Category Archives: Artena

Ciao, Artena!


As our final days in Artena came to a close, we had been finding ourselves speeding through time. What used to feel like days upon days, suddenly felt like mere minutes. Five and a half hours at the site felt like barely one. It almost seemed fitting that we also found many more artifacts in those last few days than we had any other time during the month.

The ferocious heat that had been causing the forest fires only seemed to be increasing in intensity, with multiple fires springing up daily. The fire that prevented us from our dinner in the caves also burned the northern-most right corner of our site, which happened to be where we have been working the most. Thankfully, it didn’t come close enough to cause any damage; the fire only burned away pesky thistles and weeds. The lingering smell of smoke had us all on edge however, as a constant reminder of the heat and the importance of and need for water.

As we wrapped up Thursday, we ran out of things to do and to dig around, as we didn’t want to start anything new only to be cut off in a day’s time. Because of this, we ended up making small talk with some of the locals who have been helping us these last few weeks, laying in the sun, and attempting to not get heat stroke. Learning that it was the last day volunteers could come was a bit disheartening, because even though most of us can’t really communicate very well with them, they brightened our days and made them fun.

Friday we spent doing last minute cleaning, brushing dirt off of more dirt, and honestly feeling pretty useless. Rock piles were moved to form other, further away rock piles, and dirt piles were attempted to be flattened. However, covering our few basins and important walls with new plastic gave us a sense of purpose and a goal for the last day. Covered in plastic tarp and volcanic rocks, the walls, basins, and dolium have hopefully been sufficiently preserved for next summer’s program of students.

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(We celebrated Sofi’s birthday our last night in Artena, and it was very sweet.)

Flying home on a grueling ten-hour flight the following morning proved to be a restless time for me, personally. I thought about everything that I would miss, the sites and architecture, the wonderful food and the friendly people. But mostly, I spent my time thinking about how lucky I am to have had this opportunity to experience something that most Americans never can; I immersed myself in a new culture, in their histories, and I effectively became part of the living, breathing history of the Roman Empire.

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(Saying goodbye to Nonda’s food – especially the desserts – was the hardest part about leaving!)


Fire Hazard


Something I really didn’t think that I had to contend with on this program abroad was forest fires. However, there have been large forest fires across the mountain every day for the last two days. Even though we could see them from Hotel Chiocchio, everything was safe and the fires were quickly subdued by the fire crews and helicopters full of water. The most unfortunate aspect of the whole fire ordeal was that the Piano della Civita was lit on fire, which is the area where our site is. The site is completely unharmed, but our fun cave night was put on a bit of a hold.

There is a cave near the site that is technically open to the public, but there’s no upkeep or anything similar to the public caves in the United States. Our last Wednesday night dinner in Artena was planned to be spent in this cave, eating pizza and having a good time with all the locals who volunteered to help us at our site this past month. We were all dressed in our dig clothes and steel-toed boots, sitting and waiting for the OK to head up to the cave. Unfortunately, because of the fire, we had to wait for Cecile to check out the cave to make sure it was safe to enter (and safe to even enter the area). So we ended up eating pizza and wine sitting in the fountain in the plaza of the town!

fire hazardOther than that small hiccup, our last week has been going decently enough. It’s the hottest consecutive days that we’ve had this entire month (reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit), with blistering sun, no cloud cover, and the occasional wind gust that blew dirt in every direction and every orifice of our faces. Unfortunately as well, we had another sick day for a third member of our ever-growing group. On the bright side, we have found so many new things that we were not expecting, cle aned massive areas in such a short amount of time, documented everything, and are almost ready to cover up and conserve what we have found.

Palistrina or Prinestra?


palestrinaRecently, Professor Gadeyne took the four of us on a second museum trip, this one a tad farther than down the hill. We went to the archaeological museum in Palistrina, which is one of the next towns over from Artena in the closest mountain. When we first arrived, after waiting with strained, bated breath as Professor Gadeyne managed to parallel park the car in a spot that it should not have fit in by any laws of physics, we took in the view in front of us: flights upon flights of extra-large stone steps. And as the reader may have guessed, Professor Gadeyne best us all to the top, barely breathing heavy, with Mathilde shortly behind him. Meanwhile, the rest of us were still struggling on step number five.

