We love working at Libarna and believe it has so many stories to tell us about Roman life. We are already planning the 2021 field season which promises to be amazing. However, we must confront the elephant which is sheltering in place. The 2020 season will not be occurring. The social disruption is too great and the unknowns are too many. This is a major disappointment to us both as researchers and as friends of Serravalle and Arquata. We hope that our Italian colleagues are well. If you want to learn more about them we have earlier blog posts about the rangers and about the community.
However, we also need your help- we started a crowdfunding campaign before the season was delayed and despite the change in global circumstances, we must see it through. We are asking for small donations- just a few dollars to help us reach our goal. Please visit our page to learn more. All funds raised will go to the 2021 season.
Please stay safe and take care of each other. We will have more blog posts soon to entertain you all as we practice social distancing!
After much debate, we have decided that our excavation season will proceed as planned. The pandemic of Covid 19 is serious and it is especially concerning for us since we are working in Italy. In order to be best informed, we are in daily contact with public health officials, epidemiologists, and doctors. (For example, individuals such as Dr. Michael Friedman, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration who also worked for the National Institutes of Health. He also served on the Federal Bioterrisom Response Taskforce after 9/11. Dr. Eleanor Friedman, an epidemiologist who wrote a thesis on the SARS coronavirus and quarantine efforts in Singapore. We are also getting updates and information from other doctors who are similarly qualified but not related to Nana.)
With all of this information, we have decided not to cancel or delay our plans to begin excavation this summer for a few reasons
All the experts we are in contact with are suggesting we proceed with caution but not panic
As we start excavation in June we have time to further monitor the situation and make informed decisions
We have connections with the Italian community and we consider each other family. We know no matter what the crisis we would receive excellent support from them if required.
So far there is no reason not to press ahead with our plans. Please know we are taking precautions to ensure the health of our students and staff, which is our utmost concern. We will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves. We will continue to update everyone as we move forward.
Libarna is a fascinating place! Just like today, back in Roman times, Italy had a great deal of regional cultural diversity. The region where Libarna is located was multiethnic, settled by Romans, Etruscans, and the Liguri, a Gallic tribe. Our big questions are: what made life in Libarna unique and how can we see this in the archaeological remains? We have demonstrated the archaeological potential of the site with our geophysical research.
We begin excavations this summer and want to bring you along! Get insider information through our newsletter which we send exclusively to our donors, communicate with students and staff, and know that you are supporting new archaeological research.
For as little as $5 you can help support this exciting project and become a member of the extended LULP team! Your donation, small or large, empowers our mission of exploration, education, and community engagement. All funds will be used directly by the project. Please donate what you can and mention our research on social media.
So far LULP has mainly been concentrating on non-invasive surveys at Libarna. But this summer that will all change when we open up our first trenches. Archaeology has a number of sub-disciplines, it’s not just wielding pickaxes! (Though that also requires a lot of skill to be safe. Ask Katie, she will give you a 20-minute lecture on using a pickax as a precision instrument.)
But back to the point, now we will have small finds like coins, faunal evidence like animal bones, and botanical evidence like seeds. Our new specialists will study the material we excavate properly in order to get as much information about the past as possible. So as our project grows in new directions so does our staff. But who are these new faces? In Part 1 we will highlight Osteoarchaeology- which translates from ancient greek as “ancient bone studies.”
Bones are great pieces of evidence for archaeologists. While another organic matter decomposes, bones are more likely to survive in the archaeological record. From them, we can learn what kind of animals people farmed with or ate. Or if we are lucky enough to find a grave we can learn about the humans themselves. For example, let’s use a non-copyright stock image.
I am not an Ostearcheologist. So what can I tell you about this bone? Its a jaw of a plant-eater. I am guessing it belonged to a sheep or goat ….maybe. Needless to say, this amount of information is not good enough. (I may do a post on metal objects just so I can show off and recover from this public failure.) But, this example does show why it was important to add an Osteoarcheologist to the team.A true expert could answer a number of questions. What animal did the jaw bone come from? What was the general health of the animal? Looking at the wear on its teeth what how old was it when it died? Was it used for meat, wool, or milk? All of this information is vital when trying to reconstruct the daily lives of Libarna’s inhabitants.
