lucky to have such wonderful people in the town that cared so much about our work and were happy to have us here. It emphasizes the social and diplomatic aspects of the job. I loved the emphasis that was put on visiting amazing museums every weekend. It gave a lot of information about the people and cultures that thrived here, and how they differed from other Roman peoples, and why we want to study them. I really can’t think of a better way to get course credits than work on an influential project and travel through Italy.

One of my favourite parts about the trips was the people. There’s no bonding like forced bonding, and it does the trick. Everyone (staff) is so well educated in different areas and it is so nice to be able to get different perspectives and advice. Overall I would say the first season of the LULP was a definite success and I wish to return!

We miss you Chloe and wish you the best (Psst! Anytime you want to come by and grid, you’re more than welcome!).

“Tall Nana Beep-Beep”

As foreigners conducting archaeological research in Italy, it’s imperative to remember that our roots here are only as deep as our resistivity probes. Yet, our work is very invasive, requiring us to ask people all over the landscape to allow us into their backyards. Time and time again, we’ve been given a fantastic welcome, however, we feel that this warmth and kindness deserves the same from us.

Which leads us to a primary goal of the Libarna Urban Landscape Project. We are invested in making this project give back to the community in a meaningful way. Archaeological research should not only serve the investigators and academics conducting their work, it should also serve the community where this research is performed. Each year, we spend just a month or two surveying, or digging in some place far away. But for those who call this home, our visit here is temporary, and oftentimes they will never see our publications or artifacts uncovered.

Ancient Libarna is part of a living landscape with residents who passionately love their past and wonder what lies beneath their feet. What they feel for their home requires more from us than an introduction and permission slips allowing us to traipse about their property. So to get things started off right, this past Sunday, we threw an afternoon gathering for the local landowners where we all could eat, drink, and be merry while introducing the mission of the LULP.

Even after distributing flyers throughout town (with one taped up in our current home, the San Stefano compound), we were afraid nobody would come! Nevertheless, we prepared to impress with plenty of wine, cheese, and bread to accompany our demonstration. Happily, within moments of our arrival in “Field V,” we were met by about two dozen local landowners, townspeople, and some very supportive members of the Soperentendenza’s Office who helped us explain what it is we want to accomplish here in Libarna.

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With one table full of aperitifs and another covered with our data, we dove in! Alessandro gave us an amazing introduction and then the toys came out. Mike, with the very talented Sabrina as translator, explained what Dronina was up to buzzing above everyone’s fields. The moment the drone took to the sky, everyone took out their phones and snapped pictures, there were even a few excited squeals from the younger members of the crowd!

After Dronina touched down, it was Dr. Nana Friedman’s turn to show off our magnetometer. She dazzled with a few demonstrations of just how magnetic our audience members were. Now, if you’ve never had someone come at you with a mag unit, it’s a pretty silly experience and Nana had everyone laughing in a matter of minutes. After the ice was well and truly broken, some serious bonding ensued. San Stefano’s priest, Don Lucca gave us a visit and more people trickled through as the afternoon carried on.

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Our data was a hit, and while we’ve only been able to survey a few fields with mag, res, and Dronina, what we have found is promising. The curiosity and hope that we share with these people is a testament to the power this place and the past itself holds over us. But as usual in archaeology, all was not scientific and sentimental, there was plenty of fun to be had as well!

To the other staff members delight, our guests taught us that, in Italian, “nana” means runt or dwarf, something our Nana definitely is not. This earned her the nickname, “Tall Nana Beep-Beep.” A few celebratory glasses of prosecco later, and one particularly entertaining guest set this to the tune of a Bob Marley song, so now, much like your favorite superhero, Nana has her own theme music.

We couldn’t be more pleased at the wonderful time we had with those who have genuinely opened up their homes to us. We are truly honored to be here and are grateful for the trust they place in us.




A Note From Our Students

Student participation is a massively important component of what we hope to accomplish through the LULP. One of the primary goals of our work is to create a thriving field school here at Libarna where budding archaeologists, and lovers of Italy’s ancient past, can follow the physical remains of the city from survey through to specialist analysis. This season, we have a relatively small student contingent made up of four students from Texas Technical University and one from Boise State University. These five very hardworking learners are doing a fantastic job and as they represent a key part of the future of this site, we wanted to give one very enthusiastic participant a voice on the blog this week! So without further ado, meet Texas Tech student, Melisa Franklin:

Our students with the San Stefano priest, teens, and Marco.

