Drew Archaeologists Dig Italy

Standing in a tranquil Italian meadow cum busy excavation site, Brady Eskilson noticed a glint of afternoon sunlight at his feet.  Working ever-so-delicately, he moved the soil aside to expose the ancient source of the reflection—a stack of five bronze coins dating back to the first century A.D.  Brady, who was in Italy as part of a Drew University field school in archaeology, was likely the first person to hold them in 2,000 years.

This summer, Drew will send two groups of students to Italy in search of the ruins and artifacts that lie below the crust of Umbria and Tuscany.  Both trips and a separate one-week excursion are open to non-degree-seeking travelers.  Each month-long dig will focus on the delicate art of excavation and transport participants to the Italy of yore.  Professor of Classics John Muccigrosso will lead the groups as they work at the sites known as Vicus ad Martis Tudertium and Etrusco-Roman Vetulonia.

The Vicus site, where Drew travelers will work from May 23 to June 20, is situated in Umbria just outside the city of Todi.  Archaeologists, who’ve used geo-magnetic technology to map the grounds, have reason to believe there’s a large complex of ruins beneath the soil.  According to ancient itineraries, Vicus was a popular place for travelers to spend the night during the time of the early Roman Empire.

“When a Drew group last visited Vicus, we made a very exciting discovery—a large, subterranean building,” says Muccigrosso.  “Given what we know about the site from ancient documents, the remains could’ve been those of one of the Italy’s earliest hotels.”

From June 27 to July 25, a new group of amateur archaeologists will follow the professor to the Etrusco-Roman Vetulonia site on the coast of Tuscany.  It is hypothesized that Vetulonia was the birthplace of the fasces—a famous Roman symbol that depicts a cylindrical bundle of white birch rods fastened together with a red leather ribbon.  Traditional images of the fasces, which represented the Roman Empire’s political hegemony, usually incorporated one or two bronze axes protruding from the bundle.

“Digging at Vetulonia promises to be interesting because of the city’s spot in the political landscape of the ancient Roman Empire,” explains Muccigrosso. “After Hannibal’s invasion in the 3rd century B.C., the city was one of the few that continued to mint its own coins. This should allow for some very exciting small finds—just like Brady’s.”

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Posted: April 1, 2009