Mass Emails I sent out summer 2003 back

hello all,

as most of you know, i'm spending my summer digging in the dirt in pompeii for the third time. this season they have given me a title (assistant supervisor--refered to by my colleagues and me as "ass supers"), which, as far as i know, affords me a trench of my own and a few kids--excuse me, students--to order around. a good chunk of the people in my group of second-year students are returning also, including lisa (shorty), alvin, phil (quipper of many a hilarious phrase), and hazel. a great group, to say the least. a number of fun people from my first year are returning as second years this summer also. for a taste of last season, please see . this email is my first heads up that you may well be getting semi-entertaining emails about once a week regarding what's going on in southern italy, at the bottom of a pit, where yours truly will be wielding a trowel. or several trowels. possibly even a pickaxe.

if you'd like to be removed from this list, please let me know.also, please feel obligated to send me real pen-on-paper, stamped, dropped in a mailbox mail. in the words of steevo (one of the supervisors on the project), "Mail! I got mail! First time since 1997!" email is also appreciated, although i dont plan on responding all that much since it costs money by the minute, and the mosquitos are pretty bad in the little internet shack at Camping Spartacus. Real mail I will reciprocate with a postcard or some such. my mailing address is as follows:

Claire Weiss
Gruppo Archaeologico Inglese-Americano,
Camping Spartacus
Via Plino, 127,
80045, Pompei (NA)

it will probably take about 2 weeks to get to me, and another two for me to respond, considering italian postal promptness. i leave for italy on 23 june, returning again on 12 august. if anyone is around rome and south, give me a yell (giving me a week's notice to check my email), and i'll try and find you. in case anyone is interested in the project's website: cheers and hope my luggage isnt lost,


hey everyone,

so, i'm back home from the family cruise vacation for less (much less) than 24 hours. i leave for pompeii tomorrow morning--just enough time to do laundry, repack, and forget at least a dozen things that i'll need for tent life for the next twoish months. developments since the last email: i checked my email while on the cruise ship on a whim (considering internet service cost $1/hour on board), finding a message from rick jones, pompeii project director. he informed me that one of the supervisors they had slated for the season had just undergone gallbladder surgery and would not be showing up for this season's digging. would i consider being a supervisor in his place? the administration has full confidence in my abilities, everyone would be there to help me, they would give me the casa del triclinio, a theoretically simple area archaeologically (famous last words). i accepted! so i'm a supervisor!!! i've spent the last 5 days annoying my family with that information incessantly. my brother has developed a mysterious ailment that is punctuated by a headache which crops up whenever he hears me utter the word "supervisor". interesting.

so, as a supervisor (for those not versed in AAPP hierarchy), i get my own troup of 10 or so students who have never been to pompeii, nor held a trowel, am responsible for teaching them everything they might need to know about archaeology for the next month and a half, get them going in the dirt, and oversee everything that goes on in my trench. plus, i'll have to evaluate them weekly and give them grades that could well end up on their transcripts. muahahahaha!

other news: nori has found, secured, and signed on an apartment for her and me in DC! i have no idea what it looks like, but it's waiting for me when i get back in mid august. i'll send out contact info for that homebase when i get back from italia. back to laundry and quick packing. i'm a supervisor!!!


p.s. again, if anyone wants off this mass mailing list, let me know. i'm always a bit sheepish about sending mail to masses of people.

hi all

back in italy and remembering exactly why i want to live here. the season started last week, with me flying into rome last tuesday at around 7am. found mike, one of the guys from my trench last year, on the same flight as me (we ran into each other as we got off the plane). he stayed around rome for the afternoon and i went on to naples. ran into gina, one of the girls from my first season, on the train from the airport into the city. always a little funny to run into people you know in other countries. got to spartacus (yes, kate, camping spartacus) tired, hot as hell, and thrilled to be there. dropped my stuff where i would later set up my tent (same tent space as last year but this year in the same little area as alvin, lisa, and leta (great little insula group)). and they served lunch just as i got there. spent the rest of the day setting up my tent, getting clean, sitting in the bar and saying hi to everyone again. there was some moving of stuff up to site (preseason organization and the like), and of course drinking. the students showed up three days later. i set up tents until i had visions of stakes and tent poles and nylon floating before my eyes. the student group is young, kinda nerdly, and tame. of course we still havent gotten to the first friday night yet, so they could prove me wrong, but the apparent potential is rather low.

