Italy

Roman Culture in Etrurian and Campanian Archaeology

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Roman culture is detectable archaeologically throughout Etruria and Campania in the cities and landscapes of the regions.  We still see Roman roads in use today! But what can these and other archaeological evidence tell us about the Romans expansion throughout Italy? Frankly, way too much to cover in one article, so let us look briefly at an area of really interesting archaeology, Etruria and Campania in what is now Modern Italy.

English: Map of ancient Campania
Map of Ancient Campania

With the development of modern survey techniques the introduction and distribution of Roman road systems, throughout the landscape of Etruria and Campania, illustrates the expansion of Roman culture within this landscape.  The road systems acted as a stamp of Roman authority and new order in the locality and their distribution maps out the movement and expansion of Roman influence and culture.[1] These Roman highways often left a clear cutting which can still be seen near to modern roads in many places throughout Italy.[2]  Basaltic paving blocks are also frequently uncovered by modern excavations, and accidently, and are indicative of a Roman road being situated nearby.[3]  The Via Amerina has been noted as the earliest of these archaeological features, dating to approximately 241BC and is detectably archaeologically cutting through the Faliscan territory and into southern Umbria.[4]  The Via Amerina was later joined by other roads cutting through the landscape such as the Via Flaminia and the Via Aurelia, constructed in 220BC and c.144BC respectively.[5]  Each of these serving new colonies and often bypassing old Etruscan towns providing a map of the pathways Roman culture followed into Etruria and Campania in the late centuries BC.

Several ground surveys, such as that done by Ward-Perkins in the early 1950s, have established many of these road networks as adaptations of existing roadways, serving the needs of a highly decentralised population.[6]  The colony of Nepi was quickly connected with Rome by means of the Via Amerina, establishing not just a colonial but a physical link to Roman influence.[7]  When assessed in terms of the location of these valuable archaeological features, [8]  we can also see which Etruscan towns were likely to have suffered Roman influence on a lesser scale, for instance, Veii which was left to the backwater after its initial destruction and restructure.[9] Or alternatively where the Roman culture was more prevalent where towns were joined to the road system, such as Volsini.

The area has been subject to various field surveys over the years which have a primary basis in exploring the changing pottery tradition, illustrating the rise of Roman wares in the region as the culture fanned out of Rome.[10]  And despite the difficulties in dating, the information gathered from ceramics can show changes in occupation, and maps of pottery distribution can give consistent patterns illustrating cultural variations.[11]  Ward-Perkins’ ground survey of around 2000 archaeological sites in Campania has allowed for analysis on the changing tradition from pre-Roman Etruscan wares and bucchero[12] to Roman black-glazed wares, indicative of the third to first centuries BC.[13]

The change of abundance of different pottery types throughout Etruria and Campania are indicative of the expansion and distribution of Roman influence and culture.  It has been used in recent years to illustrate occupational patterns even though the common black glazed ware has been subject to dating issues.[14]  This expansion and change of occupation is seen fanning out from Rome to a vast number of sites such as Roselle, in the territory of Volsinii, where an abundance of black-glazed pottery was uncovered dating to the Roman conquest and Late Etruscan Period.  Veii has also been subject to field walking and this archaeological technique has brought to light a considerable amount of black glazed ware and late almond rim ceramic indicative of the links with Roman culture and its expansion with the conquest of Italy.[15]

Street in Pompeii Svenska: En lugn gata i Pompeji
Street in Pompeii

Numismatic evidence provides an excellent point by which the introduction of Roman culture can be dated as coinage allows exact dates to be given and the earliest of these dates can be used to some degree to determine the earliest movement into the area.  Coin hoards found throughout Etruria and Campania such as at Cosa where 2004 Roman Denarii among other numismatic assemblages.[17]  The mint at Cosa also indicates that Roman coinage styles were adopted by the population of Cosa itself rather than just being imported.[18]

Survey work and archaeological exploration has uncovered that colonization was a significant part of the expansion of Roman power and influence in that it secured a rational exploitation of resources.[19]  The Latin colony of Cosa is a prime example of a site in Etruria which contains a complex body of material evidence illustrating the expansion and implementation of Roman culture away from Rome.[20]  Archaeological excavations have determined that Cosa was built almost entirely on a purely Roman foundation.[21]  Cosa has been assessed by archaeologists as being mutatis mutandis, made in the image of Rome.[22]

