After partnering with the Italian University of Pisa to participate in archaeological excavations, Professor of Anthropology/Archaeology Dr. Stephen Carmody and his students have helped make several major discoveries in Italian history.
The partnership arose in 2019 after TROY First Lady Janice Hawkins visited Pietrasanta, a town on the northern Tuscany coast in Italy where TROY students frequently study abroad.
“Ms. Hawkins was very involved in the university’s visits to Pietrasanta, and while she was there that summer, the University of Pisa showed her its archaeological museum,” said Carmody. “I told them we had an archeology program and that we had to work together, and that started the chain of events.”
Having studied Carmody in Italy, he was eager to communicate. Since the Italian archaeologists had no one on the staff to study the remains of plants – his specialized field of study – he was immediately invited.
“They took me to all of their sites and where the students stay in the summer and that was perfect,” said Carmody. “I left thinking it wasn’t going to work, that it couldn’t be that easy.”
Just a few months later, he and six TROY students made the trip and took part in a three-week dig in Vada Volterra, a port city off the coast of Tuscany that was used to ship agricultural goods. Volterra is also known as the fictional home of the Volturi from the epic “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer which was published in the mid-2000s.
“All I remember is standing there, and even while driving, I’m thinking, ‘This is the top of the world. Where do we go from here? “Then you walk these streets and stand on the walls… It is one of the most impressive places I have ever been.”
The Italian team’s focus was more toward the larger expanse of the landscape, while Carmodi and the students focused on finding and studying plant remains for later testing by University of Pisa researchers.
After a COVID hit in 2020 and international travel opportunities taking a huge hit, he made a solo trip back to Tuscany last fall to dig at the Luni site near Carrara, one of the world’s major marble quarries. Located near the Apuan Alps – a mountain range that appears to be covered in snow but is actually marble – the city fell around AD 700 after green-colored marble from Turkey became popular, rendering the white stone ancient.
After outlining a “massive amphitheater, massive temples, and mosaic-tile floors,” the team began work on an area that had previously been excavated. At first they thought they were not revealing anything of importance, and later they found a type of flooring that was not uncommon in the area but was “too early” for its time.
“You can see some marbles and the archaeologists were like, ‘Oh there’s nothing in there, let’s stop. “After a few days, to keep the students occupied, they go dig this area again,” Karmody said. “When we started digging, we discovered a giant mosaic tile floor like the one that had been there before. It’s a room right next to the temple, and that colorful floor extends across the entire area. It’s not painted marble, it was actually a colored stone that was cut and fit into that space. Huge. This blew my mind. I work in caves, so I can’t see this every day.”
In between the excavations, Carmody is working on a publication with Italian researchers on how anthropology and archeology practices differ in different parts of the world.
“They have historical documents,” he said, “so you don’t have to worry about a lot of the things we’re doing here because the Native Americans didn’t develop a writing system before the Europeans came.”
Kelsey Mitchell, a TROY graduate currently studying for a master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, attended one of the early digs in 2019 and discovered grape seed, which is not an unusual find for a country known for its wine production. The significance of the find, Carmody said, is that it was the first physical evidence linked to the historical documentation of this particular wine-producing region. Mitchell is now working on her master’s thesis using these samples.
“Historical records indicate that this region produced the best wine in all of Italy, but there was no evidence to support this because they are not looking for plant remains,” he said. They were very excited because they were able to connect historical documents with archaeological records. It may not have been the best wine, but they now have evidence that they actually made wine.”
Participation in excavations is open to all students, not just those studying in fields related to anthropology or archaeology.
“For me, the value of these kinds of projects is that they are research-oriented and research-based and we can take any kind of student — they don’t have to be archaeology, they don’t have to be anthropology,” Karmody said. On international research projects, which I think is very cool.” “It really is a good opportunity for our students, which brings it back to why we do what we do.”
Those interested in participating in future opportunities can contact Carmody at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-808-6850.