The museum itself is built where an ancient sanctuary used to exist, and still stands today to some degree. The newest building, which is actually not that new considering it was built during the medieval era in Italy, sits on top of where the main part of the sanctuary used to be. The temple for the unknown deity still exists and stands behind this building, as it used to during the height of the Roman Republican Era. The common place towards the bottom of the hull (and the bottom of all those stairs) has been turned into housing and has not existed in its original context for centuries. Within the museum lie various artifacts from the area, which are (unfortunately for us) arguably more interesting and intact than nearly anything that has ever been recovered in Artena and its surrounding areas. Starting from the earliest phase of the region, which is roughly from the early 2nd century BCE, to the latest Roman phase (6th century CE), artifacts, pieces of art work, bronze work, and more are housed safely and securely in this museum. The bit of history that we received told us that Palistrina (then Prinestra) was likely the most important urban center of the region, as well as a generally important city in the grand scheme of the center of the empire. However, the elite of the city were supposedly all executed along with their entire families during one of the civil wars (likely the Sulla vs. Marius war c. 82 BCE, and these families chose Marius).

Even more stairs lead to the very bottom of the hill; believe it or not, we parked near the top! Professor Gadeyne had us all walk the entire way down the hill, giving us fun tidbits of information about the area and its histories the entire way. The view from the various terraced and landings made the hike worth while (although I, personally, was glad that I had elected to wear shorts instead of jeans on that trip). Even though Palistrina may have a richer, more urban history than Artena, we are still finding a lot of the same artifacts, and our site is proving to be equally as important and worth its excavation.

The Real Indiana Jones


This past week has been an wild ride of new things for all of us on this trip. Two of us got sick and missed the dig for a few days, which put a lot of strain on those that remained. Luckily, we had a new pair of hands this week as well! This past weekend we welcomed an alum to our dig, who participated in this exact program two years ago. Ryan has been a quiet yet helpful member of the team this past week, and hopefully will continue to assist us this last week as well! The three of us American students went on another day trip to explore this area of Italy, which added yet another new experience to the week. We visited the archaeological site in Ostia (Ostia Antica), and boy, what a site it is! It feels like you’re walking through miles and miles of twisting, turning columns, brick and stone walls, mosaics – with dead ends at every other turn.

Unsurprisingly, I managed to get myself lost. Separated from the other girls for but a moment, I found myself in an actual maze of stone. I couldn’t find the others on the path we had taken, but figured they’d just gone a little off the path and would come back; they did not. I continued wandering, figuring I would text them and we would find a way to meet up. Hot, tired, and more than a little bit anxious, I made it to a kind of museum at one end of the site. This beautiful building is full of statues, tributes, and frescoes found from differing areas all over the site. All of the pieces are relatively in-tact, which is incredibly rare for this phase of the Roman Empire. I spent a while chatting with the lady who was in charge of the small space, and found out that many of the pieces housed there have actually been recovered from the black market! The illegal buying, selling and trading of archaeological artifacts has been a problem for centuries, but is finally being addressed and the perpetrators are being reprimanded and prosecuted for their crimes against heritage and history conservation. This museum takes part by housing the found pieces, putting parts together of the same piece that had been stolen separately, and helping the government and committees in charge of the archaeological artifact protection (specifically those that were located in and around the Ostia area).

This lonesome traveler story has a happy ending, no worries about that! I managed to find my way to the cafe and giftshop at the very end of the site, and waited in air-conditioned bliss until Tina and Sofi found their way to the end as well. Tired but satisfied, we took the train, metro, and another train that it takes to get from Ostia to Valmontone, and then yet another bus back to Artena. The walk up the mountain from the bus stop was more grueling than it would have been had we not spent the entire day wandering around the ruins of a once-prosperous ancient port city, but the adventure was well worth the hike.


Nero’s Villa at the beach


27th July 2017

Instead of spending our second weekend in Rome, the four of us took a day trip to the beach. Professor Gadeyne’s colleague, Cecile, has a daughter who we invited to come along with us, so it was actually the five of us! She doesn’t speak English, however, so Mathilde was once again put into the role of translator. This was incredibly necessary, because we had to figure out how, when, and which bus to catch to take from Artena to the beach we had chosen. After figuring this out, and spending the absurdly-low round trip fare (compared to Philly!), we caught a bus around 9am and traveled in sleep-deprived but excited silence for the hour-and-a-half trip.

None of us had ever been to this beach before (even those of us who have been to this area of Italy before), so we had a hard time trying to figure out our stop. Fortunately for us, another lady had seen us get on at Artena and told us that she was going to the same beach front as we were. Luckily, she knew where she was going and told us we could walk with her and that she would help us out – even though she ended up getting turned around and made a five-minute walk from the bus stop to the waterfront into a fifteen-minute, sweaty trek.

