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Bioarchaeological Field School

3BF3 Bioarchaeological Field School

Take part in a bioarchaeological excavation near Gravina in Puglia, Italy. Learn about bioarchaeological research methods while excavating a Roman cemetery in this 3-credit course.

Dates for 2016: July 2 - August 8, 2016

Registration is CLOSED for the 2016 field school. 

Were Roman Slaves Hungry? Recent work on Vagnari and environs: Current World Archaeology.

Site Background

The site of Vagnari is located in the Basentello River valley, near the modern city of Gravina in Puglia. During Roman times it was likely situated close to one of the main highways (the Via Appia) that connected the city of Rome to the southern coast of Italy.  Excavation and survey on the site since 2001 (under the direction of Professor Alastair Small) has identified substantial architectural remains and structures associated with industrial activities, including iron working and the production of pottery and tiles in kilns. Archaeological evidence from the site suggests that Vagnari and the surrounding territory was likely part of a large Imperial estate.


Map of Southern Italy

 Vagnari is located on modern farmland, which made it accessible for research. It is divided into two parts by a ravine created by seasonal runoff and the centre of the village seems to have shifted from one side of the ravine to the other during the long occupation of the site (from the 4th century BC through the 6th century AD). Excavations on the site of Vagnari continue to fill out the picture of this settlement and its activities. The McMaster bioarchaeological field school will focus on the cemetery located on the south side of the site (see map).

Map of Vagnari

A large villa on one of the hills overlooking Vagnari (San Felice) has also been identified, and further excavation is underway at this site through St. Mary's University and Mt. Allison University. Click on the link for more information about the collaborative Basentello Valley Archaeological Research Project, and opportunities for students at San Felice.

Course Description

Students at Vagnari Site

This course gives students hands-on training in the excavation and analysis of human skeletal remains from a Roman cemetery. In addition to learning how to excavate burials, students will develop skills in the documentation and analysis of skeletal remains and associated burial artifacts. Additionally, students will be introduced to general field excavation and survey techniques and will develop skills in recording ongoing observations in the form of a daily journal.


Travel and Accommodations in Southern Italy

Students are responsible for their own travel arrangements. Upon registration and acceptance in the field school, students will be sent a detailed handbook that will provide instructions on traveling to Italy. We will also have a fieldwork orientation meeting in April.

Most students will fly to Rome, before taking a train or bus onto Bari, and then onto Gravina, a small city of ~75 000 people. Once in Gravina, students will stay in an apartment (spartan and crowded, but comfortable). A light breakfast and lunch will be provided at the apartment each day, in addition to an on-site mid morning snack. Dinner will occur at one of two local restaurants.

In a typical day, students will leave for the field by 6:15 am, where work will proceed until about 12:30pm. At about 3:30 pm, some will return to the field and continue until 6:00 pm, though some may wash pottery or process finds instead. Dinner at the restaurant will often be at 8:00 pm. The work week is from Sunday to Thursday, with 'weekends' (Friday-Saturday) free for exploring and short trips (not covered by course fees).

Registration and Tuition Details

Registration is closed. Students must submit an enrollment form to Dr.  Prowse in order to be accepted into the course. Once accepted, registration for this 3-credit course is done online through MOSAIC. See the Office of the Registrar for details and dates for registration in Spring/Summer courses.

Tuition for undergraduate students is the equivalent of a 3-credit course at McMaster (roughly $570 - paid directly to McMaster University). Non-McMaster students can also enroll in the course by applying as a part-time student to McMaster University. There is a program fee ($2700) for instruction, lodging in a shared apartment, all meals on-site, local transportation to and from site, site books, and program administration that is paid to the Department of Anthropology. The program fee does not include flight and ground transportation to and from Gravina (roughly $1500). Students must also factor in the cost of a passport, comprehensive health insurance and other personal expenses.

For information about upcoming field seasons, Please Contact:

Dr. Tracy Prowse -

(905) 525-9140 ext. 24302

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