Every year, the Bailey COE awards fellowships to fund summer research opportunities for Wesleyan students across all majors and class years. Most recently, the COE awarded 35 summer fellowships and 1 fall fellowship to Wes students. Natalie Angstadt ’25 is a junior majoring in Archaeology and Neuroscience & Behavior. Last summer she engaged in an archaeological dig at Trasimeno Archaeology Field School with the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy.
What initially drew you to this summer experience? How does it relate to your academic interests?
I have a lot of experience doing lab research in neuroscience, starting high school. I was in a research lab, and I’m in a molecular biophysics lab here at Wesleyan. Last summer I was also doing lab research related to neuroscience. I never really had exposure to field archaeology or archaeological research, so I really just wanted that exposure to the field because I’m equally interested in both of my majors.
This program, specifically, was interesting to me because of its location in Italy, and because it also had a really great focus on public outreach, which is valuable in archaeology.
Archaeology as a field has a history of going into places and not working closely enough with the local community. I appreciated that this specific archaeological program really emphasized community, and it also placed a large emphasis on learning the history of the region, which plays a large role in how you interpret your work.
Did you get a chance to work with people from the community?
Yes, the program was led by two professors from DePauw University and a couple of professors from a local university in Italy. We were also working with a couple of archaeologists who weren’t associated with a university, local archaeologists from the area. We were staying in a local residence in a tiny little town called Castiglione del Lago. We really got to know the people who lived and worked there because the community was so small.
What is some of the historical context surrounding the archaeological site you were examining?
In Castiglione del Lago,specifically, there was evidence of human occupation since the prehistoric period. What we were focused on was Etruscan settlement into the Roman period, as the Etruscans were the people native to that region of italy. Their presence began to take off in the seventh century BC, when the region became triangulated by three major trade centers. Then, by the third century BC Roman influence began to grow in the Trasimeno region due to Roman conquest. There was a large battle called the Battle of Lake Trasimeno in 217 BC. The site we were looking at was along Lake Trasimeno. Overall, we were tracking the transition from Etruscan to Roman influence.
What would a typical day look like working on the site?
You wake up really early, because it’s hot and you’ll be working in the sun all day. You have to be on the site by 6:30 am. Then we would spend several hours a day on the site with a few breaks, digging in the dirt. You use large pickaxes and shovels to clear the top layers of soil. You also have to analyze the soil, because a lot of our dating methods rely on stratigraphy. You look at different layers and see how the composition changes. We were trying to find artifacts from the site, like pottery or bronze.
We would go back to a lab where we would clean and photograph everything and decide what to keep and what to put back. There’s a limit to how much we can store and record, and we have to consider what pieces would actually be helpful for archaeological interpretation.
What were some of the highlights of your program this summer?
I’m really interested in bioarchaeology and zooarchaeology, which is studying human bones and animal bones. I was excited because horse teeth and wild boar teeth are abundant in that area.I had just taken Professor Brunson’s class on zoology, so I could identify different teeth and bones. It was fun whenever people would bring me what they had found and ask me to identify them.
We also traveled a lot within the program, because so much of the focus was on learning the history of the region. We would go to surrounding towns, go to the museums, and visit the archaeological sites. I also got to go to Pompeii, which was exciting, because I had just taken Professor Parslow’s class on Pompeii.
Has this experience impacted what kinds of research you hope to do in the future, or the courses you would like to take?
Yes! I’m in a Greek Vases class right now, partially because of this experience. I realized that so much archaeology is understanding pottery, and I wanted to learn more.
I also think it just confirmed that I really enjoy archaeology and I want to go into a career that is related to archaeology. I still love neuroscience and I hope to find ways to combine the two in the future!