For my STEP experience, I traveled completed a six week archaeological field school in Altopascio, Italy. During the week, I took part excavating a medieval monastery and surrounding cemetery. I learned archaeological field techniques, improved my knowledge of osteology and gained valuable knowledge about traveling and working in my field of interest.
When I left for Europe, I had absolutely no idea if I would actually like excavating. I had never done it before, but it was always something I had dreamed of doing. I was excited to be given the opportunity, but I was nervous that I would not like it. But thankfully, I absolutely loved it! This summer fortified my belief that this is something I want to do for the rest of my career. I loved being able to go to the dig site every day and to find something new. I learned about areas of anthropology that you cannot learn about in a classroom. Field work is incredibly important for anthropology because you can only learn it by doing it. This was my first experience working in the field, but hopefully not the last.
I also learned a lot about Italian culture. We were able to travel on the weekends and over our midterm break, so I was able to travel around all of Italy. The field school was located in Tuscany, so I spent most of my time there, but by spending my weekends traveling, I was able to experience Italy. I had never been to Italy before and did not know a lot about their culture or history. But, by traveling and working with other students with the same interests in archaeology, I was able to learn about the culture and Italy’s fascinating history.
The other students that I was able to work with were amazing! It was great to be surrounded by people who love archaeology as much as I do and have similar interests within the field. Everyone also came from different backgrounds, so we all had different ideas we were bringing to the project. Everyone had different strengths, so there was always someone to ask for help. That was something that was important. Everyone wanted to help each other because we were all working for a common purpose. Knowing this allowed for the students as a group to become cohesive and we all got along so well. Building these relationships will be helpful in the future when some of them become my future colleagues. I also made some great friends, who I’m lucky to have been able to share this experience with. When you live, work and travel with the same people, you naturally become very close. The people I met at Badia Pozzeveri will be my friends for years.
My area supervisor and the rest of the instructors in general were also extremely important to me. They taught me invaluable information about the field. They were all welcoming and were helpful when we needed it, but let us do the work ourselves. It was hard at the beginning, not having someone telling you exactly what to do, but in the end, I was able to look at what I had learned and the progress I had made and be pleased with it. My work became exponentially better and it was because I had been able to make mistakes and figure out the best way to complete my work for myself. It’s important to not only think for yourself, but to also be able to understand the reasoning behind your actions. The instructors made it clear the reasoning for everything we were doing.
Traveling around Italy was also extremely beneficial. Like I said, it widened by view of the world. I was able to experience places in eight weeks that most people never see in their entire lives. I went all over Italy and saw so many incredible places; and not just places that are beautiful, but also historical and thought-provoking. Some of my favorite trips included visiting Pompeii, the Amalfi coast and Cinque Terre. These are places that I may not be able to see again for years and I wanted to make the most of my time there. I tried to experience as much as I could and did not want to pass by an opportunity.
This experience was life-changing for me. I finally was able to experience working in the field. It gave me the conviction that this is something I actually want to do for the rest of my career. I was nervous that I would not like it because there is no way to know before you actually get there. Besides finally knowing I actually like archaeology, I gained valuable academic knowledge. I understand the history of the site and I also improved my archaeological technique and osteology knowledge. I primarily excavated human remains, so I had to learn how to identify the different bones and to tell if a bone was in connection to a skeleton or not. This knowledge was gained through experience and practice. When I think about my first day digging and my last, I’m pleased with the improvements I made. I tried to absorb everything I possibly could and I think I did. I know that archaeology is what I want to do for my career and I’m already thinking about where I can go to excavate next summer.