Archaeological FAQs! Part One

Okay, okay I know it’s been a bit too long since I last posted anything here. In my defense, things have been a bit hectic here (archaeologists are people too…) but at long last, I can present *ahem* the very first in the Archaeological FAQs series! You may now take a moment to celebrate, throw confetti or engage in any other celebratory activity you wish.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin!

Archaeological FAQ #1: So do you like, dig up dinosaurs?

In short, no. Not at all. Nope. In fact, dinosaurs and other dino-friends are relegated to an entirely separate area of study called “paleontology”, which is quite literally the study of ‘paleo’ things (‘Paleo’ meaning old…really, really old. Older than ‘archaeo’ old.)
For those who prefer a standard dictionary definition of this mighty field:


–noun, plural -gies for 2.
n. The study of the forms of life existing in prehistoric or geologic times, as represented by the fossils of plants, animals, and other organisms.<!–//

The issue of archaeologists vs. paleontologists has been a somewhat long-standing issue, as most people just don’t know the difference between the fields. Both professions involve lots of dirt, digging and finding of old things but there are considerable differences in what comes out of the ground. Archaeologists handle the digging, studying and analyzing (and copious article-writing) of the human past in the physical form. This means we get to interact with structures, physical goods (trade goods, weapons, luxury goods, trash, etc.) and all the other bits and pieces that made up daily life for humans past. This can mean dealing with things from a 60’s hippie commune or the earliest foundations for buildings of early societies in Sub-Saharan Africa or tombs of royal Scythians in Eastern Europe/Asia or any number of similar things. I’m not even going to bring theoretical and conceptual archaeology into this. Nope. Not here or at all. You can Google that on your own time.

Paleontologists get to do very similar things (digging, studying, article writing, conference going…) but with dinosaurs (and plants and other life forms from the early days of our planet). Velociraptors, brachiosauri (<–note that Latin plural going on there), brontosaurus-who-doesn't-actually-exist-and-is-really-called-apatosaurus, maiasaurus, archaeopteryx…I could go on. Like any good child I got to go through a dinosaur phase, and then again with extra vigor as my younger brother jumped on the dinosaur bandwagon as a wee child. There really is something so special about small children who are still working on the fundamentals of the English language spouting long scientific Latin names for giant reptiles like it's nothing. Some kids grow out of the dinosaur phase and move on to other things like ponies, cats, Barbies and Transformers. The ones who do not become paleontologists and spend their days digging in the Badlands of the US, remote areas of Patagonia and even remoter areas of the Sahara and Gobi deserts in search of new species of dinosaurs! Don't get me wrong, I still have a very special place in my heart for raptors and dinosaurs. Jurassic Park was a truly landmark film in my childhood and any member of my generation can fondly recall their first encounter with this majestic film and then promptly serenade you with it's iconic theme music. There is absolutely nothing wrong with dinosaurs and paleontology. I just don't work in that field and neither do archaeologists. I love reading about new dino-discoveries, heartily enjoy Dinosaur Comics, LOVED the Dinotopia books as a child (and still do… ¬_¬) and have been known to bring raptors into an average conversation. My area of work/study simply involves more filthy humans and less giant lizard beasts.

Until next time, go keep an eye out for the very first season of Time Team America! Or the original Time Team if you happen to be in the UK.



I’m beginning the arduous task of uploading aaalll my pictures! 697 to be exact. There’s a small batch up on Facebook and the rest are starting to go up on Flickr now!


Roma! Day 5

Or, the last Roman blog.

This is it! My last day in Rome! Ameliè and I got one last cappuccino at Termini and then it was off to the Capitoline Museum for me. I had a bit of a leisurely photo-themed walk and took a bunch more photos of various areas of Trajan’s Market and all those other forums squished in there. My camera was rather feisty as at 10am, the sun is BRUTAL. Great for tanning, not for photography. I did the slow walk up and down the Capitoline but the museum was fantastic! Marcus Aurelius on a horse, giant pieces of Constantine, silly statues and a TON of epigraphy. Needless to say, I put that 2G memory card to work. I also got some great panorama-esque photos of the forum. After that, it was back down the hill, past the Colosseum for the 2nd time and over to the Domus Aurea…or rather, that’s how it should have been had the place not been closed. Wouldn’t it make sense to do repair work on the off season? So you could gather more funds for said work during the high tourist season? Perhaps? In any case, I wandered the park and was rather impressed with what was left of said Domus.

