The Pintia Field School

This June, I spent three weeks at an archaeological field school in northern Spain, working on an Iron Age necropolis called Las Ruedas. The necropolis served as a burial place for the Vaccean city of Pintia, which housed about 5,000 residents over 170 acres, and was occupied from around 400 BCE to roughly 600 CE. The necropolis contains burials from the Vaccean, Roman, and Visigothic phases of the area’s history. The Vacceans who first built the city of Pintia were a highly advanced Celt-Iberian civilization, with skilled artisans and excellent defensive structures–though the Romans did eventually conquer the city and settle in the area. The site straddles a stream, with the residential area and necropolis on one side, and the crematorium and artisans’ quarters (metal works and pottery workshops) on the other, which would have reduced the risk of fire in the residential part of the city.

The interpretive material the Pintia staff has put together for Las Ruedas Necropolis emphasizes the link between modern-day residents of the region and their own ancestry (the Vaccean people who lived here before them, whose descendants they are). Site director Dr. Carlos Sanz is especially focused on making the graves of the necropolis more personal. Each of the excavated tombs is marked with rough chronological dates, age at death and sex of the deceased (when either can be estimated), and requiem poetry (70 poems are by Aderito Pérez Calvo, a late friend of Dr. Sanz, and the rest are Celtic or Latin requiem poems). The stela (standing stones) which mark the graves have been re-placed in their original position, and a cypress tree is also planted near each excavated grave. There are larger, modern monuments with Celt-Iberian symbols, including one dedicated to the warriors who were not cremated (like the majority of Vacceans), but exposed to the vultures after death. Another is a Roman-style monument of tile, engraved and decorated in Vaccean patterns, which Dr. Sanz made himself. It has spaces where cylindrical tubes containing catalogued remains can be inserted once excavation and analysis is complete. This makes it possible to return the remains to the necropolis, while also maintaining provenience for other researchers who may analyze the remains in the future. An empty area in Las Ruedas is now used for dedications to people who have supported and helped with the project who have since died. The monuments and dedications bring to the forefront that the past and the present of the area are linked in important ways, that heritage has meaning, and that long-dead ancestors were real people with real lives. I found the care and attention to detail in the interpretive material both touching and impressive. It highlights how important the presentation of information can be in stressing the significance of a site and giving visitors a sense of connection to the people of the past.

Within walking distance of the necropolis is the tiny village of Padilla de Duero (population around 70), where the University of Valladolid’s Federico Wattenberg Center for Vaccean Studies is located. The Center, founded by Dr. Sanz, houses a small museum (which doubles as a living/dining area for students), a dormitory and kitchen, a laboratory, and a curation facility. Eva Laguna is in charge of putting together the publications for the Center, and she and Dr. Sanz cook all of the delicious Spanish meals for the students, as well. We were a small group–only five students–so we each got a lot of guidance during work hours from Dr. Sanz and Rita Pedro, the international coordinator, translator, and co-director of excavations.

On our days off, we went on excursions to see, for example, the castle at Piñafiel, the Vaccean exhibit in Palencia, and the University of Vallodalid’s rare and antique book library, as well as part of the university’s anatomical collections. We went canoeing one afternoon through a gorgeous canyon with cliffs full of birds’ nests. On our last full day, we visited an excavated Roman villa, as well as Altamira and Monte del Castillo, two caves containing 18,000-year-old paintings.

Work days were split in half: by 7:45 a.m. we were on site working, then headed back to the Center (or, more often, Angelina’s, the cafe down the street from the Center) around 1 pm. At 2:30, we had lunch, followed by siesta time (or free time, if you could stay awake), and at 5 we headed back to work. Dinner started around 9:30 p.m., but since we genuinely all liked each other, we usually stayed up late socializing, swapping music, and watching movies together instead of going to bed early.

Even with only three weeks of fieldwork, we put in 150 excavation hours, plus seminars on Vaccean culture, osteology, artifact processing and repair, archaeological drawing, and stratigraphy. While stratigraphy may not sound like the most exciting thing about fieldwork, it’s one of the most important things for an aspiring archaeologist to learn, and it’s not something I could have learned from a textbook or in a classroom. Even though I understood that stratigraphy provides the context for the materials and shows the layout of the site’s features (pits, structures, etc.), when I first started digging I had no idea what to look for in terms of changes in soil composition. After spending a few days in the field with instruction, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been able to see feature outlines or composition changes from the start. It isn’t that stratigraphy is particularly difficult, but you do have to physically work on a site in order to get the hang of it.

