Archeologist Unearths the Past for GSB Students

By Alice Roche Cody

Students in Jared Ciocco's History of Ancient Rome class got a glimpse into ancient cultures with a virtual visit from Dr. Kristin Harper, a classics instructor at Missouri State University who served as trench supervisor at archaeological excavation sites in Italy. During her talk, Dr. Harper discussed her discoveries, showed dig photos, and shared stories about meeting Mr. Ciocco when they worked together at a site in Orvieto, Italy.

"I enjoy sharing about my archaeological digs with history students, as it reminds us of the great physical effort and mental capacity it takes to learn the specifics of different ancient cultures and civilizations from digging up the past," she said. "Too often, we see facts listed in textbooks and in articles, and forget that archaeology is still happening, and new information is continuously being unearthed."

Dr. Harper discussed the general tools and documentation techniques used on site, while Mr. Ciocco demonstrated how to use a trowel while unearthing artifacts. "Besides the 'finesse' of detail-oriented tools such as the trowel, dental tools, hand pick, and pottery tools, we also use large tools to remove layers of dirt, such as a pickaxe and shovel," she said. "Documentation of the removal of layers is key and necessary to the study of archaeology. Archaeology by its nature is a destructive science; the experiment can only be performed once!" To that end, meticulous records must be kept in locus sheets, daily journal logs, photographs, plots of elevation points, drawings, and maps to best understand the archaeological site and the surrounding area. When examining old documentation, archeologists can develop a new understanding of a former site, civilization, or event.

Dr. Harper's excavation work took place at Sant'Ansano, Allerona, Italy, at an apse-structure believed to be a shrine to Saint Ansano, where she unearthed a burial of a young man, c.1100 CE. At the Coriglia excavation near Orvieto, Italy, she led a small team working on a drainage trench. "Our research questions focused on how this drainage area connected with the larger site, what the phasing it was, and if it could inform us about the function of the site," she said. "In conjunction with the evidence of a bath complex found in prior seasons, the luxurious architectural decorations discovered in my trench indicate that this site was most likely not a villa, but a larger bath complex, perhaps originating as a sacred Etruscan nymphaeum."

For Cat D'Arcangelis '21, Dr. Harper's talk gave an inside look into archeology and opened up a new career possibility. "I was super excited about the visit because I have an interest in ancient Roman culture," she said. "Being an archeologist is a cool job, and I was happy to get a chance to see it up close. I asked a lot of questions, and I was thrilled to pick her brain. Now I'm considering studying archeology at college next year." After the visit, Dr. Harper kept in touch with Cat, who has studied Latin at GSB for eight years. "Dr. Harper specializes in Latin epigraphs, and she gave me a list of books to read," she added.

Currently, Dr. Harper's research builds upon her archaeology experiences by delving into the literary aspects of poetry carved on tombstones. "While sometimes counting tiles and collecting documentation can be tedious, it is often rewarding to have those Indiana Jones moments, when you reveal a coin, or even a thumbprint in a pottery shard," she said. "It reminds me of our deeply human connection to other cultures, past and present."

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