It’s been 11 years since I last left the States. Traveling has always been a dream of mine, so when I heard of this study abroad opportunity in Serravalle Scrivia, I figured it was about time that I did something exciting. Not only am I getting the chance to experience life in Italy, I’m getting to learn all about archaeology on the ancient site of Libarna.

Archaeology has always been intriguing to me since I was a child. Just in the past week of being here and working on the field, I have learned so much. We are surveying new fields in Libarna to find ancient ruins underneath the ground using different equipment such as the DGS, magnetometer, and resistivity machine.

I never realized how much work goes into the beginning process of an archaeological dig. The days are hot and long, the machines are heavy, and the terrain can be tricky (I realized this when I watched Dr. Friedman fall into the “Marinara Trench” while walking towards me). There are cuts and bruises all over my legs, and I definitely look forward to every juice break we get, but it is all worth it.

Knowing that I am one of the few people to start the process of this archaeological excavation on a site that has barely been dug up is what gets me up at 7 AM every morning. I’m looking forward to seeing all of the data I’ve helped to collect by the time our program is over. Knowing that one day, the site that I helped to survey will be dug up and ancient ruins and artifacts will most likely be found and possibly put into a museum more than excites me!

Living in Italy is also amazing. Touring places like Rome and Pompeii would be a blast, but getting to live in a small town and getting to experience how life is here in the north truly brings me happiness. Everything feels so relaxed. After a long day in the field, I come home (aka, the church) and I can enjoy the outdoors. I walk into town and buy a pastry and a cappuccino, I play soccer and hang with the young Italian people that visit the church (the language barrier isn’t a problem because everyone is so friendly here.

Every night the whole team comes together for dinner and we eat and socialize, play card games or listen to music. There are no TV’s in the church but Simon does have a small speaker and I loved it when “Bohemian Rhapsody” came on and I couldn’t help but jam out. I also never realized how smooth the church floors were until I pulled the perfect moon walk to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”

I love being around a group of intelligent and beautiful people individuals. I am so inspired by many of them and with the others, I feel as though we’ve been friends for forever. Has it really only been a week?

The Rise of the Machines

It’s week one of the maiden season of the Libarna Urban Landscape Project and the machines are taking over! Our work this year is focused on geo-physical methods of archaeological investigation. We will be conducting extensive surveys of the fields surrounding Libarna’s archaeological park using resistivity, magnetometry, digital GPS, and drone photography. What this means for us, of course, is that the Cylons have invaded, the machines have arisen, and as always, there are a few glitches in the Matrix!

So, why aren’t we digging? Libarna as an archaeological site has seen a fair bit of activity throughout the last 300 years. Most of that, however, has not been for scholarly research purposes. The first historical descriptions of the site after its abandonment in the 5th century CE, date to the 18th century. Few investigations of the site have been academic and only a limited number of them resulted in publications as these were mostly rescue ventures conducted to preserve the site in the wake of regional development.

Because so little written documentation has survived to tell us what was done, where, and why, our work this year is focused on creating a more complete picture of previous excavations and ascertain the extent of the city before any potential excavations. This will help tell us where to focus our efforts in the coming seasons and supply the project with a better picture of the layout of the city itself. For this and the next two weeks, we will be working with the local landowners and the office of the Sopirentendza to survey the fields surrounding the excavated site along with some of the visible remains as well.

For the first few days, we have been focusing on an adjacent field to the archaeological park where we’re conducting resistivity and magnetometry surveys. In many ways, this is our testing ground. Since this field runs alongside a busy rail line and happens to fall directly beneath several large power lines, properly calibrating the units and scanning our grids has been a bit of a challenge. It’s certainly put our very patient and eager student team through their paces, but the Scrivia River running alongside the site has given them some well needed chill time when we’re not hard at work.

Meanwhile, darting about the site, our drone team has been introducing “Dronina,” our nimble and very cute little drone, to Libarna. Texas Tech graduate student, Mike Boyles, and Dr. Sesha Wallace have been flying Dronina all over the site giving us an aerial view of the landscape and, potentially, the structures beneath. We’re very excited for Mike’s work! This coming Sunday, we will be hosting a local outreach demonstration to give the farmers surrounding the city a better idea of what the crazy archaeologists are doing with all of their toys.

While this is a great way to introduce our project to the community, we also hope that the landowners will benefit from our survey work. Once collected, some of Dronina’s pictures and footage will go to the farmers, giving them a very fun resource with which to visualize their holdings. So far, the response from the community has been incredibly encouraging and curiosity abounds. Dronina is quickly becoming the star of the season, at least as far as the locals are concerned! It seems our team is simply here to serve the machines. Wait, isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

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