We excavated two units, each of us spending some time digging and some time screening for artifacts. Most of what we found were pottery sherds and faunal remains (burial of portions of the funerary feast was common), but we also found small pieces of cremated human remains, metal objects (brooches, pieces of weapons or belts, etc.), and canicas (decorated ceramic marbles, also traditionally buried in Vaccean graves). Just when it looked like we might not uncover an actual tomb during our excavation, we came to a collection of intact vessels–including a funerary urn. After cleaning all around the area to make sure we didn’t miss any associated artifacts, we took elevation measurements and drew the tomb into the site map, photographed everything in context, and took the pottery back to the Center for processing. The interior of each vessel was scraped with a scalpel in order to take a small sample to be tested. These samples are analyzed to determine the contents of the vessels–whether they contained wine, olive oil, or ash from human remains, for example.

Our success with the tomb coincided with Padilla de Duero’s feast of San Antonio, and we were invited to join the festivities along with the whole town. With cause to celebrate over our fieldwork and only a few days before the end of the program, it was the perfect time for a big feast in great company, followed by late-night dancing and singing.

I couldn’t have asked for a better field school experience, and I’m grateful to all the people who shared that experience with me–my hard-working fellow students and the always-informative Pintia staff, the staff of ArchaeoSpain and the University of Valladolid, and the kind and hospitable people of Padilla de Duero–as well as the people who made it possible for me to go: the University of Louisville Department of Anthropology and the Etscorn International Summer Research Awards Committee.

Operation: Feeding Frenzy

Classes start soon, and with that comes the knowledge that – however much I like to cook and want to eat nutritious and delicious (and cheap) meals during the semester – feeding myself and Zak tends to fall by the wayside once school starts.  So I’ve spent the last week or so arming myself (and my freezer) with ways to make it easy to chow down without resorting to packaged meals and pizza every night of the school year.  Yes, I take eating seriously, and yes, the semester will be conquered by my tactical assault by means of vitamins and essential nutrients.  Here’s the logistics:

1. Breakfast.  The meal I hate the most.  Being not a morning person, it’s like eating breakfast is an admission of failure – once I start eating, I have officially woken up, and now I have to go do stuff and behave like a civil human being around other human beings who would probably also rather be asleep.  And yet, I’m hungry and will feel even worse if I don’t eat something.  Usually this means I put breakfast off until I’m about to run out the door with a stomach full of nothing but coffee.  And I’d like to eat both a granola bar and a tube of yogurt, but I never do (because I’m incredibly lazy in the morning).  So here’s my solution:

20140807_140403 20140807_140415

Dried cherries + dried blueberries + vanilla yogurt covered raisins + regular raisins +  sunflower seeds.  Throw into a bag, shake up, then put the mix into the emptied raisin boxes.  One box = breakfast…and it’s got protein, B vitamins & anti-oxidants, plus a sugar boost.

2. Lunch.  Normally this consists of either Wendy’s dollar menu on campus or, if I’m at the lab, an instant macaroni bowl with queso added to it.  Although queso mac and Wendy’s are definitely still options, there’s this…  So about once every two weeks, I end up making a ginormous batch of something – stew, slow cooker pork roast, roast beef, whatever.  And of course the two of us don’t go through all of it before we’re like, “Okay, I’ve had beef stew three days in a row – Enough already!”  So I throw the whole thing in the freezer and forget it exists until I’m trying to fit groceries into the freezer and can’t.  So about 1/2 the freezer is full of plastic containers that are 1/2 full of leftovers in big blocks that don’t thaw for two days.  So I split up the frozen leftovers into sandwich-size ziplocks, froze them flat (so they thaw quickly) and ended up with about a month’s worth of lunches and more room in the freezer.

20140812_134255

Chicken tomatillo soup, Blue cheese Italian chicken & veggies with rice, Chile, Beef Roast Stew, Tomato chipotle soup, and Pork stew – and that’s not even all the stuff I have in the freezer!