the digging started on sunday. i have control of the casa del triclinio (i know how jealous you are kellam), a sort of mezzanene level space that is located at the most northern and most elevated point of our block and the city and is thought to have been a sort of restaurant area associated with the inn. i have two advanced students, jennifer and tim, who are wonderful, very skilled, helpful to a fault, and make a great team. the three of us have control over 8 first year students. my first day went beautifully, i talked a lot about how i would like to do things, talked to them about the aapp policy regarding lots of stuff, went over the general scheme for digging. the "kids" are great. i've hit a few personality snags in the last day with two people in particular who dont take corrections well and dont listen well, but they will be fine in a week i think. so we got rid of a lot of dirt and have been having a good time.

it's hot here. real hot. hotter than i remember it ever being. on the other hand, i have yet to wear sunscreen while on site and havent gotten burned yet. but i'm darker than i've ever been in recent memory. things are going really well, i'm enjoying myself like crazy, and i think the directors are happy with how things are going. right now, i'm in sorrento with alvin and lisa after having spent the day at a beach at vico equense (the new target of my fixation on moving to italy) evening out our very strange dig tans and enjoying having a huge body of water to jump in. pompeii needs a lake or direct access to the ocean to make it perfect.

love and lots of dirt,

-claire it's been a week.

it's been a week in many respects. here's the deal...the area of my main focus was the site of a 1943 allied bomb hit (the debate rages on within the project as to whether the bomb was american or english, this being the anglo'american project, it will never be settled). the bomb took out a huge chunk of wall, toppled a column, and destroyed all our stratigraphy. we spent last week carefully excavating my area, recording well and trying to define things. the excavation goes like this: each event is defined as a stratigraphic unit (su). if you dig a hole, that is an event, so it gets an su. if you fill in that hole, that's an event, so it gets an su. we excavate trying to remove the latest SU first, working down to the earliest SU. so we had various SUs, all of which were differential deposits, but we were trying to do actual archaeology on it. so then rick (project director) comes in and kicks around a little and says, yeah, this is all bomb damaged debris and refill. it's all the same. take it out. so we did. all 12 or so of our SUs got lumped into one, the so called SU bomb.

THEN, we were going to drop a test pit against our east wall, so we get out the big picks. pick pick pick, someone notices a couple of tiles in the dirt. i pick one up and say, oh yeah, we've seen this before, i think it's modern bathroom tile, just chucked in the fill when they were filling up the bomb crater. gary, assistant director who i call in constantly for backup, says claire, put that down, dont touch it. i say ok, what is it? he says asbestos. oh great. we've got asbestos in our trench. we are the biohazard trench. it's all solid, still in tile form, so there's no real danger at all, but still. my students spend the next several minutes drawing various forms of the biohazard symbols on their hardhats, getting dust masks and walking around in them, and the like. on talking with tim, my advanced student, he told me that they had found some of it in an earlier deposit and he, in trying to find out if it was pottery or plaster by the accepted method, licked it. so basically, my area is going to get closed by the end of the week and my team and i are going to get moved somewhere else. sucks. but it's kinda funny. so things are moving fast. the dirt is moving faster.

hack hack, maybe i have lung cancer now.


write me mail!!!

end of week two of digging. the last two days of our working week were pretty much thwarted by custodi assemble--strikes. these are actually meetings where the custodi (keepers of the ruins) sit around and talk about something and thus we cant get in to work. they are usually scheduled for a fixed amount of time, couple of hours in the morning or so, and it just disrupts the hell out of our mornings. so it goes. occasionally i look up from what i'm doing and realize that i have been spending my summers in POMPEII digging. that i'm sitting on and digging in soil that has so much history it hurts.

lisa and i were having lunch yesterday, marvelling at the people that show up to see the ruins. you'd think that pompeii is a self-selecting attraction to some degree, and yet people still show up having no idea what the city is about and often times wearing high heels or white clothing to wander the scavi. something is wrong with this picture.

