Julia Lawless ’21, Analysis of Archaeological Ceramics in Umbria, Italy

My name is Julia Lawless and I am a rising sophomore. I am currently undeclared but am intending on pursuing an art history major with minors in chemistry and classics. While this combination may initially appear odd, it is necessary for those wishing to pursue art restoration and conservation as a possible career path. I have always loved the idea of being able to help preserve the cultural heritage of a certain place or time. Early in my education, I discovered that my favorite units of study were those of ancient civilizations. My projects for class in high school frequently combined the skills I was learning in my ceramics classes with class reading and supplemented material I gathered from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology’s online resources to create replicate Etruscan personal belongings. So, when Professor Leslie Mechem forwarded an email regarding a preservation studies program in the small town of San Gemini in the Umbrian region of Italy, I was simply over the moon that such an incredible opportunity existed.

My goal of pursuing art restoration requires I eventually attend a graduate program in art restoration and conservation. Since there are only five graduate programs for this in the United States, you would imagine that the application process is very selective. For the majority of these programs, numerous field/lab hours are required to even apply. Hands-on experience working in a conservation setting is critical for not just applying to the program but also for setting oneself apart in such a competitive applicant pool. The opportunity to begin cumulating hours so early in my education, in such an incredible setting is simply unimaginable for a rising sophomore in college. In addition to acquiring indispensable hours, I also met some wonderful people all at different stages of their education and professional goals. Since I am just beginning my journey into the world of cultural preservation, these connections are going to be extremely useful later. For instance, I met several people who had full careers in studio art before switching their attention to art and architectural restoration. There were also people who had already completed an undergraduate program in restoration in Italy, as well as professional restorers coming to learn more about ceramic restoration specifically.

The first part of my time at the San Gemini Preservation Studies Program was spent learning how to analyze archaeological ceramic remains found at excavation sites around Italy. I learned all about how to distinguish types of pottery from others given only a shard. My instructor was Elena Lorenzetti, a professional archaeologist based in Rome. She patiently showed how to identify and categorize pottery based on the surface decoration, type of clay, firing technique, and details such as the shape of the rim or base of the pot. Reference material in five different languages was used to determine the type of each fragment. Seven-hundred and nine fragments of pottery were cataloged from an excavation site in Bevagna, which is in the center of the Italian province of Umbria. My final product was a 25-page archeological report describing the excavation site, the shards found and identified, and providing a timeline for the excavation site. When cataloguing shards of pottery there are many identifying characteristics to take note of: the level of the excavation, the class of pottery, the production site, whether the form is open or closed, the definition of the shape, the type of pottery (which is identified by matching the rim or base piece with reference material written about certain classes of pottery), the chronology of the type, any surface decoration, and finally the size of the fragment. All of these characteristics allow us to gather information in order to create a complete chronology for the excavation site. The goal of the paper is to organize the finding in an easily understood way with graphs, charts, and drawings detailing the types of pottery found and dating each layer of the excavation. These drawings were created to detail the shape of the pottery from a small fragment. The chart I have included details the fragments found in the deepest level of the excavation. Thirty-two percent of the fragments found in this level were archaic courseware, which is to be expected since this level of excavation would be the oldest and archaic courseware is one of the oldest types of pottery. This also allows us to date the excavation site from 290 BCE to the medieval age.

I am immensely grateful for this opportunity! Without the generous help of the Summer Experience Fund, I would have never been able to experience cultural preservation in action and gain first-hand participation in the analysis of archaeological ceramics!

Sorting and measuring ceramic bricks

Beginning the analytic process

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