3. Smoothies.  I love them so!  When you don’t have time to get fresh fruits and veggies from the grocery, though, you can run out of things to put in your smoothies pretty quickly – or else you don’t use up your produce quick enough and it all goes bad, which is worse.  So I got the idea (from Pinterest) of making “smoothie packs”:  pick your produce combo, throw it in a sandwich bag, and freeze it.  When you want a smoothie, grab a pack from the freezer, empty it into the blender, add some yogurt and applesauce (or whatever liquid) and you’re good to go.  Yay!  I made about 7 different “flavors” using these fruits & veggies:  strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots, cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, bananas, avocados, spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumber, zucchini, and carrots.

20140812_133406 20140812_133411

4. Dinner!!!  This calls for serious tactics, since dinner is my favorite meal of the day.  So:

  • 4a. Spent the summer finding recipes that are quick, easy, and don’t use a ton of dishes.  Have become a huge fan of the one-pot wonder meals on Pinterest, where I can literally throw all the ingredients (including the noodles) into a covered pot and have dinner 1/2 and hour later.  There’s chicken Alfredo, pasta primavera, veggie lo mein, creamy Buffalo penne…you name it!  Then there’s savory “cupcake” recipes.  Take almost anything and put it in a muffin tin lined with wonton wrappers and bake it for 20 minutes, and it’s awesome.  Taco cupcakes and shepherd’s pie cupcakes are my personal favorites!
  • 4b. Get a rotisserie chicken.  Pull all the meat off it.  Toss a little chicken broth and/or white wine in with it so it won’t be dry.  Freeze it in small portions.  Now when you want a some chicken on a salad, for a pasta dish, or in a soup, you don’t have to cook the chicken.  Hooray!20140807_155311
  • 4c. Ramen can become a decent meal without taking much longer than it normally takes to make it.  All you have to do is add some good flavoring, crack an egg into the hot broth, and stir.  Normally my “fancy ramen” includes coconut milk, also.  As for the other seasoning I add to fancy ramen, well…I figured I’d just mix up a big batch instead of adding all the ingredients individually. 

    20140807_180445

    Contents: Soy sauce, lime juice, chili paste, sesame oil, rice vinegar.

  • 4d. Take a cue from Europe once a week!  A plate of bread, good cheeses, fruit, and some form of sliced sausage (smoked sausage, hard salami, etc.) is a damn good meal, and only requires you to pick the stuff to put on the plate.  And by good cheese, I’m not talking about a few slices each of Swiss and American cheese.  I’m talking about the good shit you get from the deli area of the grocery.  I’m talking about Manchego, aged white cheddar, goat cheese with sundried tomatoes and herbs, etc.  A little sample size of a few is all you need; you don’t have to break the bank with a huge block of $15 cheese!
  • 4e.  When my brain is in school mode, it’s not always easy to think about what’s for dinner.  So I made two lists to put on the fridge:  15 Minute Meals and 30 Minute Meals.  Everything else can wait for the weekend!

10-Word Poems

I’ve been doing my best to organize my stuff (especially papers) before the fall semester begins.  In going through the huge plastic tubs full of notes, documents, writing exercises, random movie ticket stubs, drawings from nephews, etc. in order to categorize everything into folders, I’ve run across a lot of things I’d forgotten about.  Some of the things I’d forgotten I had, I’ve been so happy to rediscover.  Letters from my family from times when we were far apart, comic books my nephew drew and mailed to me, notes from high school classes with my friends…sure have brought a smile to my face and, at times, tears to my eyes in the past few weeks.

One of the really fun things I rediscovered was a set of 10-word poems that my mom and I wrote.  It’s a writer-nerd game that any number of writers can play together:  Each person writes their name on a sheet of paper and passes it to however many other writers there are.  When each sheet has a title from each person (except the person whose name is on it) it gets passed back to the owner.  When you get your titles back, you have to write a 10-word poem for each title.  Sometimes, this gets extremely silly.  Sometimes, it gets unexpectedly deep!  And mind you, these aren’t haiku – you don’t have to count syllables, just words, and you can break the lines up however you want.

Here are a couple of our silly results:

Gluttonous Carnivorous Extravaganza

Meat! Meat! Meat!

What joy!

People everywhere!

Title by Sara Marian, Poem by Marian Allen

 

Penguin

A business suit and

A cheerful disposition —

What excellent company!

Title by Marian Allen, Poem by Sara Marian