So meet Chloe
Chloe studied at the Univerisity of Sheffield in the UK where she recently graduated with a Master’s of Science in Osteorachaology. She is Australian by birth and she received her BA from the University of Melbourne in Classics and Ancient History. She has participated in digs in Europe and Australia. Also, she recently won a poster competition at the Australian Archaeological Association’s annual meeting. We are glad to have her with us!
But she is not the only new team member. Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing you to others! So stay tuned. Also, I am sure when Chloe sees this post she will identify the animal and email me.
As we are deep in the winter season and the natural forces of rain, wind, and snow become more and more vicious we thought this would be a good time to tell you about some incredible people we know in our Italian “hometown” – Arquata Scrivia.
Italy has its fair share of natural disasters – flooding, storms, and earthquakes to name but a few, but how do they plan a rescue response? The police force, medics, and fire department preform heroic services but additionally, there are Gruppo Rangers Volontari, or volunteer groups, all across Italy. In Arquata Scrivia the local Rangers have a rescue and training base. In the summer for the month we are in town they allow us to use it as our accommodation, which we usually refer to as “the lodge”. We transform their workspace into our bedrooms, kitchen, and office. However, even with us there the Rangers are prepared to deploy at a moment’s notice!
Move-in day to the Ranger Station 2018!
In between our cots and supplies are safety helmets, resuscitation dolls (good for the middle of the night practical jokes), safety posters, and of course the many many awards that the Rangers have collected all over the walls. After two years, we thought it was about time we learned a lot more about the Rangers and their important work. It’s only fair to share that information with all of you!
We spoke with the current Chief Ranger, Gian Paolo Gifra who was proud to tell us of this history of Arquata’s Rangers. He told us that throughout Italy, there are many independent groups; ordinary citizens, bakers, shopkeepers, teachers, dentists, etc. who train in rescue and first aid in order to assist when disaster strikes. The Arquata Scrivia Rangers were founded in 1985 and originally comprised of an association of men working on horseback. They maintained and preserved the forests surrounding the town. A lot more work goes into sustaining a forest than you might think! Paths need to be cleared, damaged and sick trees need to be removed and wild animal populations need to be kept in check! Careful forest management means the woods are safe for people to work in and enjoy while providing food and fuel to the surrounding community.
After a few years, the group began to expand its mission helping control wildfires and rescuing stranded hikers. They eventually graduated from horses to specially equipped Range Rovers! The Gruppo Rangers Volontari started training in advanced rescue skills so that they would be prepared for any future disasters.
The people of the city of Alessandria (located about 40 minutes from Arquata) were grateful for this foresight as the first major emergency the Rangers dealt with was on November 6th, 1994. The Tanaro River Basin experienced devastating flooding and the city of Alessandria was particularly hard hit leading to many deaths. The Gruppo Rangers Volontari provided assistance. They rescued trapped locals from the water and mud damaged areas and provided life-saving logistics – bringing in blankets, food, and helping with temporary housing.
After this major event, there was a governmental push to recognize all of the local associations of small volunteer rangers. Although they kept their name, they became part of the Protezione Civile – Piedmonte, Civil Protection Association of Piedmonte, which recognized them as an official volunteer group. At that point, standards were set nationwide for training ensuring that everyone was fully trained and qualified before going out into dangerous situations. This change ensured that every member both present and in the future would have the necessary skills and knowledge to be truly helpful in a disaster situation. Arquata’s Rangers were up to the challenge of meeting these standards and they have grown stronger since then. This recognition also meant that they can be called to work on national emergencies if required.
And required they have been. Arquata Scrivia and the province of Alessandria are proud that their Rangers have been awarded many medals and certificates of merit. They assisted with the flood of Grondona in 1995, the Umbria earthquake in 1997 (they were awarded a medal by the Ministry of the Interior), the flood of Casale Monferrato and Morano sul PO in 2000, and the earthquake of April 2009 in Abruzzese.
The Rangers’ Facebook page is filled with pictures like this- here Chief Gian Palo Grifa helps people (and animals) in a disaster zone.
