An imperial court dating back to A.D. 117 will be transformed into a classroom this summer for 26 Columbia undergraduates, graduates, and postgraduates, as they spend seven hours a day excavating under the Italian sun.
The four-week program will be held for the first time this summer in conjunction with the Sapienza University of Rome. Franceso de Angelis, a Columbia professor of art history and archaeology, and Marco Maiuro, an assistant Columbia professor of ancient history, will teach the course.
“Most of the teaching will happen there while digging and suffering under the sun,” de Angelis said. “We want to make students understand that excavating is not just a physical activity, but also an intellectual and a mental one, too.”
The program, which will take place at Hadrian’s Villa—constructed as a retreat for Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD—includes an excavation component, workshops, seminars, and Saturday field trips into parts of Rome and the medieval town of Tivoli.
“Students will travel through the villa, piece by piece, so at the end participants have both in-depth knowledge of the specific areas we’ve been excavating in, and a broad understanding of the villa itself: how it works, what it was like, and how each part of it connected with the other parts,” de Angelis said.
Columbia undergraduates applied to the program in March, and de Angelis said that instructors were looking for students from a wide range of disciplines, including art, architecture, history, and classics.
De Angelis said the final group of students, chosen out of 40 applications, has varying experience in excavation—from those with excavation background to returning excavators.
“We were looking for passion,” de Angelis said.
Emily Cook, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the department of art history and archaeology, said she began excavating with no experience in the summer of 2011, with the first season of Columbia’s Advanced Program of Ancient History and Art.
“There were other students who had excavated one to three previous seasons, and I learned so much from them about what to do and how to think about excavation and its process,” Cook said, reflecting on her first archaeological dig. “I was also able to contribute from my own experience of working in a museum, so I showed others how to recognize on sight whether a find was made from bronze, iron, lead, ceramic, or another material.”
Cook emphasized that excavating with a group of students who have a spectrum of interests and skill sets brings an added component to the experience.
“Having students with a range of skill sets provides a dynamic, collaborative learning process to which every student contributes in a unique way,” Cook said.
“These various perspectives are critical for archaeology at every level. We will use them on-site to try to understand what we’re excavating and to learn more about the villa as a whole, but then we also need much more advanced specialists from a variety of fields to complete the analysis of bones, remains of plants or animals, and more,” she said. “We’re trying to understand the site comprehensively, and we need a variety of people and skills to do it.”