Herculaneum Conservation Project: Not Just Any Internship
AUR Alumn David Samulski (Archeology and the Classics, 2013) has recently completed a very successful internship with the Herculaneum Conservation Project in the Campania region of Italy. Acquiring the internship through AUR, David went to join the site for a month last July.
The internship itself was chance for David to be fully immersed in the archeology world. All contributors to the Herculaneum Conservation Project were placed in a dorm system within a restored villa looking over Mount Vesuvius. “It was an incredible opportunity”, he said, “to eat, sleep, and work with professionals and specialists in the field who were coming in and out of the sight.”
Herculaneum was once a neighboring city of Pompeii, before being consumed by the same volcanic eruption in AD 79. The site has been excavated sporadically since the 18th century, each time revealing features and materials from the ancient city that are unparalleled by other archeological sites around the world. However, due to this fact, the site is extremely fragile and stands in constant danger of disintegration. Since 2001, the Herculaneum Conservation Project, supported by the Packard Humanities Institute, the Soprintendenza, and the British School of Rome, has taken over with a focus on infrastructural problems and sight sustainability.
When David arrived, his first assignment was working in an ongoing Development project. The main goal was to conduct questionnaires with visitors in order to gain facts on the people who come to Herculaneum, with the end goal of providing a more tailored site visit. The first day was a bit bumpy, and David recalled having to overcome all personal reservations in order to get the job done.
Shortly after he started, David noticed that a majority of the daily visitors would arrive to the site with large tourist groups from cruise companies. Seeing the obstacle as an opportunity, David launched a proposal to go undercover and sign up for one of these giant group tours. The cruise companies, however, proved hard to infiltrate, which made it virtually impossible to collect data from them. Instead, David went undercover on a Bus Tour leaving from Naples in order to survey firsthand the dynamics of these large guided visits. It was eye-opening just to see how many people joined the tour, with everyone herded from place-to-place. He was able to make key insights into the behavior of visitors in Herculaneum and his findings were crucial to the reformulation of customer survey questionnaires.
The main project that David developed during his stay, and a real turning point in his internship experience, however, was the Anthropic Survey Site Mapping (ASS Mapping). His boss, Sarah Court, assigned David to survey the amount of damage caused to the archeological site by visitors, and to create a methodology to record and analyze the data.
“It was the best way of working,” he explained, “to be trusted and given freedom by your boss, who knows you’ll find a way to do a good job. So I said to myself, ‘Why not? I can invent something.’”
He spent a week gathering data and was able to create statistical results which identify high risk structures, areas with large volumes of people stopping, and what kind of behaviors was demonstrated when the damage occurred. “I noticed that most of the significant damage was caused when tourists rested [on artifacts] when their guide gave long explanations to large groups of people.”Having completed his initial objective, David was inspired to “take this project further, and make something better out of it.”
During the last part of his stay at Herculaneum, David decided to make a photo-catalogue of ways visitors could damage the site. At first he started taking “creeper shots” of tourists while they walked through the site, in order to display the different negative tourist behavior. However, he soon realized a need for a consistent human example of risk areas and behaviors, so decided to use himself as a model. Taking a white tank top and some red paint, David stenciled “BAD TOURIST” on his chest and set out to the site for pictures. While performing all sorts of bad tourist behavior, different visitors would approach David to ask what he was doing; proving his method to be an immediate and positive way of raising tourist awareness.
The “BAD TOURIST” campaign, a simple yet innovative idea, was a success. David’s findings are being entered into the Geographical Information System (GIS), an essential tool for archeological sites, which the Herculaneum Conservation Project uses also to determine the causes of the site’s erosion; and the photo catalogue David created will be used to instruct tourists.
Now that his internship is over, David’s next step is writing up official reports of his findings for the Herculaneum Conservation Project. He hopes to have his work published, and to present his findings in a conference, while looking for additional opportunities to further his creative initiatives.