The reason why we chose this particular beach was two-fold: first, it was free and finding free-to-enter beaches in Europe is surprisingly difficult; second, this beach lies in the ruins of Emperor Nero’s villa. Anzio is not the best beach in Italy, per say, but it is definitely beautiful and interesting. If only the shores in Jersey had ancient ruins surrounding them! It was quite a sight, to swim out a little ways, turn around and see windows and columns carved into the mountainside centuries upon centuries ago. And turning towards the sea, there are multiple rings of large, ship-wrecking rocks that were covered in brave souls who had made the swim out that far with the waves and the strong current.

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(The view towards the sea on the shore of Anzio.)

A little while before this trip, there had apparently been a death of a young man at this particular beach, as well as a shark sighting that morning, according to Nonda. Already having a fear of the ocean, I was understandably nervous about going anywhere near the water; I fully planned on staying on the shore, working on evening out my awful glove and sock tans from the dig, and reading my book. However, I was convinced to go into the water – up to my neck, no less! There were no sharks, no deaths, and everything went absolutely as smoothly as it could have gone. A little more-so, I would even say, given that our tan lines were slightly evened-out and we got some of the best pizza we’ve had yet here in Italy! Not to mention, the two euro gelato that was definitely worth much more.

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(The view from the docks at Anzio.)

Catacombs and Roman driving: Artena archaeology students visit the Eternal City


15th July 2017


As our first sweltering week in Artena comes to a close, the four of us girls decided to spend the weekend in Rome. We booked an Air B&B during a sporadic moment of Wi-Fi at our hotel, and that was an adventure within itself. The owner was very cryptic and would not respond to any message of ours with direct answers, and was in a constantly bad mood about everything we tried to do. Fortunately, it ended up working out and we got a great room with – wait for it – dependable Wi-Fi! It was the most relieving and grateful moment of our trip so far.


As we decided to spend our first weekend being the stereotypical group of touristy American girls, we hit up some typical site-seeing spots and attractions. We first visited the Roman catacombs, which, as an anthropology major, were the most exciting sites for me to visit, probably ever. The long corridors seemed to stretch on for miles, which they actually do; they extend for more than a dozen miles, and that’s just the one! Bones of priests, important members of society and of religious purpose, and just some unexplained bodies, filled the stretches, decorated the mantels, and accented the doorways and arches around every corner.

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(The Roman Catacombs)

Following this magnificent underground excursion, we took a cab to the heart of Rome. The area around the Coliseum was so crowed, hot, and full of various people from all walks of life – half of them were haggling tourists for any and all types of labor in exchange for unnecessarily-large amounts of euros. But for the outrageous price of entry into the Coliseum, we were able to get into a (arguably) better site for free: the Roman Forum. It was definitely the most historically-inclined site out of the touristy area, and was nowhere near as crowded as the rest of the area. It was not very busy because it is not the typical kind of “exciting” that people generally look for when visiting such an exciting city as Rome. There were many archaeologically-explained finds, with historical background and contexts, which was fascinating to all of us students on this trip.

The historical aspect and cultural aspect of this trip are two very different things in Italy, especially in Rome. The culture is different than what the history books lead us to believe. Compared to Philly, everyone here is so friendly and talkative; they actually care about small talk, and the communities would not survive without it. I’ve found the stereotypes about driving are sadly true, however: Italians have very different standards of driving compared with what I’m used to in the United States. No one obeys stop signs, and the “one car length in between” rule is very much not a thing that exists that here. It’s a completely different world, and it is startling but still fun – albeit scary when Professor Gadeyne laughs at us for being horrified at Italian drivers. Regardless of the fear, Italian customs are slowly being shown to us and we are slowly learning the etiquette rules and ways of the communities while we’re here.

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(View of Artena from our vertical car ride.)



Sweat, dirt and discovery in Artena


13th July 2017


Day 4 of officially being on the site for the excavation of the Roman villa in Artena, Italy, and I don’t think I have ever witnessed souls leave their physical bodies on such an intense scale before now. The scorching heat, horrific bugs that have never seen the light of day before being so unceremoniously thrusted out of the dirt by our trowels, dirt in literally everything (including your teeth), and mysteriously-appearing bruises on every single inch of your body: this is what a Mediterranean archaeological excavation is made up of, and maybe the blood, sweat, and tears of the poor undergrads slaving away.

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(Our cliche photo of our boots together.)


Slight joking aside, we have been having a surprisingly good time here in Artena. The little medieval town is built into a mountainside, and is so unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. You can only go up the mountain so far with cars, and the rest of the way is either on foot or by donkey! It’s beautiful but very strange, with very few people ever really out and about. Hours of business are also very vague and prone to change without notice, but there aren’t really enough businesses in the town (or people, for that matter) to make a fuss. This seems to be the custom in Italy but simply exaggerated in small towns like this one.