After lunch it was back down and around the Colosseum and I hiked out to the Baths of Caracalla. Seriously, you need to see this place. It’s a GIANT bath complex, and a sport area AND an opera theater in the summer! Only the middle bit and some walls are visible, but the walls are all towering above us mere mortals so it’s all good. Aside from the fact that the entire place has been colonized by seagulls, it is truly an amazing place. The sheer size of the building really gives you a sense for how amazing Rome must have been with its main buildings still standing. Someone should bring back the olde school baths. I really think the idea of a combination spa/gym/library would be one of the more awesome things out there. Especially if it even had half the size of this bath complex! To give you an idea (if your imagination paintbrushes aren’t working just yet) it is entirely possible to fit a full basilica in the main area of a bath complex and have room to spare. I also had the joy of geeking out at all the Classical trees they put in the garden area (cypress, laurel, pine…) and had a bit of a pastoral moment on a bench under a laurel tree next to a pile of random marble bits.

That’s it! I’m off to the airport tomorrow and my whirlwind tour of Rome is done…for now. I’ll have to come back (with even more exfoliating products…) and see all the smaller things I missed but this has been absolutely amazing. Archaeological heaven would be a way to describe it.

And now, one final Italian dinner before I return home to my familiar germs, familiar pollution and beloved dry desert weather. Humidity and I continue to have issues.


Roma! Day 4

Or, Catholicism Wow!

Today was the dreaded/much anticipated Vatican day. We got up extra early, put on ‘appropriate’ clothes and metro’d it over to il Vaticano. This was a strategic plan as there was some sort of Papal audience extravaganza happening at 10am, which took all the people away from the museum and gave us a bit more elbow room. The lines were worse than Disneyland. Even with everyone over at St. Peter’s! In fact, the Disney folks could learn a thing or two about snaking lines and making people wait outside in uncomfortable conditions for long periods of time.

Once *inside* the Vatican Museum(s), it was a whole different kind of maze. I got to see my Egyptian Museum first (yay!) and after that it was a matter of dodging tour groups and following small signs assuring us the Sistine Chapel was in that particular direction. LIES! The Sistine Chapel was nowhere near where we were! Upstairs, downstairs, through the Borgia apartments, the map room, the tapestry room, the room with tons of carved marble animals, through rooms that I don’t even remember right now, the modern religious art museum and then FINALLY we were spit into a room that was filled most assuredly beyond fire safety regulations. Oh, and the ceiling was quite lovely too. The Sistine Chapel, being a chapel, asked for quiet (it’s a church yo) and no photography. This translated in every known language to ‘Talk loudly to your group members’ and ‘Flash Photography OK!’. I will admit that I got a few lovely pictures (without flash thank you) and scooted out as an announcement was being made to kindly shut it. More winding hallways led us back to where we entered the museums and past the Vatican Post Office. Down the winding slide/staircase of doom and back out into the sweltering heat we went. Then it was aaaaalll the way around to the front of the Vatican to attempt to storm St. Peter’s. The Disney lines appeared again, this time nowhere near any shade. There were metal detectors, bag x-rays and fashion police (knees and shoulders need to be covered). Oh, there were Swiss Guards too! They looked uncomfortable and silly as they declined many, many attempts at tourists trying to take photos with them. We hopped in one line and ended up going UNDER St. Peter’s to go hang out with the Popes of Years Past. It was an odd sort of crypt. Very clean with a bit of a crowd in front of JPII. The actual entrance to St. Peter’s was finally found and many wonders were beheld. I saw the Pietà (from a distance…), 2 wax Popes (excessively creepy) and tons of random saints. The altar is that big. I have photos to prove it.

We skipped the cuppola (I’m not paying €5 to hike up stairs crammed with other tourists) and dragged ourselves out of the Vatican and back across the river. There was a much-needed pasta break, and then it was on to the Museo Nazionale Romano (please excuse my horrible mangling of the Italian language) which was actually a rather sweet palazzo (as it should be when you’re uncle is the pope…). This was followed by a magical mystery bus ride and we just ended up back at the original metro stop from the morning. Our ticket from the Museum Nazionale Romano also got us into the other half, in another palazzo, across town and the Baths of Diocletian. Turns out that place closes at 2pm so we did a lap around the baths and decided to peek into the church that had been built into the baths. That church was actually a BASILICA. It was huge!! It doesn’t look anything like a basilica on the outside! It was like the TARDIS of basilicas. Definitely bigger on the inside. It also had a super exciting star chart on the floor that can tell time as well as chart star movements…all while being firmly embedded in the floor in many delicious colors of marble.

That’s all for today, as my feet are about to fall off.

Tomorrow will probably be museums continued and perhaps some more baths. I think Caracalla has some in the area…and perhaps a Domus Aurea visit is in order for my last day.


Roma! Day 3

Or, the day I walked around the entire city of Rome. No really.

