Lauren Malkoun

AIA-LA 2021 Scholarship recipient

My experience in Pompeii

It’s official. As only a sophomore in undergrad, I’ve peaked. Let me explain. I graduated high school during the beginning of the pandemic, and I began to study archaeology at the University of Southern California. I attended my freshman year from the comfort of my home in Michigan, and, as one could imagine, after an entire year of remote education, I could not wait to be back in the field. Well, thanks to the generous Undergraduate Fieldwork scholarship that I was awarded by the Archaeological Institute of America, Los Angeles Society, I had the opportunity to be a part of excavations in central Spain and also in Pompeii, Italy. Shortly after the end of the spring semester, I embarked on my journey.

After being part of the team in Spain for three weeks, I set off for Pompeii. In Pompeii, I was excavating at the Porta Sarno Necropolis. Interestingly enough the site had yet to be included in the gates of the park. Working at the site felt like working in another world, in our own little bubble. We were part of the city but separated from the park by a gate and railroad tracks. While we did not have tourists constantly watching us, I could feel the pressure that came from being an archaeologist in Pompeii. Nothing could have prepared me for what I would experience there. During those 5 weeks the team at Porta Sarno Necropolis made history or rather excavated it. I’d like to preface what I am about to talk about. It is important as archaeologists and people to be respectful and have empathy especially when researching and speaking about the human past and human remains. That said, as we excavated with care, we found the mausoleum of Marcus Venerius Secundio. Inside the mausoleum, we found his tomb in the south east corner, and in this tomb, we found Marcus Venerius Secundio inhumated. Typically Romans were cremated, so this in itself was bizarre. With further excavation, it became clear that there were still strands of hair on his head. To add, with the inscription on the mausoleum, along with information provided from artifacts in the tomb itself and artifacts and urns found next to the tomb, it becomes clear that Secundio was Greek. Furthermore, he was a slave to the city and then became free and eventually wealthy, hence his own tomb. Marcus Venerius Secundio aids in our understanding of the presence of the Greek language in Pompeii and tells us that Greek plays were being performed alongside Latin plays. Through these discoveries at Porta Sarno, we were able to deepen our understanding of the city and the variety of people and languages it housed. When I first arrived in Pompeii, I felt like a fish out of water, confused by the strata and our finds, but after 5 weeks of excavating, with guidance from the staff, and through communal learning, I felt a connection with the site like no other. I am still learning about and understanding Porta Sarno and what it means to be an archaeologist and hope to continue doing so while commemorating those who the site belonged to. I was pushed to truly understand stratigraphic units and what or where I was digging. I was encouraged to consciously dig, to be the dirt, to be the artifacts, if you will. More than improving my technical skills, making these discoveries taught me the importance of empathy and cultural awareness in the field of archaeology, a theme that remained constant throughout my summer. So there it is. That’s why I say I’ve peaked. Nonetheless, here’s to more discoveries, maybe I’ll peak again. Thank you again to the AIA-LA for making this experience of a lifetime possible. 

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