Lisa has been working her way through Europe working on several archaeology sites for the past few months. Digging up skeletons and swords and stuff, and looking for the Ark of the Covenant. At least thats what I imagined. I haven't seen her in a few months, so decided it would be fun to swing by her site in Pompeii for a few days, and see what this archaeology stuff is all about.
I took an overnight flight from NYC and arrived just before sunrise on Sunday. Lisa and Llorenç, one of the leads on the site, picked me up from the Naples airport and we headed to the house they reserved for me. How nice of them! A little jet lagged, I took a hour long nap and then the three of us headed right to Vesuvius, to climb the volcano that gave them the opportunity to work here. It also killed a lot of people once...
Vesuvius, despite being a famous volcano, is no Mt. Rainier to climb. A half hour trail takes you to the crater rim, and passes at least three tourist shops and bars along the way. Never one to skip out on summit beers, we grabbed some mediocre Italian brews to enjoy while looking out across the Gulf of Naples.
After our excursion, it was time for lunch! We headed to the church that Lisa and co were staying at. Yup, they were renting space in a church; two giant rooms for sleeping barracks, and a kitchen about the size you would expect in an NYC apartment. Llorenç cooked an awesome paella for us and another dozen or so of the group of archaeologists on the dig. It turns out the "paella" you get in America is absolutely not the real deal. But being from Valencia, Llorenç cooked the genuine dish for us, complete with rabbit! Lisa and I basically just stirred from time to time, and posed for pictures.
We went for an afternoon swim after lunch, and then to dinner at a restaurant that featured pictures of the cows you were ordering your beef from! I got the one with the big horns.
After dinner drinks lasted until about 2:00am, which it turns out, is completely normal for people working in archaeology. The bar they go to every night is the only one in town open 24 hours, and also the only one with karaoke, so it was a perfect fit. The service was terrible, as expected, but the crew was awesome to hang out with. The group represented about a dozen countries, but there were no languages that everyone had in common. But everyone had a great sense of humor, so it was a total blast to share stories and drink spritzes.
And now to the Pompeii part of the trip! The site the group was working at was a necropolis just outside of the city walls of Pompeii. The site had been partially excavated in the 70's, and this is a multi year effort to continue the excavation. They had already excavated urns, glass and pottery, jewelry, coins, and were just getting into a spot that may have been where the cremations actually occurred.
The crew was doing all of their analysis on the dig right at the site, because regulations require all artifacts to stay at Pompeii, and there is no lab to work. One of their jobs was sorting, classifying, weighing, and photographing every bone fragment from an urn that was excavated. They were able to find out exactly which bone each of those little pieces was originally from, so they could learn about the dude who used to own them.
Raffaele, the logistics manager for the dig, gave me a private tour of the city of Pompeii. He lives in the area, and when not writing for the local paper, works as a liaison officer of sorts for some of the archaeologists who come to Pompeii. He knew the city like the back of his hand, and showed me hundreds of awesome sites, from perfectly preserved frescos to ancient wine bars to brothels.
One of the highlights of tour that Raffaele gave was visiting the storage area for the casts of the bodies. Basically, when the poor bastards died in Pompeii, they were covered in ash which turned to rock. When they were dug up, their bodies had decayed leaving hollows behind, which were then filled with plaster, giving an exact cast of the person in their death state.
You might think these amazing artifacts are stored in some climate controlled vault, but rather they are simply laying under plastic tarps on the second floor of one of Pompeii's largest villas, the House of the Golden Bracelet, open to the outside air. Anyway, we were given access to this private storage, removed from where any normal tourists could visit, and were able to check out the casts of the bodies up close and personal.
Along with getting a free private tour, and learning all about their site, I also got to help out on the dig. Because I am severely under qualified to help on an archaeology site, I was given the task of backfilling one of the excavations. Basically, I moved dirt that was dug out of a hole back into that hole. But now I can tell people I dug at Pompeii, even if it was just backfill!
The three days in Italy flew by! We spent my last night there singing karaoke and drinking wine at the local bar. Perfect way to end the adventure!