From Santorini to Pompeii: adventures of a Distance Learner

Posted by stj3 at Dec 06, 2018 01:00 PM |
DL MA student Simona's travels round the Classical Mediterranean
From Santorini to Pompeii: adventures of a Distance Learner

Simona (centre) and some of her team at Pompeii

I am Simona Merlin Chesters, a distance learning archaeology student and I’ve just started studying for a MA in Classical Mediterranean. 2018 was just supposed to be the year of my graduation for my BA in Ancient History and Classical Archaeology. However, I didn’t know what the future had in store when I submitted my dissertation in January and firmly declared I was not going to continue my studies.

First, in March I was awarded an EU-funded 4-week placement in an Erasmus+ scheme in Santorini (Greece), a fascinating experience allowing participants to come into contact with the Cycladic culture of Akrotiri and the subsequent occupations of the island. We excavated for two weeks at an Early Byzantine site followed by two more of museum work.

Surprisingly, in May I was selected to accompany 14 students studying at UK universities for another EU-funded Erasmus+ placement, in Pompeii in July. I faced this with both enthusiasm and dread. I had never managed groups of any sort, let alone a group of archaeology students, and I had only done impromptu ‘lectures’ on a couple of occasions. Although I am a native Italian speaker and fluent in English, the cultural impact and the ongoing translation for the first 2 weeks took their toll on me. I had few breaks, dealing with calls, emails and texts from 6am to 11pm.

However, the huge personal enrichment provided by the opportunity quickly became evident. I had the chance to do proper excavation work too, with other students in a shop on Via dell’Abbondanza in the first week, followed by recording the  stratigraphy of other shops. Then I supervised my students on site for 3 days as they worked in the labs with pottery, fresco conservation, and organic finds. The final week of our stay we were asked to do flotation, backfill the site, dismantle the sheds and load the truck sent to pick up  the equipment.

Overall, the experience gained in 4 weeks in Pompeii, with its complicated stratigraphy and rich finds, was equivalent to a year somewhere else. Looking back, I  realise what a huge privilege it was to dig there. Talking with many of the experienced archaeologists on site I learned that they were hired only to guard the archaeology from tourists and had not had the chance to excavate.

Although, at times, we felt like animals in a zoo, with tourists eager to photograph us digging, nothing compared to the fascinating and eerie feeling of walking in a tourist-free Pompeii  in the early morning. It was like we had jumped into the past where everything had been frozen in Roman times.

I cannot thank enough Grampus Heritage Ltd. (the home organisation in UK), who organised both placements in co-operation with the local host organisations (Hellenic Studies Centre in Megalochori for Greece, and Etruria Nova NGO in Montalcino for Italy), for allowing me to be part of these wonderful experiences in two of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. It was an experience whichalso prompted me to continue my studies once I was back home in the UK, and I yearn for more archaeological work in the future!

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