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St. Anselm classics professor digs a little deeper, finds pyramids in Italy

Union Leader Correspondent

September 16. 2012 9:59PM
Students Nick Walsh and Merike Youngs work in the newly discovered pyramid. 

GOFFSTOWN - Professor David George knows a thing or two about archaeological digs.

A classics professor at St. Anselm College, he's led students to many dig sites over the past 20 years and has uncovered his share of mysteries about ancient societies.

But George wasn't prepared for what he found on his visit to Italy in May, when his group discovered the first pyramids ever to be found under the city of Orvieto that date back to the 5th century BC.

George and his co-director, Claudio Bizzarri, an Italian expert in Orvieto archaeology, discovered the pyramids in the plateau rock on which the city stands.

'It looks like there was a total of six under the city,' George said.

George and Bizzarri, along with students and alumni, also uncovered a series of Etruscan tunnels and pottery, as well as material dating back to 1200 BC.

The group dug through a mid-20th century floor, reaching a medieval floor. Immediately beneath that subfloor, the team excavated a layer of fill containing materials and artifacts ranging from the middle of the 5th century BC to 1000 BC. George believes the subterranean pyramids were likely tombs or part of a sanctuary. He says there are no parallels to the find anywhere in Italy.

'We know it's not a quarry or a cistern,' George said. 'The walls are too well-dressed to be a quarry, and there is no evidence of mud, which would point to a cistern.'

That leaves just a couple of things, said George.

'It's either some sort of a religious structure or a tomb, both of which are without precedent here,' he said.

'If it's a tomb, it's remarkable,' he added.

George said students were equally as excited about their finds, and it's just one of the ways students on campus get field experience that adds to their education.

'The object is to understand what the life ways of those people were,' George said. 'One of the best things about St. Anselm's is that the students participate in real research, and may be published even before they graduate.'

Tessa Theriault, a sophomore who went on the six-week excavation, said the trip added to her classroom experience.

'Being able to get hands-on experience - not just reading about it, but being there - it was unbelievable,' she said.

Theriault said she enjoyed getting to work with other professionals in the field.

'It was absolutely amazing, being able to go and work with other archaeologists that study in the field of classical archaeology,' she said. 'I didn't know quite what to expect, or what we would find, but it was unbelievable.'

With at least 20 more feet to go before reaching the bottom of the site, George will return to the area in May for further excavation, and Theriault hopes to be on the next trip as well.

'Of course, it was the end of the season when we found all of the cool stuff,' she said, 'so I want to go on the next excavation.'

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