Summer School in Classical Archaeology


During the Digging Vada Summer School, students will be engaging in numerous activities, closely followed by our staff members. From the excavation and the pottery lab to the anthropology lab, here’s all the info you’ll need. Click on the sections below to learn more about each different activity.

Anthropology is the study of human bones (human osteology) and  it is often applied in many areas, like Archaeology and Paleopathology, that is  important for investigating diseases and related conditions from skeletal and soft tissue remains.

During the previous excavations have been found some burials, both adults and children. The study of these skeletons have provided many important informations about the populations of the site of Vada Volaterrana.

Our Laboratory of Anthropology and Paleopathology is divided into two parts. The first part is focused on theorical lesson about the methods used for determinate the health and lifestyle status, from the bones, of the skeletons. The second part is a pratical workshop where the students, with the help of our anthropologist, will analyze some skeletons of the site with the purpose to determinate some characteristics like:

  • Sex;
  • Age of death;
  • Stature;
  • Entheses of skeletal markers (useful to reconstruct physical activities);
  • Osteological and Dental pathology.

The Vada Volaterrana Anthropology Lab. Studying the bones of the harbour inhabitants…

Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) is a fast and cost-effective electromagnetic (EM) method which, in favourable condition, i.e. mainly resistive non-magnetic environments, can provide valuable information on the shallow subsurface. Since it is based on the propagation and reflection of EM waves, it is sensitive to variations of EM parameters in the subsoil, especially the dielectric constant and the electric conductivity.

Despite its relatively low penetration depth (especially with high-frequency antennae and in moderately conductive environments), the GPR resolution capability (also depending on frequency and soil properties), by greater than that obtained by other geophysical methods, makes this technique suitable for high-resolution shallow studies like archaeological applications and shallow stratigraphy mapping.

GPR mapping

GPR mapping of the building currently being excavated


This GPR lab will consist of two parts. At the beginning, there will be a lecture in which the basic principles of ground-penetrating radar and its data acquisition methodology will be accurately explained. The workshop also includes field-based activities in which each student will be given the chance to collect data using the devices at our disposal. The data recorded will be processed and interpreted in order to explain all the steps needed to turn the raw electromagnetic signals into proper shallow subsurface maps.

During the 2014 campaign the GPR analysis of an amphoras workshop site surveyed during the 2013 field school is planned.


Using the GPR device on the field

Using the GPR device on the field

Once a site has been localized by means of survey and GPR analysis, it is necessary to undertake archaeological excavation. This activity alone enables archaeologists to understand in depth the history of a settlement.

The method archaeologist commonly use to excavate is called “the stratigraphic method.” It is based on the recognition of all the different elements making up a stratification – the “layers” – and their documentation through photographs, surveys and the placing of their datas in a database.

Thanks to this documentation, such as in a “time machine”, we can reconstruct back the history of the area, developing a scheme called “matrix”, which contains all the excavated layers (soil layers, walls, etc.). Thanks to the study of the findings we can, finally, get an absolute chronology for all the layers that have been excavated.


The Vada Volaterrana Harbour Project 2013 campaign: digging on site...

The Vada Volaterrana Harbour Project 2013 campaign: digging on site…


Participants will be involved in the following activities, related to the excavation of a new and still unknown area of the Roman port of Vada, identified by means of survey and GPR:

  • Lectures: principles of archaeological stratigraphy and practice in archaeological excavation
  • Excavation practice

On site two teams will be formed and each group will dig a different area, lead by an archaeologist of the staff. There will be daily briefings on the exact tasks in hand. During the excavation students will do all the activities an archaeologist normally does:

  • Recognition of layers;
  • Documentation of the excavation (written, visual, photos);
  • Technical relief and structural analysis of walls, paintings and mosaics;
  • Collecting of findings (pottery, metal objects, bones, stone tools)
  • Collecting of organic and inorganic samples (seeds, wood, pollen, bones, mortar);
  • Geological analysis of stone building material, in order to identify the original quarries
  • First steps in the restoration of findings.

Archaeological survey represents the way to translate the physical findings (walls, floors, etc.) in a paper or digital support. This activity is very strictly linked with the excavation, since the final drawing is essential for archaeologists to know and understand the topography of the site they excavated.


Carrying out the excavation survey…

Carrying out the excavation survey…


The modern way to realize an archaeological draw is a digital one; computer support allows archaeologists to manage the information, exchanging and comparing datas potentially all over the world. Creating a technical drawing requires different steps, both in the field and in the lab:

  1. Into the field:
    • taking and recording of zenithal photos of layers and structures
    • use of theodolite
  2. In the lab:
    • use of software for the rectification of zenithal photos
    • use of CAD or GIS software for the creation of a topographical draw or a photomosaic

The findings unearthed during an excavation are the “fossil guide” the archaeologists use to reconstruct the history of a site and of its economy. The nature of the site Vada Volaterrana – one of the most important trading ports of North Etruscan coasts – makes it particularly interesting studying findings belonging to many provinces of the Roman Empire. They provide a wide picture of the imperial age commercial relationships, when the Mediterranean Sea was in fact a big Roman market.


The pottery lab: washing, labelling and studying findings

The pottery lab: washing, labelling and studying findings


Our Laboratory of Archaeological Research is the natural development of the scientific research carried out on an archaeological site. In the lab it’s possible to take all the steps of archaeological analysis of the findings, that will be treated as a source of data about chronology, economy, social and cultural development. Findings will be divided into two main groups – pottery findings and small findings (including metals, glasses, worked bones, worked stones) – and all of them will be analyzed in shape, typology and production techniques.

Students will be supervised by a staff archaeologist in charge of the management of the storaging of findings; so they’ll be involved in all the lab’s activities:

  • Washing, labeling and storaging of materials;
  • First steps in restoration of mobile artifacts;
  • First classification and studying of findings;
  • Drawing of the most important items.

Archaeological flotation is a technique used to recover tiny artifacts and plant remains from archaeological deposits.  During the flotation process, sediments are collected from the site and poured into our flotation tank. Water is gently bubbled up through the soil. Less dense materials such as seeds, charcoal, and other light material (called the light fraction) float up, and tiny pieces of stone, glass, metal, ceramics, and bone fragments, (called the heavy fraction) are left behind on the mesh. Both the light fraction and the heavy fraction samples are then dried for processing. The archaeobotanical remains that are collected are then sent to the lab for analysis. These remains provide direct evidence of the economic systems of prehistoric populations, the changing relationships between human-plant behaviors through time, and can provide valuable information regarding the economic bases that are involved in culture changes at the Vada Volaterrana site.

Remains of charcoal recovered inside the flotation tank jointly set up by University of Troy (Alabama) and Pisa.

Studying samples from flotation in Troy University paleobothanical laboratory.

Vada Volaterrana open day’s visitors watching the flotation tank.