The group runs entirely on public donations – they must pay for their insurance and equipment, although the local commune (council) has donated a building with office and workspace (which is what we take over in the summer!) in which they can hold meetings, training sessions, and store all their equipment and cars.
Like the rest of Arquata, these folks welcome us and the students each summer. They provide support to our archaeological endeavors; without them, LULP would not be able to function. So hats off to Arquata’s Rangers! Like the rest Arquata Scrivia we are glad to know if the worst should happen, we have them nearby! If you want to know more about them please visit their page on Facebook!
Hey everyone! Are you a student looking for a summer project? Or do you know any students who might be interested? We are recruiting right now for summer! Please contact us to learn more. As you can see from our pictures our students have a blast learning about archaeology and Italy all while earning university credits. See our Field School page for more information.
In our previous post we explained why we’ve been radio-silent for the last few months, but just because we’re quiet, it doesn’t mean nothing is going on!
We have been working hard behind the scenes to keep LULP up and running, and ensuring that we are fully prepared for our first excavation season in 2020.
One of our co-directors, Dr. Katie V. Huntley, travelled to Italy this summer for what we call “a research season” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – no digging but lots of time spent in archives and museums…researching!
Read below for her report from the 2019 “research season”
Being in the field is exhilarating and there is nowhere in the world I’d rather be than at Libarna. However, there is a lot of important archaeological work that takes place off-site. Those of you that read this blog and follow LULP will already know this. It’s the reason why we might sometimes seem to disappear but we are always working away, whether it’s forging relationships within the communities around Libarna, recruiting students to our fieldschool, dealing with the nuts and bolts of organizing the field work, writing reports of work for the Soprintendenza, or doing the required bureaucratic paperwork for our permits.
This summer, we were unusually quite, but boy were we busy! I made an expedition to Torino (Turin to English speakers), where the Soprintendenza Archaeologia Belle Arte e Paessagio per le Province di Alessandria Cuneo e Asti (SABAP-AI for short) is located. Also in Torino is the incomparable Museo di Antichita (Museum of Antiquity), one of the Musei Reali di Torino (museums housed in Turin’s Royal Palaces).
Nicole Inghilterra, another member of our team, came along to assist me in completing the two goals I had for the summer:
To get an idea of the breadth of the museum’s collection of artefacts from Libarna, and how it is organized.
Read and digitize some of the reports from previous excavations at Libarna, particularly those carried out to the south of the archaeological park (fields we have designated as A and B).
Dr Huntley exploring the archives!
Here’s what we found in the museum: there is a lot of material from Libarna – thousands of artefacts from excavations carried out at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century through some of the more recent excavations of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Archaeological excavations are great, but they produce a tremendous burden on museums and other repositories of cultural heritage that end up housing those artefacts. All of those finds represent a ton of information about life at Libarna.
One of the ways that I hope LULP will grow in the future is to develop some specific projects to study these materials. We got a very small start in our mission to create a massive database of artefacts from Libarna with materials excavated in 1911 and in the 1940s, which included oil lamps, bronze vessels, and metal implements. We are waiting on permission from the museum to show some images of those artefacts with you, so stay tuned!
Our work in the archives was equally as productive. One of the most important things we learned is that during the 1990s, Field A underwent extensive excavation. We had previously been working under the assumption that a small trench was excavated in that field, but it turns out that the entire field was excavated! Knowing this helps us understand why our GPR data in that field was so incredibly clear.
The soil, disturbed by the excavations was much less dense than the archaeolgoical features, which allowed those features to come through so clearly. The original archaeological report was rather brief and didn’t offer much information on the structures found or any sort of updated map of the area. This makes our GPR data particularly useful. We can fill in all that information left out of the report and incorporate it into Libarna’s map, all without having put trowel to soil!
So what does this mean for our excavations moving forward? We had planned to start in Field A, but now that we know the extent of the excavations, it has made us rethink our strategy slightly. We will probably still put a trench in Field A – it appears that the excavations in the 1990s did not go down below the imperial layers (the 1st cent.), so there is probably good stratigraphic information still preserved below that can help us understand the earlier period of Libarna’s life. Since those later strata have been destroyed, we will probably also put a trrench in another area of the site where those layers have not been disturbed. We are currently trying to figure out where that will be….More on that to come!
