By: Debra Dylan
Youth is not wasted on Joseph Gamble. The recent Lee University graduate is a dedicated historic reenactor and a hardcore hobbyist with unique interests ranging from scuba diving, hiking, English Country Dancing, and all things Scottish.
In September 2014, he made his first journey to Pollena, Italy (near Naples), as a member of an international archaeological crew on The Apolline Project, a multi-faceted research project on “the northern ‘dark’ side of Vesuvius.” Gamble applied for the project through Oxford University while he was still a student at Lee University. He does not speak Italian, nor is he experienced in Italian history and art. He was shocked to be accepted into the program.
Cherokee v. Italian Excavations
Gamble had previous archaelogical experience spending summers on digs at Fort Armistead in the Cherokee National Forest and at other Mississipian-era Native American sites in Cleveland, TN. He noticed some surprising differences between digs in the southern United States and digs in central Italy.
“Tennessee soil is sticky clay. In Italy we were working amongst very fine volcanic rock and ash. It was hot out, and I’d wish for a breeze, but when one came, all that dust was so annoying. I still have volcanic ash in my satchel,” he says. “Some trenches had 10 to 12 feet of volcanic rock that had to be broken with a pick ax and shovel.”
Another difference in digs was the pottery pieces. Gamble said, “It’s rare on Native American digs to find pottery pieces like we did in Italy. We found tons of pottery at the Pollena site. It’s easy to start taking it for granted, but I got a thrill each time we found something.”
“One day a week each person works on the pottery line. We did everything from taking pottery from the site, washing it, and then sorting it and cataloging it. We worked with pieces from large wine jars. I also began to learn the difference between local and imported pottery. It was all on-the-job training.”
The crews also unearthed 5 tiny dice, hair pins, and frescos. “One [fresco] was partly intact. I learned that you can tell where in the house a fresco was painted. Simple frescos are in places like a hallway. Walls in popular rooms were lavish and contained lots of colors. We found a ton of frescos, multiple frescos mixed together. You could still see the brush strokes.”
The crew lived on the third floor of an 1800s villa. During his free time, Gamble travelled to view ruins in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and he hiked Mt. Vesuvius. He frequently explored nearby neighborhood villages.
“I’m a big fish eater and we were living near the coast and it was the best fish I’d ever eaten. My other favorites were the lemon gelato and the wines from Campaingia. Sometimes the crew would grocery shop and cook at the villa.”
The Appolline Project’s Future
Gamble says, “The excavation of the dig site in Pollena began in 2007. Part of the site remains under an apartment building. Our project manager said there is a villa site from Pompeii under private property, and the owner might be selling it next year.”
“I wouldn’t mind going back.”