While there has been some debate that archaeologists and scholars may be pushing the image of Rome on these colonies, there is still a vast number of similarities that display the expansion of Roman culture.  The immigrants to colonies were Latin speakers and the towns they populated were fashioned to reflect their own expectations.  Not only was the layout often fashioned with links to that of Rome, but many of the buildings and architecture is seen to have reflected Rome’s.  The temple of Concordia at Cosa, identified by the inscription ‘Concordiae’, displays the expansion of this.[23]  Buildings such as the Comitium excavated at Cosa also display links and similarities to the Comitium at Rome, and it is almost identical to those at Paestum, Fregallae and Alba Fucens as well.[24]

Sites at Campania also show this link to Rome, and the relative dates of material and architectural features within these sites allow us to map over time the expansion of Roman culture throughout both Campania and Etruria.  The most significant and well known of these examples in Campania is Pompeii.  Unlike the example of Cosa, this site represents a number of towns that had Roman culture thrust upon an already established urban site.  Pompeii was colonised by the Romans c.80BC leading to major work upon the city’s public architecture.[25]  The archaeology of Pompeii includes a covered theatre and an amphitheatre dedicated by C.Quinctius Valgus and M.Porcius.[26]  The expansion of Roman culture is also detectable in the use of materials such as yellow turf from the Campi Phlegraei and baked terracotta at Pompeii and techniques such as opus reticulatun.[27]  Architectural features such as the vaulted ceilings of the first century BC among other examples are also indicative of the expanding contribution of Roman architecture.[28]

Wallace-Hadrill and Fulford following their excavations of Insula I,9 in Pompeii and the House of Menander have explicitly questioned the use of materials to date architectural features, and the limitations of stone and architectural typologies.[29] While debates rise on the usefulness of materials to establish dates of certain features and their inclusion over time into settlement and building structure, they remain a means to detect the incorporation of Roman culture and styles into sites.[30] The use of stratigraphy, can be used to make up for the limitations of typological analysis to display the movement of Roman culture into an area over time, such as the policy of stratigraphical policy and exploration developed by Maiuri at Pompeii surrounding the excavation of the House of the Surgeon.[31]

The addition of typically Roman features such as their complex array of water systems, established in the last centuries BC throughout Campania and Etruria, also provide a means by which the expansion of Roman culture is detectable through the ability to add to urban infrastructure.  There appears to have been no clearer example of the adoption of Roman lifestyle and values than bath-building and the adoption of Roman water systems.  Examples of this adoption are seen at Musarna near Tuscania with the building of Roman style baths around 100BC to cater for a growing Roman influence and population.[32]  The most prominent examples are seen though within the archaeology of the Vesuvian cities of Campania, such as at Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Both in the private sector and the public sector of urban life appears to have been affected by Roman inclusions as seen in the archaeology.

Like the architectural features explored briefly above, the water systems provided for the needs and demands of Roman citizens in occupied areas.  One prime example of these systems in the archaeology is at Pompeii in first century residences after the colonization by Rome, especially seen in the archaeology of the House of the Vestals.  Extensive excavations undertaken by the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii in the House of the Vestals has enabled the vast majority of these Roman water systems to be analysed and mapped, and in turn has allowed for analysis of temporal development and cultural implications.[33]  Excavations have uncovered the addition of pressurized water from the newly formed aqueduct along with numerous pipes, cisterns and cesspits attached to fountains, baths and pools throughout the property.[34]  The House of the Vestals is just one such example of how water features were central to structural changes and indicative of the expansion of Roman culture and values.

The scholarly assessments of the Romanization of Italy pay the majority of attention to urban centres and public spaces, but the expansion of Roman culture is also detectable through the analysis of funerary archaeology and inscriptions.[35]  This is seen at Volaterrae, where funerary inscriptions are almost exclusively Latinised as well as the names on these inscriptions by the end of the first century BC.[36]  These along with the appearance of Latin cults and religious centres, alongside Etruscan ones, is also indicative of the expanding Roman culture and religion in the periods of conquest.  The Temple of the Capitoline hill at Cosa is a prime example of the expansion of religious aspects, and its stratigraphy illustrates the increasing religious importance and development.[37]  Excavations at the centre of the structure have revealed layers of carbonized earth suggesting a ritual space and centre which continued in use and significance from the first years of colonization.[38]

English: Ancient roman road which leaded from ...
Ancient roman road which leaded from Savaria to the imperial Rome.

