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Professor David George in "Popular Archaeology" Magazine

November 11, 2014

Popular Archaeology
November 11, 2014
Photos: Courtesy Daniel George, Jr.

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Orvieto Dig Saint AnselmArchaeologists Investigate Underground Pyramidal Structure Beneath Orvieto, Italy

Archaeologists are scratching their heads about an underground pyramid-shaped structure they have been excavating beneath the historic medieval town of Orvieto in Italy. But it may not be a mystery forever. They hope to find answers as they continue to tease artifacts and architectural materials from the soil.

"We discovered it three summers ago and still have no idea what it is," write Prof. David B. George of Saint Anselm College and co-director Claudio Bizzarri of PAAO and colleagues about the site. "We do know what it is not.  It is not a quarry; it's walls are too well dressed. It is not a well or cistern; its walls have no evidence of hydraulic treatments."*

Calling it the "cavitá" ('hole' or 'hollow' in Italian), or hypogeum, the archaeologists have thus far excavated about 15 meters down. They marked their third year at the site in 2014. By then they had uncovered significant amounts of what they classify as Gray and Black bucchero, commonware, and Red and Black Figure pottery remains. They have dated deposits to the middle to the end of the 6th century BCE.

  • Read the full article "Archaeologists Investigate Underground Pyramidal Structure Beneath Orvieto, Italy" in Popular Archaeology »

Saint Anselm College Addendum, Nov. 17.

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David George, Classics
At the site in Allerona, there was an excavation of Roman foundations beneath a 12th century church.

"We worked on the medieval graves that we discovered last year to remove the skeletons," the professor says. "These graves were undisturbed and allowed us to do archaeometric studies on the remains. One of the skeletons was curiously placed in his grave with a rock stuck in his mouth."

Professor George says this likely reflects a practice called maschalismos that seeks to make the dead incapable of haunting the living.

Mary Kate Donais, chemistry
Saint Anselm College Professor Donais, who also worked at the dig site this summer, recently presented a discussion titled, "Characterization of the Structures at Sant'Ansano (Italy) using Portable Spectroscopy" at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics & Political Library.

"Undergraduates that go on the dig are trained in the protocols and two main instruments - a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, or XRF and Raman spectroscopy, which gives us elemental information - either ideally before we go, or in the first few days that they're there and they do that under my direction," said Prof. Donais. "And then once they've learned how to follow the protocols, I typically only stay at the dig for a couple of weeks, and then I leave the instrument and all the protocols with them and they report back and get me the data, but they continue on with it even while I'm not there. They're trained well enough to do that."

Professor Donais and her research was featured in The Academic Minute on May 7, 2015.

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