Caitlín Eilís Barrett

Excavation Report: Unidentified 20th Century Burial

Looking for Minoan ruins,

we found him in the middle of them:

someone must have dug his shallow grave

unaware they were depositing him into an ancient house,

his head crushing a Late Kamares cup.


An ivory necklace,

a used-up hearth, carnelian from the Indus Valley,

obsidian blades that can still prick skin,

rocks, pieces of plaster, scraps of pots and land-snail shells,

and his perfect skull,

without a chip or flaw.


We continue to lance the ground’s infections

with our sharp crisp trowels.

By the time we’re done, the dirt is so pure

that it stops thinking about anything.

On both sides of the blade

we excise away the excess world.



Caitlín Eilís Barrett is a professional archaeologist as well as a writer, and currently co-directs an excavation at Pompeii. She currently lives in Ithaca, NY, where she teaches at Cornell University as an Associate Professor of Classics. Her poetry has previously been published by Can We Have Our Ball Back, IthacaLit, Philadelphia Stories, Pressed Wafer Press, and Bow & Arrow Press, among others. She is also the author of two nonfiction books on archaeology: Egyptianizing Figurines from Delos: A Study in Hellenistic Religion (Brill, 2011) and Domesticating Empire: Egyptian Landscapes in Pompeian Gardens (Oxford University Press, 2019). 

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