Felice Herman '11
There are experiences in one's young adulthood that profoundly shape the rest of your life. With the generous aid of the Johnson Program, I was fortunate enough to have one this summer while in Italy participating in an archeological field program at the ancient Latin site of Gabii, Italy.
Around 25 miles outside of Rome, the site was once home to an ancient rival of the Empire. In 2009, the Gabii Project began a multi-year urban excavation across an area of approximately 5,000 square meters in the heart of ancient town. The site itself was split into three main areas of excavation. Area C was the area I worked in for five weeks. It was concluded that it could be described as "multi-phase architectural remains, ranging in date from the late Republican to the middle Imperial periods, that shows evidence both of production and habitation." Here we discovered a cobbled drain, a bath that looked as if it once had frescos on the walls, a number of hastily and precisely constructed walls, and a cistern-like structure (interpretations about which are still being debated). The project uncovered multi-phase remains and artifacts, ranging in date from the Early Iron Age to the Early Medieval period. We also did uncover (so far) one well-preserved road within the urban network, and it, too, had multiple phases of construction. As this was the first year this particular dig had been undertaken, the interpretation of these finds are most likely to be disputed and changed in the future. I will not lie, the workload (trowling, shoveling, pick axing, and wheel barrowing) was more difficult than I thought it would be with long hours and sometimes unbearable heat. Yet, that one moment of discovery seemed to wipe away all else.
On the weekends, I was fortunate enough to travel and absorb the Italian culture in every possible way. I visited Rome three times, tracing all the typical tourist pathways. The first weekend, some friends and I visited the Vatican, its impressive museums, and some of the famous churches in the city. As a devout Catholic, this was the most powerful and moving encounter I had during the five weeks and I daresay in my whole spiritual life. To describe the grandeur and majesty of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's with my limited vocabulary would be a betrayal to what I felt there. Unlike other European capitals that I have visited, Rome has a certain charm and character that only centuries of evolution and change could inspire. Needless to say, I fell in love with Rome that weekend.
The next weekend, we focused more on the ancient side of Rome, taking tours of the Forum, the Palatine Hill, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the catacombs. This was all very exciting for an ancient history addict like myself except for the intense heat all weekend. The following weekend, the whole field school was invited on a free tour of Ostia Antica, the ancient port city of Rome. This is a sprawling archaeological site about 20 minutes outside of Rome. It was fascinating to witness the advanced architecture of that city (multi-story apartments) and its relationship to ancient Rome. The next day, a friend and I traveled back into Rome for some more museum time and shopping in Rome's posh district. This was hampered by the frequent but depressingly inconvenient train strikes that occur in Italy every other week or so. For my last weekend, I traveled two hours to the north to the marvelous city of Florence. Once again, simple words will not be able to do justice to the vision of the Duomo and some of the most famous works of art in the world like Boticelli's Venus or Michelangelo's David. We wandered through all the major museums and even the little known archaeological museum of Florence that had an impressive Egyptian artifact collection. Not necessarily as an art history lover but just an admirer of beauty and culture in all forms and thus another Italian town charmed me.
The grant I received from the Johnson Program enabled me to have all of these enriching experiences without which I would be a less full-filled, knowledgeable, and cultured individual. While digging in the dirt and mud, I discovered more than just artifacts from a time long past-I discovered that I can and will make my dreams come true if I set my mind to it. This trip has enabled me to define and shape my life's passion--culture and archaeology--while at the same time opening me up to new passions and excitement for my future at W&L and my career excavating the past.