One of the best aspects of our expedition was getting to work with Dr. Simone Lerma, the SABAP-AI’s funzionario archeologico of the site of Libarna. He is the archaeologist in charge of managing and maintaining Libarna and he oversees all the research carried out on the site. LULP would not be able to function without the help and support of Dr. Lerma, so we are eternally grateful for all of his assistance.
Dr Lerma took over the management of Libarna in 2018 and this trip was a good opportunity for him to get to know us, and LULP as a team. As we’ve noted before, excavation destroys the site and produces a substantial burden on the SABAP-AI and museum to care for the structures and artefacts, so it is vitally important to build trust before we are allowed to start digging.
Overall it was a short, but extremely productive expedition that has given us some ideas about possible new directions that LULP could venture out into. Who knows what exciting places we might end up!
So there you have it – the report from our first “research season”. As with any season, whether it is research, survey, or excavation, there are a great deal more questions to answer by the end than the number you started with! We hope to be able to update you with answers to some of these questions over the coming weeks, months, and years, as we continue our research into the wonderful town of Libarna.
We have not been active for a while and you may have been wondering what is going on…Over the past few years we have been truly touched by the support and encouragement we have received online, on the ground in Italy, throughout the USA, and even across the globe. It is because you share our enthusiasm for Libarna and LULP that we knew an announcement like this would be disappointing. After much deliberation, we decided that it was best to postpone the start of excavations until summer 2020.
This was due to a variety of different complications, so good and some bad. It’s been a difficult year for some in our personal lives and in terms of health. For others there have been exciting developments like new job opportunities and we also have a new member of the LULP team – the addition of a beautiful baby girl in May!
With these various complications and obligations in our lives, we realised that it would not be possible for us to conduct the quality of fieldwork that Libarna deserves. We want to emphasize our commitment to Libarna and the local communities of Arquata Scrivia and Serrvalle Scrivia. We will be back in the field in July 2020 when we will begin excavating two trenches located in one of Libarna’s insula (a city block with houses, shops etc.).
For now, we will be focusing on some of the other necessities of an archaeological project: publication and grant writing. We have two papers in the pipeline – one is a report on our last field season and the other is about those amazing crop marks that helped us to flesh out Libarna’s urban plan in 2017. (If you don’t know what we’re talking about, check out our previous blog all about crop marks!) We will let you know when those are published.
We can’t wait to get back into the field and continue our research into life at Libarna and the mechanisms of Roman colonialism. Libarna has so much more to tell us! Expect more content from us as we begin to gear up for an exciting new season!
For more regular updates make sure you are following us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at @LibarnaULP
It’s been a little while since we last posted on the blog, but lots has been going on behind the scenes. A little over 5 months have passed since we returned from Italy, but that doesn’t mean work has stopped, oh no! We’ve been as busy as ever making sure that everything is in place for this summer’s excavation. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, after 3 years of survey we are finally getting to the good stuff – digging! Of course, survey is very important, it would be unconscionable to excavate without having done all of this preparation, and we’ve loved every minute but….we’d be lying if we said the excavation wasn’t the bit we all look forward to the most! Less “sun, sea and sand”, more “sun, sweat and soil”, but we love it!
So what have we actually been doing these last 5 months? Lazing around dreaming of Italy? Of course, but there’s real work to be done if we want to make our dreams of excavation a reality. Almost immediately after returning from Libarna, our co-directors Katie and Nana began work on a paper about our results over the last few years to present at the AIA (Archaeological Institute of America) annual conference which took place just a few weeks ago in San Diego. With over 3,000 attendees from over 30 countries, the conference is a great way to share LULP’s research and the history of Libarna with the rest of the archaeology world. Thousands of researchers apply to present their work here, and we are very fortunate to have been accepted for two years running. And even more fortunately, we were a lot warmer this year in San Diego than we were last year in Boston….I’m shivering just thinking about it. The LULP team is not built for the cold, that’s why we work in Italy!!
