We are European Archaeologists

We have just come to the end of our first week of digging here in Casa Bastione. The excavation is going really well, the students are starting to get the hang of things, and we’ve cleared and sieved most of the topsoil, ready to get started on the archaeological layers next week. The great thing about working in this part of Europe is that even the topsoil is full of archaeological material. We’ve already got bags and bags of pottery and bone, and the occasional lithics and some fragments of Byzantine glass. Even though this material is not in its original context, it’s great for helping the students to learn how to spot things, and the feeling that you are actually finding stuff rather than just sieving sterile soil. Of course, the mood on site has shifted noticeably over the past couple of days. I never get into politics in this blog, but it would be impossible not to mention the fact that we are here in Sicily, working with a British (including English and Scottish students!) and Italian team, with a German postgraduate student supervisor. We all see ourselves as European, as well as our individual nationalities. Now we face the prospect that next time we work here, if that even happens, most of us will need a visa, and some of us could lose our jobs and/or have to leave the place we have lived and studied for 10+ years. We can no longer apply for funding with our European colleagues, can no longer bring their students to the UK for training, or send our students to Europe. Things which benefit all of us in so many ways, archaeologist or not. Everyone is so sad and frustrated; we all feel like we are losing a huge part of our identity. Especially here in Sicily, one of the poorest parts of Europe, which has benefitted so much from European funding to improve the infrastructure and quality of life, where the European flag is flown alongside the Sicilian and Italian. It has many parallels with poorer parts of the UK which have received the same funding.

The mood is a little better today after our visit to the wonderful Agrigento (Valley of the Temples), an ancient Greek colony and UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates to the 6th century BC. As we are all archaeology students or teachers, we get to visit the site for free – a wonderful perk of Italian heritage. The scale of ancient Greek monuments is amazing. It never ceases to amaze me what humans have achieved in the past, such a long time ago yet they were building things just as impressive as anything we can build today, and with much less advanced technology. There is something also quite eerie about wandering through this place, a real sense of a vanished civilisation. Not too much to say today related to geoarchaeology, though later this week I will hopefully get to write something about the local geology and the different building materials that were available to people. A lot of it is sandstone, which we also have on site at Casa Bastione – in fact, the sandstone cliffs just behind the site were utilised in prehistory for human burials!

What do archaeologists do on their days off? Visit more archaeology!