The rural areas of Etruria and Campania also contain archaeological materials and evidence that are characteristic of the expansion of Roman culture in a rural context.  Excavations and surveys of a number of small farm complexes in both northern and southern Etruria display this as the Romans expanded their influence into the area taking advantage of the fertile landscape.[40]  The farms in Southern Etruria appear more so to show Roman influence as they many were probably built to Roman standards.[41]  The South Etruria survey provides a view into rural areas such as Ager Faliscus, where eighty percent of farm sites from the period of Romanization appear to have been abandoned after the 241BC defeat.[42]  The material evidence from the remaining twenty percent of sites show a strong inclination towards Roman standards.

The abandonment and redistribution of rural sites as seen in the archaeology also shows the movement of Roman colonists and culture throughout the areas in question.  The area of Cosa again provides a prime example of this movement of Roman influence into Etruria.  An analysis of surveyed farm sites in the area dating to the time of Romanization shows that of the fifty-eight Etruscan farms in the fourth century BC only 16 farms survived after the mid third.[43]  This is also evident at Vulci and the territory of Saturnia where the majority of lands were redistributed between Roman colonists after the areas defeat.[44]  The South Etruria survey also revealed that Ager Faliscus’ rural areas suffered the same fate with 80% of surveyed sites appearing to be abandoned by Etruscan culture after the defeat of 241BC.[45] By surveying and mapping these sites and analysing material evidence, archaeologists can determine the spread of Roman colonisation and in turn their culture.  For instance, the areas noted before appear to have suffered a considerable change in ownership with the expansion of Roman influence and power, on the other hand, areas such as Veii and Bracciano have a far higher percentage of surviving Etruscan sites.

The Romanization of Etruria and Campania in the last few centuries has been thoroughly examined my scholars and archaeologists for many years and the expansion of Roman Culture is indeed detectable through many aspects of the archaeology and landscape of the areas.  Urban centres appear to provide the most bountiful assemblages of artefacts and architectural features which can be used to map out the distribution and development of Roman culture.  One of the most explicitly visual ways that Roman culture is detectable is with the mapping out of and analysis of Roman road routes and the path of influence with colonization and trade.

J.I 2012


[1] Potter, T.W., Towns and Territories in Southern Etruria in Rich, J., and Wallace-Hadrill, A., City and Country in the Ancient World (London), p.199 – Roman roads were essential to the expansion of the empire.  Through them archaeologists can track the movement of Roman influence.  Way stations, mile stones and other material evidence also provide archaeological indicators by which to track the expansion.

[2] Hemphill, P., An Archaeological Survey of Southern Etruria (1970), p.35

[3] Ibid., p.35

[4] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., The Etruscans (Oxford, 2000), p.267

[5] Ibid., p.297

[6] Blake, H., Potter, T.W., and Whitehouse, D.B., Papers in Italian Archaeology I: The Lancaster Seminar, Recent Research in Prehistoric, Classical and Medieval Archaeology Part I (1978), p.99 & 107

[7] Potter, op.cit., p.197

[8] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.267 – These roads also served to suit Roman needs such as military movements into Etruria and beyond, and are important to the archaeological record as conveying the expansion of Roman culture through such mediums as the movements of the army and the connection of new colonies to Rome itself.

[9] Ibid., p.268

[10] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T.,op.cit., p.269

[11] Hemhill, op.cit., p.36

[12][12] Bucchero is a grey to black fabric with a burnished finish and appears in small quantities through sites of the Etruscan period.