Anyway, so after putting in our application to the AIAs, our focus turned to summer 2019. There are very precise rules and regulations in place when it comes to archaeology in Italy, and particularly excavation. We were granted a 3 year survey permit in 2015 by the Soprintendenza (Italian governmental archaeology department) but now we had to go through a much more rigorous process in order to apply for an excavation permit, known as a “permesso”. Without boring you too much, we basically have to include a short essay outlining what we plan to do, what research questions we hope to answer and why it is important to increasing knowledge of the ancient world. We then have to provide proof of our financial abilities to carry out this work and also to cover a governmental tax which helps pay for conservation and storage of anything we find. In Italy, anything we uncover while excavating is owned by the government and cannot leave the country. Once it has been excavated it obviously needs to be carefully conserved and stored, and since we’re the ones that dug it up…we have to contribute a certain amount to help fund that conservation. After all that, we have to hand over personal documents like passports of all the staff members, sign a load of forms renouncing our claim to anything we find, and complete other various bits of paperwork. You see where I’m going with this, there’s a lot to be done. Oh, and did I mention….it’s all got to be done in Italian!! What a nightmare. Thankfully, we’ve sent it all off and, despite a slight delay courtesy of the Poste Italiane, it has arrived and is being considered as we speak.
Now alongside the paperwork for the permesso, we have also had to search for some new members of the LULP team. We’ve had a great time over the last few years working with each other, and at first it might seem a bit strange to have a few new faces, but we’re very excited to spread the word about how amazing Libarna is with even more researchers and archaeologists. Obviously, survey and excavation are very different, and with excavation comes finds and with finds come specialists! Of course, we don’t know exactly what will be uncovered when we start digging, but we have a good idea of what has been found during previous excavations in the area, so we can make an educated guess as to what kind of specialists we will need. We have several new team members joining us, including pottery and archaeobotany specialists, and some Italian archaeologists familiar with working in this kind of soil and location who will be assisting our students and making sure everything in the trenches runs smoothly. We’ll post a blog soon introducing you to our new crew, so keep an eye out.
In addition to all of that, we have also been working hard with our contacts in Italy to organise accommodation and food for our team while we’re out there. It’s not easy trying to find somewhere that ticks all of our very particular boxes, but we have some great friends out there who work incredibly hard to accommodate our needs as best they can! Our requirements are slightly different this year because we’re excavating, so we will be more numerous, more hungry, and certainly more dirty than in the past. 4 showers between us is just not going to cut it this summer! Fortunately, it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be to get all that sorted, and now it’s all done we can focus on the remaining tasks that need to be completed before we arrive in just 5 months time!
Very importantly, as we are a field school, we need students! Applications for our 2019 field school are now open so check out our field school tab for information on what you could learn and how to apply.
And finally, the last big task before we can fly out to Italy is fundraising…we had an incredibly successful fundraising campaign last year, raising well over what we were asking. Our generous donors helped pay for the month-long loan of our GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) machine, which gave us some fabulous results and helped us choose where we will be excavating this summer. We were overwhelmed by the response! This year we are running two campaigns, a donation drive and a crowdfunding campaign. The donation drive is Italy based, and dozens of kind souls have donated the use of their pickaxes, buckets, shovels, and wheelbarrows for us to use during the summer. It has been so wonderful to reach out to the local people around Libarna and see their excitement and interest in what we are doing. It makes our work there so much more enjoyable.
In a short while we will begin a fundraising campaign on this side of the Atlantic – archaeology is an expensive affair, especially when you have to ship people and equipment thousands of miles across an ocean, so we’re asking for any help we can get. Even forgoing a coffee one morning and donating what you would have spent could make a huge difference if everybody else did the same! Our campaign isn’t up and running yet, but we’ll let you know as soon as it is. Feel free to spread the word about Libarna, our story, and our campaign – donors might even get a little thank you present if they’re lucky…..
Well, that’s the abridged story of everything we have been doing since August, and everything still to do before we leave for Italy in 139 days! We’ve got a lot more blogs on the way, and we’re always posting on our other social media so make sure to give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see more regular updates. If you’ve ever got any questions, you can always send us a message from our contact us page.
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!