Hiram College

Matthew Notarian, visiting professor of classics, often spends his summers digging up history at archaeological excavations. For this summer’s escapade, three Hiram College students have joined him in Italy.

With him are: Jessica Botchway ’20, an art history and educational studies double major, classical and medieval studies minor; Charlie Wirfel ‘20, a double major in art and educational studies; and Declan Pence ’22. The hands-on learning opportunity for the three students started at the end of June and will run until early August.

Notarian says, “The students will be trained in all aspects of archaeological excavation: proper techniques for digging, identifying stratigraphic layers of earth, properly removing and bagging artifacts, recording their discoveries in notebooks and forms—but also with measured drawings, maps, photography, and 3D modeling (my specialty). They have the option to learn more about a particular specialty, such as photography, mapmaking, and geographic information systems (GIS) software or artifact cataloguing, drawing, and identification. All students will learn the basics of how to identify an artifact as Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, and more.”

Approximately 20 undergraduate students from various American and Canadian universities, along with several staff from the United States and Italy will teach the students and manage the excavation.

“It is administered by the University of Wyoming and the University of Waterloo (Canada) and directed by my friend and colleague, Dr. McKenzie Lewis, a fellow Roman archaeologist,” states Notarian.

The site they are excavating is a Roman villa called the Villa del Vergigno. It is located near the town of Montelupo Fiorentino, about 20 kilometers west of Florence in the region of Tuscany. The excavation has been open since 2013. Since then, evidence has been found of occupation during the fifth and sixth centuries AD, giving the archeologists and students information on the transition of this area from the ancient world to the medieval period.

The villa has mosaic flooring, a “hypocaust” system for heating baths, kilns, glass and metal-working areas, and an  agricultural sector. In the past, the focus has been mostly on the agricultural area, but this summer will see the exploration of the residential sector.

“Roman villas were large palatial mansions located in the countryside that served as both rural retreats for wealthy Romans, as well as the center of large agricultural estates. This particular villa was inhabited from at least 100 BC until 500 AD, although one of the goals of the excavation is to discover whether the site was inhabited in earlier centuries,” explains Notarian.

If this were true, it could mean that another ancient people, the Etruscans, lived in the villa prior to the Roman conquest in the third century BC. The spread of villas is often seen as a sign of Roman conquest.

The group will be on-site weekdays from 8 a.m. to around 5 p.m. On the weekends, students will have the opportunity to visit the cities and sites around the villa, including Florence, the National Archaeological Museum, Fiesole (an important archaeological site of the area), the medieval hill town of Arezzo, Pisa, and more. One of the highlights of the trip will be the once-in-a-lifetime experience of visiting Siena for the Il Palio, a horse race that has happened every summer since medieval times.

“Students will also have some free weekends for independent travel. Otherwise they are free to spend their time in Montelupo and experience life in a small Italian town,” finishes Notarian.

This trip will enrich these students’ lives, and, perhaps, they will discover something about the area that will alter the residents’ lives, as well.