[13] Blake, H., Potter, T.W., and Whitehouse, D.B., op.cit., p.102

[14] Hemhill, op.cit., p.35

[15] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T.,op.cit., p.275 – Veii offers a typical example of the development of an Italic settlements probably the most famous of towns in Southern Etruria. See Owens, E.J., The City in the Greek and Roman World, pp.97-120

[17] Buttrey, T.V., Cosa: The Coins, in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Vol.34 (1980), p.5

[18] Ibid., p.17

[19] Torelli, M., Tota Italia – Essays in the Cultural Formation of Roman Italy (Oxford, 1999), p.3

[20] Cosa – is a Latin colony situated in modern Tuscany.  It was perhaps confiscated land from the Etruscans but archaeology points more towards it being a new colony.

[21] Brown in Fentress, E., Romanization and the City: Creation, Transformations and Failures (1998), p.11

[22] Ibid., p.11

[23] Brown in Fentress, E., op.cit., p.20

[24] Ibid., p.22 – The Comitium is recognised as a centre of judicial and political activities in a Roman Forum.  The placement of this type of building in colonies indicates a movement of the Roman culture to sites around Italy, namely in Etruria and Campania.

[25] Ling, R., Pompeii – History, Life and Afterlife (Gloucestershire, 2007), p.53

[26] Ibid., p.54

[27] Ling, op.cit., p.61

[28] Ibid., p.61

[29] Jones, R., and Robinson, D., The Making of an Elite House: The House of the Vestals at Pompeii in Journal of Roman Archaeology, Vol.17 (2004), p.107

[30] This can be asserted, even though a temporal record of incorporation can not fully be established by means of typologies.

[31] Ibid., p.107

[32] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.292

[33] Jones, R., and Robinson, D., Water, Wealth and Social Status at Pompeii: The House of the Vestals in the First Century in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol.109 (2005), p.696

[34] Ibid., p.697

[35] Terrenato, N., Tam Firmum Municipium: The Romanization of Volaterrae and Its Cultural Implications, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol.88 (1998), p.105

[36] Ibid., p.105 – Volaterrae was an important Etruscan centre which became a municipium after the Roman conquest.  This information comes from the results of a field survey providing major additions to a subject previously vague launched in 1987, calling for a radical rethinking of local history. Involving a large scattering of material evidence of funerary culture and settlement culture.  Often in contrast to more southerly surveys in Etruria which are known to be used to represent the region as a whole.  Saying this, the surveys surrounding Volaterrae still provide essential indication of the latinisation of Etruscan metropolises.

[37] Fentress, op.cit., p.23 – the Capitoline hill was the arx of Cosa and received a vast amount of attention by Frank.E.Brown

[38] Fentress, op.cit., p.23

[40] Terranato, op.cit., p.102 – South Etruria Survey plus numerous others between 1960 and the present day

[41] Ibid., p.104

[42] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.269

[43] Fentress, op.cit., p.12 – work of Frank Brown published in Fentress

[44] Ibid., p.12

[45] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.270

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Holey Cranium Batman! The Archaeology of Trephination

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When I woke up this morning I had one of my unfortunate and very painful migraines, oh my! Pain pounding in my temples and the feeling of a truck’s worth of cotton wool being pressed into the back or my eye balls. Not fun, day ruined. But it got me thinking, not for the first time, the prehistoric people had definite method behind their madness. Trephination has been practiced since, well who knows when, but we have evidence for it from as far back ad 6500 BC! When one suffers from headaches sometimes it feels like if you could just relieve that pressure all would be good. Don’t go drilling holes in your head please but do listen to one of the many medical traditions which links the ancient to the modern periods.

Trephination from the 15th Century The Cure of Folly, by Hieronymus Bosch

Trephination (AKA. Trepanning or burr holing) is a surgical intervention where a hole is drilled, incised or scraped into the skull using simple surgical tools. In drilling into the skull and removing a piece of the bone, the dura mater is exposed without damage to the underlying blood-vessels, meninges and brain. Trephination has been used to treat health problems associated with intracranial diseases, epileptic seizures, migraines and mental disorders by relieving pressure. There is also evidence it was used as a primitive form of emergency surgery to remove shattered pieces of bone from fractured skulls after receiving a head wound, and cleaning out the pools of blood that would form underneath the skull.