i cant remember what it's like to not know what pompeii is about and consider it from my three year digging perspective. much like i cant remember what music sounded like before i joined band. by the same count, some of us had the sudden realization that we spend the entire summer living outside. no walls really, no doors, no windows. i sleep in a tent simply because of mosquitos and the unlikely possibility of rain. otherwise, the restaurant where we eat all our meals has a roof but nothing more, the bathrooms are open air but roofed, the bar area which serves as our living/working/getting drunk/social space is covered by a grape arbor (which people forget when it rains and try to take shelter under it, failing miserably). it's fantastic. i kinda resent the need or necessity to have walls at home.

in the next week or so, our project is going to be featured on archaeology magazine's website, one of their interactive digs. i'm actually on it this year, so look out for it: www.archaeology.orgby the same count, the cover story for the current issue of archaeology magazine is about our project, written by rick jones, our director. good reading. so anyway, not much else has been happening with our trench since wednesday. only two days of digging between now and then, both with the custodi strikes taking up a good chunk of time. so nothing really new in my bombed out trench. more to come later, i'm going to the beach for the day to grade my students' journals and soak in the mediterranean. ciao ciao!


end of week three and right into the long weekend off. so areas that are assigned to excavation are called archaeological areas, or AAs. my first AA was closed, as i mentioned before, due to asbestos. fun fun. so we got reassigned to the last unexcavated room of the bar next door, my second AA. spent about four hours removing all the loose dirt and accumulate from the past 200 years and three years worth of spoil heap from the project to find...a nearly complete floor. this is a pretty big deal. none of the rooms of the bar or the inn (two of the properties on the block that we excavate in) have intact final phase floors. it's kind of a rarity. so we cleaned it up (it's a really fairly pretty floor), and called in the higherups who said, ok, that's too complete to destroy for the purpose of digging. we're going to close that AA also. so now i'm onto my third AA, almost a dig record.

NOW i'm digging the sidewalk area where the street meets the herculaneum gate, looking to date the construction of the gate. so the running joke is that in about four days, my team will find some reason that we cant dig in that area either and i'll get moved to a fourth AA. oy vey. meanwhile, keeping tabs on what's going on with three different areas is a bit trying. i think i'm still doing ok with it, but it's not exactly relaxing.

other catastrophies: broken tents. i was worried about a repeat of last year with the rain. it rained for the entire third week and i had my tent flooded numerous times. spent the few days before coming over here looking for a more waterproof tent that i liked with little success, so i polyethylened the edges of my existing tent and called it good. then after a week here, the zipper on my tent died. i spent a really awful night alternately hiding from the mosquitos under my sheet, and then throwing the sheet off cause it was too hot to sleep under it until i heard the whine of mosquitos at my ear. so i bought a brand new italian tent. it's pretty cheap, but i'm not having to deal with mosquitos anymore. yay for tents.

so i'm laying around the site for the weekend, going to sorrento occasionally, and doing as little as possible. thanks for the emails back everyone.



all right, so it might do to explain a little about the project and things, considering the questions i'm getting about the digging and what not.

the AAPP has had control of a single block of ancient pompeii since 1995. this block is a little triangular chunk of city right against the city wall and bounded by the via consolare and vicolo narcisso. the via consolare is one of the major streets which exits out the herculaneum gate. this gate is so named because, theoretically, if you were to walk out the gate and keep going in ancient times, you'd end up in herculaneum, the other city which vesuvius engulfed on 24 august 79 C.E.

pompeii is divided into regions (regio) and blocks (insule) by the numbering system which fiorelli (an "archaeologist" of the 1800s) put into effect. our block is regio 6, insula 1. this area was one of the first to be initially excavated in the 1700s, leaving it to 300 years of weathering and degradation. the AAPP starts at floor level of the final phase of the block (final phase meaning its form during 79 when the volcano blew), and digs down to discern development and use of space over time. property lines change, zoning for use of different spaces change, and there is evidence for many of these changes below ground level of the final phase. so when my group found a floor in our second AA, a nearly complete ancient final phase concrete floor, we dont get to go through it. project policy. most of the final phase floors in the insula (block) are no longer in existence, either from weathering or from the initial excavations--previous diggers had a little less discretion in their digging techniques.

