Beautiful scenery, excellent cuisine and a magnificent 9th century church. Little did I know that I was in for the trip of a lifetime when I applied for this project. Despite the slightly daunting prospect of undertaking an excavation with no archaeological experience, I knew that I was in for a treat. There are certainly worse ways to fill one’s summer than gallivanting around the old towns of Southern Italy. Having the opportunity to stay in a convent gave a real sense of authenticity, as opposed to the commercialised Italy most people would have in mind. The town which we stayed in, Montecorvino Rovella, had a strong community spirit. Anyone who has popped to ‘BeWhite’ for an Aperol Spritz (my personal favourite) would know this is true. Being immersed in a welcoming atmosphere was a lifesaver at the end of a tiring day in the searing heat of an Italian summer. Some days, we were even working in temperatures of up to 43 degrees!
The work itself was rewarding, even if we didn’t always have specific jobs to do. Making myself available for additional tasks meant that I became more involved as the work progressed. I discovered that I have a talent for using an archaeological brush for delicate work. The technique was quite therapeutic, and the director of the excavation was impressed by my effort. Personally, having the opportunity to do something completely new has broadened my perspective on the potential careers that lay ahead of me. Although the work itself was the focus of the trip, I also had the opportunity to visit a selection of important medieval churches. A personal highlight of mine would have to be the Chiesa San Pietro Apostolo. Since Mary Magdalene is the main subject of my upcoming third-year dissertation, I was delighted to stumble across an 11th century fresco which depicts the lamentation of Christ. I could quite easily point her out due to the typical style of representation. The building was also an excellent way to escape the heat!
It would be an injustice to write about our stay in Montecorvino Rovella without mentioning the delicious food we ate each night. Thanks to the work of sisters Pippa, Renata and Milena, we were served hearty, home-cooked meals with a warm smile. Whether it was cheesy gnocchi or fish drizzled with local lemons and olive oil, we were always in for a tasty treat. That being said- it appeared that I was the only archaeologist on the trip who wasn’t a fan of frittata!
The convent came with surprises of its own, besides the booming of the 6 am bell. I was delighted to discover that the Mother of the convent owned a pair of kittens! I taught myself how to ask if I could see them, and how old they were since she did not speak English. Whenever I wanted to see them I would ask, ‘Posso vedere i gattini?’ which means ‘Can I see the kittens?’ They were always great fun to play with.
All in all, this project was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Thanks to the hard work of Dr Daniel Reynolds, Dr Francesca Dell’Acqua, Allesandro Carabia and Flavia Vanni, I was immersed in a professional yet friendly environment. Many life lessons and valuable skills have been taken away and I hope to apply these to different areas on my life.