It’s been said that all roads lead to Rome. History Professor Gary Farney couldn’t agree more.
In 2012, he started the Upper Sabina Tiberina Archaeological Field School in Vacone, about 40 miles northwest of that famed historical city. With the school, Farney, whose expertise lies in Roman history, numismatics and material culture, is providing a rare multi-year opportunity for NCAS students and others to gain hands-on experience in surveying, excavation and conservation of a Roman Republican villa site there.
The project, now in its seventh year, attempts to understand Roman settlement and land-use in in the Upper Sabina Tiberina region during the middle and late Roman Republic (third to first century B.C.E.), which may have served as a model for later Roman expansion and exploitation in the rest of Italy and Europe.
Undergraduates are learning how to conserve ancient objects and material with professional conservators in the field. It’s a wonderful and rare opportunity for them.
This summer’s cohort for the month-long intensive, which runs July 8–August 5, includes 26 students total, 11 of whom are from RU-N. Of those, nine are Newark College of Arts & Sciences undergraduates, while the remaining two are M.A. candidates in History. The rest are from Rutgers–New Brunswick and universities around the country such as Villanova, Boston University, University of Kansas, Calvin College, Lewis and Clark College, and the University of Tennessee. There also students from abroad, including University College Dublin and the University of Dehli.
Undergraduate students earn 6 college credits, while graduate students earn 3 or 6 credits for their work.
“We get a variety of students who are interested in lots of subject areas, including material culture, public history or museum studies,” says Farney. “Undergraduates are learning how to conserve ancient objects and material with professional conservators in the field. They also get a chance to dig with active instruction, learn how to run a total station, and draw and map out a site. It’s a wonderful and rare opportunity for them.”
Sixteen staff members are overseeing and helping with the program. They include directors, trench and digital-recording supervisors, archaeobotanists and conservators who hail from disparate and far-flung places like the University of Edinburgh, University of Rome, Royal Holloway University in London, and the University of Toronto. The staff comprises graduate students, professors, and specialists in various fields.
As the excavation has progressed over the last several years, the group has found traces of Roman life spanning many centuries, starting with two villas, one from the first century A.D., the other from the first century B.C.E., which lay under a mosaic floor that had been untouched since Italian archaeologists first discovered it in the 1980s. The team has also discovered a child’s skeleton fully intact in what appeared to be a burial tomb, and ceramics and remnants of what they believe to be a vineyard dating to the medieval period.
The group continues to work on burials found at site, along with analyzing soil samples for clues about how the Romans lived.
In the past, Farney ‘s team has gotten geophysical surveying help from members of RU-N’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES), who used ground-penetrating radar to determine roughly what man-made objects were one-to-two meters below ground at the site before excavation began.
During the last few seasons, the team has been using a cutting-edge recording technique called photogrammetry, says Farney, which generates accurate plans and 3D models of the site.
“It allows detailed and very accurate mapping and rids us of the need to draw,” says Farney.
Farney, who is Director of the Program in Ancient and Medieval Civilizations at RU-N, is no stranger to excavations. As a grad student, he had excavated three Italian sites, and before starting the school, he’d been longing to return to Italy since the publication of his first book on ancient Italic ethnic groups.
“Providing opportunities for students to be abroad helps create a global campus here at Newark, he says. “It’s very rewarding work.”