the AAPP has undertaken the particularly ludicrous task of completely excavating the entire block to natural soil (the depth at which the area began prior to human activity). the project can do it cause most of its funding is provided by the field school students, allowing the whole thing to go to completion, not depending on when grants run out. they project three more years before it's done. it is the most comprehensive excavation of pompeii ever to be undertaken. so maybe that makes things a little clearer. one of the most often asked questions is "hasnt it all been dug?". by no means. two thirds of the city have been uncovered from the volcano ash and stone and lapilli, and only a fraction of that has been subjected to the sort of excavation that the AAPP does.

in 1995, the soprintendenza of pompeii had a law passed that forbid any further uncovering of the remaining third of the city which is still buried by volcanic accumulate. this is a really good move since the two thirds of the city that is already uncovered is basically falling down around us due to weathering and tourism and all that. there are conservation methods in effect, but the degradation of pompeii is faster than they can keep up with. so the rest of the city that's still buried will remain in pristine condition, sealed in 6 or so meters of volcanic debris.

so anyway. things are still good, i'm in sorrento for the day, relaxing and shopping and the like. work starts up again on monday and maybe this time my team can actually stay in one place for longer than a week before finding another reason to move AAs. we've only got two more weeks left before backfill! ack!


hello, all

five digging days left before backfill. ack. my team is days away from closing one of our areas (the original triclinium house trench which didnt get entirely closed down due to the asbestos and had a lot of recording that needed doing). the herculaneum gate/sidewalk area that we just opened in the last week is a long way from finished, but we're not really expected to complete it this year considering how late it was opened. so things continue to be a little schizophrenic on my part, juggling three areas that are by no means close to each other.

other than that, the summer has had several particular highlights from the week. wednesday night a bunch (read: 70) of us went to a classical concert in the ruins of pompeii. the ancient amphitheatre has a wooden stage which occasionally during the summer houses performances. so a local (as far as i know) orchestra played beethoven and dvorak to an audience of several hundred. the musicallity of the group was not great, it was not a good performance (swat orchestra could have beat the hell out of them on its worst days) but they were playing outside in the heat and humidity of southern italy in front of a stone facing, setting off strange accoustic effects, but the orchestra quality was little of the matter. lisa and i (having not eaten dinner prior) got cheese, crackers, amazing olives, and a bottle of pinot grigio and had a picnic during the concert. the entire experience was amazing--the ruins lit up, flowers adorning the stage, surrounded by ancient pompeii and listening to live classical music. my analogy of how i cant remember what pompeii was like prior to the project and my now-unique understanding of it and music and not remembering how it sounded before joining band suddenly collided into one. i dont think it has actually hit me how increadible the whole thing was.

then last night, orlando, the owner of our camp site, had a live three piece band play for us. much much dancing ensued. i dont think the AAPP has had so much collective fun in years. everyone danced, i swing danced with one of my advanced students, tim, for a large portion of the evening. i think many people were suprised at my and tim's dancing abilities. every single member of the campsite staff have complimented me on my dancing. much much fun was had. and now i have a blister the size of my palm on the bottom of my foot (yeah, so dancing bare foot for three hours wasnt the greatest of plans).

one week of digging left. can we survive it? i certainly hope so. and it still has yet to rain this season. oh, and the interactive dig about the AAPP on archaeology magazine's website has finally been updated: to field notes (has a little "updated" graphic next to it), and to the last week's link--i'm the first picture on that page with one of my students. it should get updated weekly now, and i think i'm on week two also. yay!


so this is the last last email from italy...

the end of season was a good one. very very good. i only ended up closing out one of the three trenches in which i was digging. up in the triclinium area (the space that was thwarted for the dueling reasons of bomb damage and asbestos), we got as much info out of the ground as possible, considering the aforementioned problems with digging, which included a cess pit in front of a doorway. hopefully next year it will get reopened after they take asbestos samples back to bradford and assess their badness. some of us want to open the entirety of the rest of the space and really figure out what's going on with it. i dont think that i'm alone in this desire.

