Thursday, May 1, 2014

What to Bring to Poggio Colla

Every year a list goes out that advises the Poggio Colla Archaeological Field School students what to bring. I think, now that I am in my fifth year with the project, I am become wise in the ways of the Mugello Valley (or as scientists will correct you, the Basin). It behooves me, then, to add some to that advice and create a  list of my own. Let me share my wisdom, or more plainly, the list that the ever illustrious Trench NW 6 helped me make last summer.

1)  Gloves. The Right Kind. Every year I am pleased to see that eager students bring a pair of gloves, but saddened to find that they’re the wrong kind of gloves, the kind that won’t last the season and sometimes even the week. Don’t get me wrong, no one brings lacey numbers fit for a Regency Ball, but usually the big mistake in evidence is the purchase of gardening gloves.

Ahem. Let me say first that archaeology is not gardening. Archaeology is heavy manual labor. Fabric gloves and those rubbery doodads disintegrate with a quickness, especially in a woodland environment. So, in the interest of your daily happiness, be sure to bring true work gloves, leather being the best sort, in my opinion. Because I have tiny hands, I prefer thin leather gloves which also allow me to ‘feel’ the soil and artifacts being handled (thick heavy-duty work gloves hinder that oh-so-vital sense of touch so important in fieldwork). If you would like something softer that won’t shred your hands but will still hold up, go for something like this, which is what I use:

You might get a hole in the finger, but generally they hold up pretty well. 

2) Clippers. You’ll be asked to bring a pair of clippers, something that surprised me when I first came to PC, thanks to my background in archaeological contexts that might include four roots in an entire trench. At PC, you will be digging in a woodland environment and there will be roots, roots, roots everywhere. This leads to the clipper problem, because the standard hand clippers that you can buy at Lowes and Target just won’t cut it. (See what I did there?) They’ll break or jam and will generally be useless. Indeed, the garage at Guardia the Dig House is overflowing with buckets of cast-off clippers, none of which work. So invest in a strong, good-quality pair of hand clippers and prepare to guard them with your life. To be honest, in my dream world, everyone would also bring their own personal Cyndi Laupers (aka Loppers, but ha, ‘tis only a fantasy.)

3) Trowel. Duh, this is archaeology and trowels are important. Be forewarned, however, that hardware stores mostly carry brick laying trowels, which are too big when it comes to the blade and include handles uncomfortably large for smaller hands. Since the trowel will become an extension of your limb, it wouldn't hurt to order something from Marshalltown. I use a Battiferro.

My first season working in Italy I was thrown off to find that Italian archaeologists don’t use trigonos. The trigono (‘triangle’) is used as often as the trowel at Greek sites. I always liked it because it doesn’t put the same pressure on your wrist and (in my imagination at least) eases trowel tendinitis. So this year I am bringing my own trigono, too.

More commonly known as the 'shavehook.'

4) Mugello Microclimate Appropriate Clothes. I froze during my first season at Poggio Colla. I was a Greek archaeologist, used to islands in the Cyclades and hot breezy days in Naufplio. The thick opaque mist encasing my house when I awoke in 2010 was not at all what I was expecting, and not at all within the bounds of appropriate excavating weather, in my experience, thank you very much. With my t-shirts and gym shorts and single hoody, I felt like I was an extra in Frozen. But now I am aware that the Mugello Valley is far north of those baking Mediterranean sites I so adored and in fact exists within its own microclimate. This means that Poggio Colla can experience some searing hot days (as we saw in the drought-cracked summer of 2012) but it can also be surprisingly chilly and rainy.

For this reason I suggest: a pair of jeans and house pants for home, a pair of work pants for the site. Sweatshirts and hoodies for at-home and on-site. Jammies that are WARM, flannel and long-sleeved. I even bring one of those travel style down jackets from Target. This does not mean that at times you won’t be dying of heat stroke and wishing for a miu miu, but you’ll need to be prepared for a weather-pattern that varies significantly throughout the season.

5) A Mini Flashlight. Comes in handy, I promise, even on-site for the badger holes.

6) Dude, Granola Bars. You cannot buy granola bars cheaply in the Mugello, and I promise you will be hoping for easy snacks when you’re on-site. I bring a case of Cliff bars.

7)  Deodorant. Yes, yes, I know, I shouldn't have to tell you this. Due to the potential fine for overweight baggage, most travelers usually suggest forgoing your own shampoo and heavy bath products, since you can get them at the Coop (grocery store). But packing your own deodorant is a ‘must’ because in the Mugello the only kind of roll-on deodorant you can get is the wet kind. Ew, gross. Texturific in a bad way. (I just made that word up, btw.) Every summer there is a great deal of distress caused by the deodorant issue, so please, bring your own.

Note well, however. If you use a special personal product of some sort, like a face cream or what have you, keep in mind that you won’t be able to buy it in the Mugello and you are best to bring it with you. (Heavy duty hand cream, for example. This year I am actually bringing this, for archaeology hands.) All the normal stuff will be available in Vicchio, but if a lack of Chanel no. 5 will make you cry, bring it with you.

8) Sunscreen and Bug Spray. As a follow up to the last point, you can buy both of these at the Coop, but the bug spray will include 9 kinds of deet and the sunscreen will be a paraben colony. Which is fine, if you’re into that. If you have favorite all-natural products, you know what to do.

9) Mosquito Net.  Note Angela the Bone Lady’s nest from last year.

On that first night, as she acrobatically maneuvered ropes over the ceiling beams and I read my Kindle in bed, I chuckled at (what I thought to be) her over-zealousness. Two days later I was wrong, and wished I could steal her mosquito-free nest. This will be even more important in Vigna the Student House, where people come and go, doors open and close in the night, and mosquitoes thrive as the unconquered fifth column. I almost suggest bringing a second mosquito net so you can duct tape it over your window and doorway!

10) Ear plugs. Crucial. I find these useful because the mosquitoes flying around my head can’t faze me. But more importantly, other people snore. Or stay up late. When Sleep and I have a date, silence must reign.

11) Something For the Pain. And there will be pain. This is archaeology after all. You think Indiana Jones wasn't sore and stiff after a busy day destroying Nazis and crushing antiquities? This year I am trying out this product, on the advice of my physical therapist:

You'll know if it works, depending on how much I groan and grumble about my old person's body.

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