Archaeology – my career is in ruins

This year’s Sicily trip introduced two new Archaeology days for the first time.

As part of the activities, we visited two sites, Aci Castello which is a rather impressive Norman Castle built above a wave cut platform and Giardini Naxos which is the site of the earliest Greek settlement on the island.

Aci Costello

Aci Costello

The trip to Aci Castello helps us to gain an appreciation of the island’s history through an assessment of the museum display at the castle. Aci Castello is a strange mix of museum display (including one on Human Origins), succulent botanical garden, viewing platform and art gallery.

Once we had examined the castle we headed off to Giardini Naxos (c. 8th century BC)where the students were tasked with a practical exercise in archaeological site mapping.



On arrival in Naxos it was a pleasant surprise to find they were in the middle of updating all the museum content with bilingual (Italian and English) information boards attached to QR codes and excellent site maps. When the work is complete the site will truly be a pleasure to visit as well as being extremely informative.

Designed to encourage the students to think about two sides of archaeology, including considered questions such as how do you present the finds of the archaeological trench or site to the public in a meaningful way? Do all museums succeed in this task or are there varying degrees of success? When you work on an archaeological site and engage in archaeological activities like site planning why are such activities important and what may their relevance be to the public view of archaeology?

The answers to these questions will help keep our discipline relevant in the modern day and I am looking forward to seeing what our students made of their tasks and seeing how Archaeology integrates into the Sicily fieldtrip.

Guest contributor, Dr James Cole

Madonna and Mount Etna

Today we investigated vegetation succession on Mount Etna by stopping at four different lava flows of known ages and sampling the plants found there.

The fiFrom Madonna to Piano_pic 3rst stop was Madonna di Monpilleri. It was the oldest lava we would work on, dating from 1669. The site supported many different plant species with strange names (Soapwort, Broom, Storksbill etc) and also orchids, while some students also spotted lizards.

Next were two much more recent From Madonna to Piano_pic 2lava fields, from 1910 and 1983, near the Alberga La Nuova Quercia. We made the ruined house our base and scrambled the lava slopes looking for lichens and mosses.

Then we descended to our last stop at Piano del Vescovo, which has a lava field from 1792. It also had a much more From Madonna to Piano_pic 1recent snow cover! No matter, you cant keep a good botanist down! In between outbreaks of snowball skirmishes, we managed to find enough exposed lava to sample the plants and finish the job

A great day on the flanks of Mumma Etna –  dry and clear weather,  great views, fascinating plants,  and the snowball fight was an honorable draw!

A day of two halves

A day of two halves_pic 2A day of two halves_pic 1Today consisted of using various different methods to estimate river water discharge. The group was split into two after Ray Ward had given the morning lecture. One set of students with Ray and another with myself (Rob).
Ray’s group were using 3 different methods which included, the velocity float method using our specially calibrated flotation devices (oranges from the local market), velocity measurement devices, and salt dilution method.
My group were using the slope area method to calculate discharge, which involved using surveying gear to measure the cross sectional area and slope as well as characterizing the sediment.
Luckily the weather was kind to us today, though not warm, the rain was kept at bay until the very end when we were packing up. Only a few oranges were KIA and no wellington boots were lost down the river and despite my poor student counting skills no one was left behind…

Diary of a volcano visit. Day 2, sampling the Sicilian coastline

Today one of our groups went to four sites along the Sicilian coastline to assess whether these sites were suitable for the award of a Blue Flag. We were lucky to see some beautiful sunshine on the coast, but the sea was the roughest it’s been in recent years. This made conditions challenging for water quality sampling.

Sampling at the first site took place on the wave-cut platform beneath the Norman Castle of Aci Castello. Waves were sweeping across the platform, so sampling was conducted in the pools that were readily filled by each approaching wave. All samples were collected successfully but the odd large wave did leave some with wet feet!

Next stop was the scenic fishing village of Santa Maria la Scala, a short walk down to the beach was rewarded with an icecream and by some interesting sanitary surveys of an area suffering from waste from a variety of different sources (slabs of marble being one of the more difficult to explain).

The third stop took us to the expanse of beach at Fondachello, where samples were taken from the mouth of the Fiumefreddo River.

And finally our last stop was Giardini Naxos with its more established tourist areas. Here we stopped for a spot of lunch and carried out membrane filtration to determine the quantity of faecal indicator bacteria in samples from each site.

The results of this testing will follow in the next 48 hrs where the sanitary quality of each site will become clearer. Watch this space …

Guest author: Dr Sarah Purnell

Diary of a volcano visit. Day 1, heading through the clouds

WP_20150322_15_11_09_Pro-1cu80zp-1024x576[1]WP_20150322_15_14_23_Pro-1as8xp9[1]After our stirring morning lecture we had a lunch stop, scoffing down arancini and very nice coffee, fueling up for the afternoons activities! The first stop for the afternoon took us further up Etna and into the snow line. This as you can imagine, led to numerous snow balls being lobbed between students (and staff…). We climbed, with some difficulty, to a much earlier lava flow, immersed in the mist. Due to this we decided to climb higher and maybe out of the clouds.

This plan turned out to be very fruitful as we emerged out of the fog and into beautiful sunshine and amazing views! Mumma Etna put on quite a show with various cones scattered around the landscape. We arrived at 1992 metres above sea level, with extensive snow cover. At this altitude we were able to view the majesty of the mountain and climbed down into a crater for further discussion and group photos.

The weather was definitely in two halves today, misty and somewhat miserable in the morning to glorious sunshine in the afternoon with breath-taking views. It is truly a treat to hear our highly knowledgeable guide for the day inform us of the dynamics of the second most active volcano on the planet! Now it is time to descend and tuck into some lovely Sicilian food and maybe a beer or two.

Diary of a volcano visit. Day 1

WP_20150322_14_26_04_Pro-2cdthsn-1024x576[1]Today we made our first visit to the second most active volcano on the planet, Etna.

We met our group leader, Boris Bencke, and then ventured to our first site: a 1992 lava flow.

Boris talked to us about marvels of mumma Etna and how its behaviour has been changing as of late to more eruptive and pyroclastic. The importance of providing education to the population of Sicily is paramount to ensure the safety of the surrounding citizens. Predicting when mumma Etna feels as though Sicily “needs a slap” as Sicilian mothers often do, is still very difficult, often with little warning.

The weather may have been miserable but the lecture from Boris was inspiring and informative. The mist cleared a little to reveal the long flow of lava which had engulfed houses and very nearly destroyed a whole village.

Getting ready for our volcano visit

CAXTH3TUwAAkdVk-14vku08[1]Hope everyone is packing away in anticipation for the trip tomorrow! The weather forecast suggested it will be varied, so make sure you pack a good mixture of clothing. Layers is the key to keeping warm and are also easy to put on and take off when you’re trekking up and down Etna!  Don’t forget that for the river day you’ll need some form of protective footwear for getting into the river.

Look out for a diary of our trip on here.