With the help of the Travel Exhibition award, I went on a three week archaeological field school in central Sicily. The field school consisted of the 9th season of excavations at Case Bastione, located in the valley of the river Morello; we stayed in an empty public building in the small town of Villarosa, a 30 minute drive away. As well as being able to excavate the Early Bronze Age/Late Copper Age site, I learnt how to sort and process finds, and managed to go on a spontaneous weekend away to the coastal town of Cefalù. It was easy to arrange the travel, as I had set dates on which I had to arrive and leave the field school, and the course organisers gave details on which buses to get to and from the airport.
The best part of the trip was the excavation itself. It was fascinating to experience a dig first hand, and retrieve pottery shards, lithics, and pieces of bone – this has given me valuable knowledge for deciding whether to specialise in archaeology in the last year of my degree. One of the most interesting finds was the remains of a 4000 year old turtle! The most challenging aspect was probably dealing with the hot climate. There was a heat wave at the time, and using mattocks and pick axes in 35+ degrees Celsius could get very tiring – this was especially the case as we had to wear boots and long trousers, the latter to help protect us from tick bites (although one participant did have a tick removed from her stomach). Cooking with just a hotplate and sharing a room with five other people, without any home comforts, was also a struggle to start with, but we all became accustomed to it after a few days.
I arrived in Catania airport knowing nothing about the other students. However, living in such close proximity with each other meant that we all got to know each other quickly. Within four days, two other students and I had planned a trip away to Cefalù on our weekend off. This was a completely different, but equally fascinating, experience. Whereas in Villarosa none of the locals knew English – which resulted in some challenging interactions, such as trying to buy items at the market with limited Italian! – Cefalù is a tourist hotspot, with people from all different countries. It was a relaxing and welcome break from the first week of hard work. My advice to others would be to not be afraid of travelling or attending schools on your own, as it offers the opportunity for close friendships to be made: three of us have already met up since the field school, and hope to see each other again soon!
From the trip, I have learnt a great deal about archaeological excavations and the correct practices used – this includes simple matters such as how to use a trowel, but also more complex elements such as identifying the different layers of soil and types of pottery. Due to staying in rural Sicily, where the residents did not know any English, I also learnt some basic Italian phrases.
I am very grateful to Murray Edwards for offering me the chance to attend this field school, and following the trip I would love to participate in other excavations.