The dig site itself has been including much more initial, pre-excavation work than I think any of us had seriously anticipated. We have spent this entire first week simply removing old tarp coverings from various areas of the site, and cleaning underneath. I did not think that dirt was able to physically accumulate to such a degree in just one short year. We’ve carefully cleaned and brushed off literal tons of dirt, along with stone blocks, cement pieces, and broken tile pieces. Occasionally, one of us will find something interesting like a piece of pottery or a fragment of bone, but so far, nothing worthwhile.

The museums in and surrounding Artena are very interesting. Professor Gadeyne has taken us to one so far, as well as shown us pictures and talked about the other museums. Plenty of pieces within the museum are actually pieces that have been found at our little Roman villa site! It truly shows us future anthropologists, art historians, and geologists what all of our hard work in the field will accumulate towards. Our pieces have been preserved perfectly with descriptions and background histories that accompany them all, which make for interesting – if difficult – reads in Italian.


So far, Professor Gadeyne has been good to us, with authentic Italian meals, interesting lectures about the histories of our area as well as the overall histories of Rome, and a few good laughs here and there. If all continues to go like it has been, we are looking at a successful, enriching, and exciting abroad opportunity for us three American girls and our European peer.

Time Changes and Dirty Socks: Getting Settled in Artena


10th July 2017.


Messing up plans is never fun, unless it allows you to add an extra day to the experience of a lifetime. That’s right – I arrived in Rome a day early for my program, and frantically booked an Air B&B with an elderly couple who spoke very sparse English. However, I consider myself lucky at this point, because I was given an extra day to acclimate to the time difference. When I met with the other girls on the trip, I was grateful for that extra day because I was less of a zombie than them!

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(My view from my lovely Air B&B in Fiumicino.)


When we finally all met up, Dr. Gadeyne sent us on the train with one of his students while he drove our luggage to our long-stay hotel. Navigating Rome’s public transportation with only one fluent Italian speaker, two sub-par, and one completely clueless was an adventure in its own right to say the least. After roughly 2.5 hours of travel and waiting in train stations that more-closely resembled malls, we arrived at Artena. The hotel itself is a magnificent structure and a wonderful example of Italian architecture – despite the absolute lack of air conditioning and decent internet connection. The view is breathtaking, and the meals are truly authentic Italian cuisine.



(Dinner time view from Hotel Chicchio, Artena, Italy)


Today, finally, was our first official day on the dig site of the Roman Villa in Artena. The weather, for the first time since arriving in Italy, was under 90 degrees and breezy. We mostly spent our first day cleaning out one particular spot on the site, which is among the oldest areas in the entire excavation. Under layers and layers of dirt, sediments, foliage, and just plain debris, exists a beautiful example of architectural design work from the height of the Roman rule. The hard part, of course, is getting to the tilework in the first place. We spent all morning (roughly four to five hours) removing debris and shoveling dirt from the mosaic face. Painstakingly removing even the smallest clumps of dirt and foliage took most of the time, all with small brushes that uncomfortably reminded me of getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist. Finally, we managed to get a decent (if dusty) view of the full black-and-white tile mosaic design that existed as the floor to a higher-quality residential room of the villa. While the tile is in surprisingly good shape for its age, which dates roughly from around the 1st-2nd century C.E., it and the wall that borders it are all that remain to tell us that it was once the foundation of a grand room.


The three of us girls from Temple (two anthropologists and one geologist), and Dr. Gadeyne’s student (an art history student), are all dirt-covered, slightly sunburnt, grouchy messes of people currently. Despite the heat, the bugs, the disturbingly-high amount of wild dogs, sheep, chickens, and small ponies, we have all decided that this program has already become that of a one-of-a-kind opportunity to grow in our respective areas of study and experience our careers in the field.

The Road to Italy


2nd July, 2017.

To think, just a few short months ago, I was fretting over turning in all my paperwork and applications on time for study abroad. I frantically attended the foundations meeting, made appointments with advisors, and applied for my first-ever passport – all in the span of roughly five days after receiving the first email notification that this particular program even existed. Afterwords, I existed in a haze of nervous excitement and perpetual anticipation. Then finally, not even two weeks after submitting my application in a sigh of relief, I opened up my email to find I have a notification for my application status. With bated breath, I logged onto the application portal, and clicked on “Application Decision.” It was then I read those coveted words: “We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted in to the Excavation of a Roman Villa in Artena, Italy summer program!” Of course, I immediately called my mother and we made plans to meet and figure everything out. From there, it was only a matter of preparation and playing the waiting game.