Evidence for trephination occurs from prehistoric times from the Neolithic onwards. The main pieces of archaeological evidence are in the forms of cave paintings and human remains; the skulls themselves from the prehistoric times. It is the oldest surgical procedure for which we actually have archaeological evidence. At one site in France, burials included forty instances of trephination from around 6500 BC; one third of the skulls found at the site. The percentage of occurrences though here is fairly high and percentages largely differ between sites and continents. It is from the human remains found at such sites that we know that the surgery had a fair survival rate. Many skulls show signs of healing that indicate that the patient lived for years after the event, even sometimes having trephination performed again later in life and again surviving the experience.

Skull with multiple trephination holes showing signs of healing from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

From pre-Columbian Mesoamerica we find evidence on physical cranial remains in burials in addition to iconographic artworks and reports from the post-colonial period. The occurrences are widespread throughout South America, from the Andean civilisations and pre-Incan cultures such as the Paracas culture in Ica in South Lima where burials show signs of trephination, skull mutilation and modification. In Mexico, Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula, archaeological evidence dates from between 950 and 1400 AD. The earliest archaeological survey from the American continent published is from the late nineteenth century when the Norwegian ethnogapher Carl Lumholtz performed surveys of the Tarahumara mountains. Lumholtz’s publications were the precurser to documented cases from Oaxaca, Central Mexico and the Tlatilco civilisation.

From Europe in the Classical and Renaissance periods we have evidence of trephination from archaeological and literary sources; including within the famous and essential writings of Hippocrates and Galen where it is termed in the Greek ἀνάτρησιζ. One thing that strikes one when dealing with evidence from both America and Europe is just how widespread this technique was and how it appeared as a major surgical technique on both continents independent of influence and association.

The Hippocratic Treatises make mention of trepanning in the chapter on the injuries of the Head, which states:

‘For a person wounded to the same . . . extent . . . will sustain a much greater injury, provided he has received the blow at the sutures, than if it was elsewhere. And many of these require trepanning.’

Galen also makes mention by explaining the technique of trephination and the risks involved to the patient:

‘For when we chisel out the fragments of bone we are compelled for safety to put underneath the so-called protectors of the meninx, and if these are pressed too heavily on the brain, the effect is to render the person senseless as well as incapable of all voluntary motion.’

Much of the archaeological evidence from Europe for trephination comes from south-western Germany dating to as early as the stone age. But the cranial evidence for the procedure is widespread throughout Europe; Ireland, Denmark, France and Italy in particular. And there is considerable evidence from Russia and China. The early documents from classical Greece and anthropologist’s observations of pre-modern people in Peru has shown that the people involved had a knowledge of the risk involved in the procedure. Publications detailing the technique from Mote Alban conclude that there was a process of non-therapeutic experimentation for some time which explored the use of different techniques and sizes of burr hole.

Han and Chen have completed a particularly interesting study of the archaeological evidence of trephination in early China. They looked as six specimens from five sites ranging from 5000-2000 BP which showed cranial perforation in prehistoric China. The earliest skull analysed by Han and Chen was the M382 Cranium from Fuikia aite, Guangrao, Shandong. M382 was the skull of an adult male of the Dawenkou culture which shows a hole which was 31mm at the widest point. Evidence of healing shows that the patient recovered and lived for a considerable time before he later died. M382 was radiocarbomn dated to around 5000 BP. Han and Chen bring up one particularly interesting hypothesis to why trephination was performed: to obtain bone discs from people alive or dead for protection from demons. This would suggest, if correct, that in prehistoric China there was a cohabitation of ideas concerning human and supernatural intervention in association with illness and disease.

Incan Skull

What we can conclude about trephination is that this ancient surgical technique was astonishingly widespread and was practiced on the living and the dead in association with head trauma and for other reasons including the spiritual and the experimental. The cranial evidence which appears is from a range of patients of different ages and sexes, showing that the operation was performed on men, women and children. Evidence of healing and multiple burr holes indicate that there was a survival rate and some were even operated on repeatedly. But some skulls show us the risks of the operation as well. Some skulls uncovered have had evidence that the procedure was abandoned mid-operation as the trephining is incomplete.