We started at the Circus Maximus and headed north up the river from there, stopping at the Bocca della Verita (o noes! mah hand!) for some silly pictures first. I can confirm that it did not bite me. In fact, it was a lovely photo subject, as was the church that went with it (Santa Maria de…?). Northwards, and we passed the Theater of Marcellus (yay!) before heading inland a bit to check out the Area Sacra and the kitties within. We were too early to play with the cats, but they were super cute just napping everywhere. It’s definitely not a bad place for a cat sanctuary and archaeological spot. After that it was some odd churches and piazzas (Navona and Campo di Fiori to be exact) and then it was BACK to the river for a quick jaunt to the other side. There, the Castel Sant’Angelo/Mausoleum of Hadrian was conquered. The photos from the top are pretty stunning and we even spied a certain Vatican-shaped area nearby. More on that tomorrow. Back across the river again, and we hiked over to the Ara Pacis (yay!) and Mausoleum of Augustus (oh…there it is. Yay!) In the same piazza, homage was paid to the most wonderful restaurant in the world, Alfredo’s. I didn’t go in and eat any of the fetuccine alfredo because the place was rather posh and I was definitely playing the part of the dirty scrubby tourist. Oh well…I took a picture to prove I saw it. Hiking on, we ran into the Spanish Steps (quite literally) and the Piazza del Popolo. Apparently this is also the supertrendychic shopping area and we arrived just in time for all the sales! At long last I can get that…Chanel something or other…I’ve always been wanting. We retraced our steps back towards the Piazza Barberini to go investigate the silly/dreaded Capuchin church…only to be thwarted by the churchly dress code once again. Perhaps it was for the best…but still. Dress code? For a church, I understand. But for the crypt? Come on now. The bones don’t care. Needless to say, there were many confused teens crowding around the entrance trying to decipher the meaning of this ‘dress code’. It was about this time that we noticed the riot police were arriving in considerable numbers so the nearest metro stop was found and we made like a tree and got out of there. Right about now a demonstration in Piazza Barberini should be underway, which is why the riot police, regular police and pretty much anyone else who was part of the police force were there.

Thought of the day: I would really appreciate it if people would stop building stuff all over my Roman areas. Hadrian’s mausoleum looked rather silly with a fortress stuck on top, the Pantheon was full of Jesus and friends (however, the church status meant free admission!) and the Temple of Mars in the forum was converted into a church as well (Church of St. Mars?). It was actually really refreshing to see Augustus’ mausoleum in its original state. Trees and all! There are random wall bits and columns all over the place, not to mention a healthy sprinkling of obelisks (yes, really). Apparently the Romans were REALLY excited about conquering Egypt 😛

And now, it’s siesta time.

Roma! Day 2

I should first add that the end of Day 1 had a pretty extensive walk around the Forum (both THE Forum and Trajan’s) and a quick jaunt through the Circus Maximus as well.

Day 2 would be today (Monday?) and I got a nice early start. I got one of these fancy Roma Pass contraptions and it has made my monument viewing experience much better. First stop today was the Colosseum! I hate to say it, but the thing is pretty, well…colossal. Even if the adjective was meant to go with the statue-that-is-no-longer-there. I think we ended up making about 3 or 4 laps around it trying to find the stairs down to the bottom level. Amusing moment: seeing the silly face of Divus Vespasianus everywhere. Next it was off to the Palatine and its hill of many wonders. A short hike led to the very top and a domus of one Augustus. I can only imagine how amazing the palace must have been when everything was still standing. Even the foundations and random walls were impressive! Since Augustus left, it seems some nuns have moved in. Back down the hill, and we headed down into the actual forum area. It’s a bit overwhelming since there’s just so much STUFF there. Again, impressive is the word of the day. After a pretty complete loop around the forum, we headed out and north towards the Trevi fountain and passed Trajan’s Area of Many Things (column, forum, market…). The Trevi fountain is pretty intense for a fountain. All we had to do was follow the hordes of people until we heard the sound of water and people and we were there. Lunch was had (mmmmmm delicious Italian meats on a plate) and then it was left down the road past the Piazza San Ignacio Loyola (woot) and oh, hey…there’s a Pantheon here! And a random obelisk in the plaza, but you know. It’s how these things are. The Pantheon was freee (thanks to it’s being turned into a church) but the photos were spectacular. Seriously, you need to see them.
There was a long trek back (but it was dramatically shorter than it could have been thanks to the Metro) and now it’s siesta time.
It’s still hot, I’m still melting, but it is worth every sweltering minute.
I’m working on getting the iPhone picture-to-email-to-blog to work, but I have yet to find a place where I get full cell reception AND wireless. Not to mention the looming threat of data roaming charges *shudder*