(Flight view)

Waiting expectantly, I finally received my passport in the mail within a few weeks (along with my much-needed birth certificate) and finished my commitment application. The last few months have included trips to the doctor’s office for shots and long conversations about how to stay safe abroad, irrational worrying that maybe I’ll get sick and won’t be able to leave, and an excess amount of insomnia from anticipation. I’ll more than likely have to reassure my parents a million times while I’m gone and on the plane to Rome that I’ll make sure to stay safe while having fun, and I’ll do my best to learn a lot. Checklists have been made that I’ve had to fill out a dozen times “just to be sure,” and my dad has given me lecture upon lecture about staying alert and vigilant about those “rogue Italian men.”

Unfortunately, I’ve been spending long, grueling hours practicing my barely-proficient Italian skills, as well as looking up important phrases to know. Not only that, but I have thoroughly researched cultural practices to be aware of, and having a basic understanding of the health care system and judicial system probably wouldn’t hurt, either. It’s always important to know where the United States embassies are while travelling abroad – which is yet another thing my dad has instilled in me from his years of travelling experience.



(US Embassy in Rome, Italy- know your maps!)


While all three of us girls who are a part of the program – what a grand total, I know – have been preparing for the trip of a lifetime, our program supervisors are doing their best to make sure we have all the info we need to succeed! We’ll get to know one another, share the stress of making deadlines, living in a small house together, and keeping track of the ever-important archaeologist’s field journal. While we’re basking in the hot Italian summer sun, we’ll be discovering our goals in life, and enjoying our shared passions. Like the saying goes, “When in Rome…”; we won’t be in Rome, exactly, but 40 miles is close enough!

Ciao, Italy!


It was bittersweet leaving Artena, whether it was the fresh countryside air, the amazing home cooked food, the little family run hotel, or the unreal views that I’ll always remember. My experience in Italy for the Artena Excavation program was an absolute dream. Now that I’m back in the U.S.,  I still find it hard to believe that I really went. Yes, the excavation was hard work, but I found really awesome artifacts, had some class trips to local museums, and learned about my future profession as an archaeologist. This includes the fact that I’d like to specialize in osteology- the study of bones. If it weren’t for this experience, I wouldn’t have gotten to visit Pompeii, Naples, Rome, Palestrina, and Artena to see ancient sites and relics that were apart of the history of the Roman Empire that shaped the world we live in today.

Also, during my month in Italy, I learned a few things about Italian life from my experience. Some of them may seem like minor details, but these are things that made my experience so fulfilling:

  1. Coffee- Coffee lovers in America need to know the differences between Italian and American coffee etiquette. Are you into your venti size coffees at Starbucks? Sorry to disappoint, but there are no Starbucks in Italy, and no to-go cups of coffee. Instead, there are coffee bars that people stand at to drink a quick espresso and then move on. Also, Italian coffee is much stronger than American coffee, though Italian coffee portions are much smaller. You can ask for a cafe Americano, which is an espresso coffee but larger, but there is no option for “black coffee.”
  2. Language- Simple phrases of gratitude go a long way in Italy. During my trip, I learned simple words like grazie (thank you), buongiorno (good morning/afternoon), buonasera (good evening), or buonanotte (goodnight). However, Italians don’t say goodnight unless they are actually going to sleep, unlike in America. Also, have you ever been curious what the word “prego” meant on that spaghetti sauce jar?  It doubles at “you’re welcome” and “don’t mention it,” when you give something to someone.
  3. Food- In Italy, you’ll never go hungry. There are usually 4- or 5- course meals. In cities, you can choose just one course at restaurants. However, at the hotel I stayed at in Artena, we first had antipasti, aka appetizers. This included olives, fried vegetables, bruschetta, beans, and much more. The first course is always a pasta, which you could choose between ravioli, carbonara, and fettuccini with mushrooms. Second course is the meat course, in which you can choose chicken, rabbit, or pork chop. Then finally, there’s dessert. Usually we had cake, which was very flaky and had creamy icing in the layers. Dinner was always perfect in Italy!
  4. Style- Italians are very stylish. Guys usually wear dress shirts and shorts because it’s pretty hot in the summer. Girls also wear shorts or a dress with converse because a lot of people walk, especially in Rome. Usually, shorts are not common in Italy, but this trend may be due to the fact that I went during the hottest month of the year, or it is possible that it’s becoming a trend.

The little details are what make experiences so great, especially when visiting a different country. You learn that your own culture isn’t the only one out there, and that there are many perspectives in this world. I hope to extend my travels in the future! Ciao, Artena! Hope to see you soon!