It may seem a strange thing that this technique was used throughout the world in different places and periods unrelated to one another. But there is a logic in the way a wish to relieve pressure may naturally lead to trephination as an accepted answer. After all, in theory trephination works, and in some cases in practice. This is why the technique is still used for multiple reasons in modern medicine. For instance, trephination is used in some modern eye surgeries such as a corneal transplant; it is just termed differently as a form of pseudoscience called a craniotomy. It is also modern in modern intracranial pressure monitoring and in surgery for subungal hematoma (blood under the nail) because one can also refer to trephination in reference to the nails and other bones.

Well there you go, there are my pearls of wisdom for the day. Trephination. Oldest surgical technique supported by archaeological evidence. Still used today. That’s pretty cool 🙂 And my headache is better.

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen!

Recommended Reading:

Han, K., and Chen X., The Archaeological Evidence of Trepanation in Early China

Lisowski, F.P. 1967. Prehistoric and early historic trepanation. In Don Brothwell and A.T.Sandison (eds.), Diseases in Antiquity, pp. 651-672. Springfield: Charles C Thomas.

Oakley, K.P., W. Brooke, R. Akester, and D.R. Brothwell 1959. Contributions on trepanning or trephination in ancient and modern times. Man 59 (133):93.

Piggott, S. 1940. A trepanned skull of the beaker period from Dorset and the practice of trepanning in Prehistoric Europe. Proceedings of Prehistoric Society n. s. 6(3): 112-132.

Wehrli, G.A. 1937. Die trepanation in fruheren jahrhunderten. Ciba-Ziho 91:15-22.

Wölfel, D.J. 1937. Sinn der trepanation. Ciba-Ziho 91: 2-6.

Confessions of an Archaeologist: Live Free and Dig Hard!

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First of all i am particularly pleased that I managed to fit two movie puns into the one post title 🙂

When students start studying archaeology and ancient history they tend to always think of one thing: Indiana Jones and Tombraider. Okay technically that is two things but they amount to the same, the romaticised view. So here is what really happens to the professional archaeologist! Live free and die hard is actually an accurate way of describing time as an international archaeologist. In my time I have had an absolute ball but I have had to work ridiculously hard to get where I am and get the opportunities to play hard.

Honestly, if you love history as much as I do then the hard work can’t help but come with some fun. I have cliff jumped in the Peloponnese, got drunk in ancient temples of Apollo, played rock cricket with internationally acclaimed academics and then played beer pong with them in university libraries. Every dig i have been on has had its theme song from Dr Horrible’s Bad Horse in Scotland to The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up in Greece (The mp3 player got stuck during pottery analysis with that one). I have discussed Doctor Who with Orthodox nuns, found a TARDIS and gone on a Doctor Who hunt through the British Library, flown planes over active volcanoes, chased thieves off ancient sites and had conversations with Romanian strippers about their shoes. And note that none of these few things were planned!

Life as an archaeologist has been awesome but I’m an eccentric and outgoing person so who knows, this could have happened with any job I chose to pursue. These are the things I do not confess to my students because they are only a small part of the whole. But admittedly I love the other side just as much though often stressful and tedious!

On my last dig season in Greece I went through so much pottery and got so desensitized that I thought of drowning myself in the wet sieve.  I had to give up going to Olympia the first time to finish reading and reviewing a dissertation on Roman drainage pipes. The reality of the archaeologist is many hours of finding nothing in stifling heat or marsh land in the pouring rain or sitting in an isolated room for forty hours a week sorting through hundreds of Greek inscriptions to find the one one that is useful. Eight years of university to get a PhD (and it is taking forever). The reality of archaeology is a lot of repetitive research and analysis, lesson plans and bad weather. But you know what? I still love it! The opportunities are amazing if you are proactive even though the pay is virtually non-existent. The history one has in their hands is inspiring and never boring in the long run.

So if you are thinking of starting a career in archaeology remember the two sides to the coin. Its bloody hard work but it’s worth it if one loves what they are doing as I do. Plus its kind of fun saying that you can read several ancient languages and seeing someones jaw drop. Archaeologists are not by any means boring people. They are generally eccentric and quite mad (I’ve associated with Hawaiian shirted underwater experts and former smugglers turned archaeologists)

Also remember that one needs the languages. Its what students often find the hardest part but it really is necessary, who knows one day you could end up in my class or could be teaching a class of your own.