Huge photographs of students hauling away buckets of dirt, meticulously brushing soil from ancient structures in the ground, scrubbing away at tiles and pottery shards with toothbrushes, and taking naps in wheelbarrows now adorn the hallways and lobbies of two academic buildings on campus as part of a month-long exhibit: “The Roman Villa of the Antonines: The Emotion of Discovery.”
This project was put together by faculty who have led an archaeological excavation for Montclair State undergraduate students and outside participants in Italy each summer for the past six years.
In Dickson Hall, the exhibit features blown-up pictures of participants working and also enjoying Italy, and inside the Center for Environmental and Life Sciences are information placards that tell more about the program. The CELS displays are mainly text-based and describe how the site came to be, what the archaeologists have found so far, methods of archaeology used, and how the site is preserved.
During the four-week program each summer, student archaeologists meet both faculty from Montclair State and Italian professionals in Genzano di Roma, a suburb of Rome, and break out their gloves, bandanas and trowels to unearth ancient Roman structures right off the Appian Way, the major thoroughfare in and out of Rome during Classical antiquity.
In the imperial era, many well-off ancient Romans would leave the city in the summer and go into the mountains in order to vacation at large family villas, which could even include personal amphitheaters and bath complexes. These types of structures are exactly what the program’s directors, Dr. Deborah Chatr Aryamontri and Dr. Timothy Renner, believe that they have found in Genzano, and this exhibit includes many images of the finds that help to support claims that this site could be the imperial villa of the Antonine dynasty emperors.
“The photographs aim to illustrate the results of the ongoing excavations since 2010, but at the same time they are dedicated to the emotional aspect of the work that the research team experiences every day in the field, together with their students,” said a press release from Renner and Chatr Aryamontri. Together with Dr. Carla Mattei, the dig’s field director, they put in the hours to make sure the exhibit happened.
The exhibit depicts a blend of labor and leisure, with photographs showing students sprawled out exhausted by the midday Italian heat, focused on learning about geophysical survey equipment, or relaxing in the town square of Genzano or by the crater lake between Genzano and its neighboring town, Nemi. It gives a comprehensive view of what life is like for the students and faculty featured in the photography.
“The exhibit truly captures and displays the full experience of the Villa of the Antonines,” said Nicolas Zarro, a senior Classics major who attended the study abroad program in both 2014 and 2015. “It encompasses everything from the scientific findings of the excavation to the simple social aspects that happen both on and off the dig site. It’s a must-see.”
Sophia Hudzik, a senior anthropology major who attended the program in 2015, echoed Zarro’s sentiments. “The exhibit was a really great way to visualize the hard work of the team,” she said. “As one of the student volunteers, it made me feel great to know I’m part of something six years in the running.”
When asked about the process of making the exhibit, Renner expressed excitement that he and Chatr Aryamontri could display their results for the public. “The exhibit is dedicated to all the student participants from Montclair State and other colleges, without whom we couldn’t have had all this success. We are hoping that even more Montclair State students will join us in Italy this summer.”
The exhibit opened on April 6 with a special presentation from Roberto Civetta, a restorer who worked on site, and will close on May 6.