The Herculaneum Graffiti Project

This unique program of archaeological fieldwork has a specific focus on ancient wall-inscriptions. Participants work with handwritten, primary evidence of the first century AD, while collaborating with international partners, and contribute to a comprehensive database that makes these writings available to a broader public. The main objective of the field school is to train participants to work with wall-inscriptions at Herculaneum, which are often small and faint, difficult to find and decipher, and tricky to capture in a photograph. They learn on-site how to detect and decode, measure and photograph these inscriptions with special equipment. Participants also make direct contributions to EAGLE Europeana, the Europeana Network of Ancient Greek and Latin Epigraphy, a large-scale project to make epigraphic material available to the broader public.

The work involved is collaborative, interdisciplinary, and needed. Participants work in teams comprising Americans and Europeans, faculty, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates, to understand the archaeology and the social context of this popular type of writing. The interdisciplinary nature of the material provides perspectives onto family structure, religion, the economy, and the nature of the Roman house, and insights onto the realities of spoken versus written language. And it is crucial. Handwritten documents from classical antiquity are found in three main locations: on wooden tablets in Britain, near Hadrian’s Wall; among the papyri of Egypt; and on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It is easier to protect papyri and wooden tablets by moving them to a climate-controlled environment, while the wall-plaster that holds or once held these writings is a fragile surface constantly exposed to the elements. By documenting these writings now with non-invasive techniques, we aim to save and preserve as much as possible and to provide access to this material to a wide network of researchers and students.