the second trench is the one that closed. tim, my second year student mostly responsible for that excavation, wacked a good chunk of dirt out in the last day and extracted about as much information as can be expected from a trench less than a meter wide (thanks to the nearly complete concrete floor impeding full excavation of the room).

the sidewalk trench out by the herculaneum gate is another story entirely. having spent a few days digging layer upon layer of hardpacked earth and rubble, my trenchies came upon a layer of cobbles! ok, so to the lay-person cobbles dont seem to mean all that much and certainly wouldnt warrant the use of an exclamation point, but trust me, cobbles are exciting simply because they are not often seen used in pompeii and may well mean something. so there was a layer of cobbles pretty much across the expanse of the trench. this might mean an early walking surface or an early road, but it's too early to tell. what it definitely means is that there is too much important archaeology left in the sidewalk for me to have wacked through it in the last two days. so we recorded a lot of stuff, tarped it, and backfilled it to open it again next year. hopefully i'll be the one reopening it, along with a lot more of the sidewalk up the street.

then backfill day happened. for those not versed in this, backfilling is the refilling of the holes that we produce during the digging season. this is done for a few reasons: 1. the project has an agreement with the soprintendenza of the site that we will leave it as we found it 2. burying things again is the best method of preserving them 3. a number of the places we dig are open to tourists in the off season and tourists fall on nothing. give them a big hole and you might not see them again. so backfill. i shoveled for eight hours straight. i never let go of my shovel except for water breaks and short bouts of sitting and breathing. i love shoveling. almost as much as i love pickaxing. maybe i should go into construction. hmmm...

the last night we were in pompeii, shorty (aka lisa guerre, a good friend of mine from the project who was also in my trench our first year and who is 4'11", thus her nickname) and i did pompeii at night. it's booked as a light and music spectaculo, giving a narrated walk through the forum where the ruins are illuminated and where we still didnt encounter any ghosts, although one would assume that pompeii would be inundated with them. it leads you into the basillica where there is culminating video--one which shows lava. sigh. the most widely screwed up fact about pompeii is that the city was covered by lava where in fact, it was buried by ash and lapilli, lapilli being small pumice stones that are lighter than one would expect. there was no lava. none. and yet pompeii at night had lava. we had a good laught, took come pretty passable pictures of columns in spotlights, and came home to the campsite to drink and eat olives until we couldnt keep out eyes open anymore.

so now shorty and i are bumming around rome for three days before flying home. we were nearly the last of the people associated with the dig to leave, having seen off the administration and directors and most of the other supervisors. got to termini and descended upon the hotel desk where you say 'i have this much money, where can i sleep', and they give you a room. got a hotel for $60 a night for a double with a private bathroom including breakfast. the first night we bought a bottle of wine and sat and drank it on the spanish steps while a trio of guys with guitars sang gypsy kings and U2 and a couple had their wedding pictures taken on the steps, accompanied by 200 plus people applauding their kiss. the next morning we walked around the flea market at porta portese, not buying anything other than a $3 stovetop moka, but watching people and laughing at some of the things we could have bought for under 2 euro. we sat at the cafe where i did all of my work during my semester abroad and drank cappuccini (80 euro cents a cup and better than anything else) while remembering and writing down all the funny things that happened or were said during season. last night we had dinner with bernie frischer (my professor from my semester abroad) and his wife at their apartment in trastevera, running into sam abrams and her roommate who just finished their field season digging in the forum (sam was also a student at the centro my semester there). much good food, catching up on the last year and a half, laughing and drinking wine. i love italy (incase anyone was unclear on this fact). tonight we're sleeping in the airport and playing scopa till the cows come home (or until we go home, whichever comes first).

i have only a few hours left to quench my insatiable need for mozzarella and prosciutto and gelato and really good cappuccini. and then (as mentioned before) i'm moving to washington dc, into an apartment with nori who has already painted her room oranger than possible, where i will paint my room pompeii red and yellow and hang pictures of the site and of the frontage of our insula and have an entire bookshelf dedicated to nothing but pompeii books (hah! "pompeii book--special price--hello--speak english--pompeii book?"). and dream of lapilli.