When I had first signed onto the IMPERO project, I had no clue what to expect. I had never studied archeology or picked up a trowel in my life. Nevertheless, I was always fascinated by history and wanted to get firsthand experience with the past. So, I packed my bags for Italy. Little did I know, I was in for one of the most unique and gratifying experiences of my life.
Our humble, small team was made up of an eclectic mix of characters, all contributing something special to the project. Our director, Alessandro, oversaw the site with precision coupled with Tuscan charm. Edoardo brought his quirky humor, in an equally quirky van. Valentina remained ever patient with the aspiring archeologists. Todd maintained an energetic optimism that kept everyone going. And finally, Maura, my fellow student, was always bright and talkative, pacing our seemingly endless troweling. I could not have asked for a better team. All were equal with such passion, one couldn’t help but feel personally invested in the project.
The project itself was tucked away in a stunning backdrop of rolling Tuscan hills. It contained remnants of a Republican Era vicus. It first appeared as a small slab of stone, no wider than my forearm. Our first few days were fruitless, barely finding anything. But, as we slowly removed the contexts, a thick wall, dividing several rooms, emerged. We then began finding pottery and iron nails, but most importantly coins. Coins, I learned, are immensely valuable for dating Roman sites. But perhaps my favorite find was a forge because it gave the site more life. I could really imagine people working over a fire and walking around a room, attending to their business.
What made the experience particularly special was our interaction with locals. We showed off our site to families, students from the area, and had dinner with people from the region. These interactions made the project more immersive and made me feel less like a tourist and more like a traveler. In addition, we did not remain tied down to a single location, but took gelato trips into the neighboring town, Paganico, visited other local sites, and attended an archeology exhibit in Florence. All of these excursions broke up our schedule so that our routine always felt fresh.
As for accommodation, Maura and I stayed in a slightly more modern villa, dating roughly to the 16th century. We shared an adorable flat, fully furnished with a kitchen and sitting room. Luca and his family opened their home to us and went above and beyond to see that we were comfortable, always checking in to see if we needed anything. Our food included plenty of carbs after a long day working and we were treated to homemade wine, cold cuts, and farm fresh eggs. Needless to say, our food was worthy of Italy’s reputation.
Archeology, like most things, is nothing like the movies. It is hard, hard work, physically and mentally. That being said, nothing compares to the satisfaction you feel, slowly, but surely, uncovering the past. I encourage anyone who is interested, regardless of what you may be formally studying, to give excavation a try.