Return to Morgantina

By: and William Pedrick

October 22, 2018

There is something great about returning to an archaeological project that you’ve worked on before. The streets are familiar. The faces are familiar. The dirt is familiar. Working for the Contrada Agnese Project at Morgantina in Sicily this past summer, I was able to live in my beloved mountainous town of Aidone again. I saw the same old man sitting by his window, just waiting to be waved to. I went to the same barbershop to get shaved and then hear our musical barbers play their most Sicilian music (in which Frank Sinatra was somehow included at times). I saw many of the same stray dogs living in the main piazza, politely and sometimes impolitely asking for scraps of food. Every Sunday I sat with fellow project members for hours at the same café facing the town’s archaeological museum, waiting to see people we knew.

Evening view of the main piazza in Aidone. Photo by author.

From the cool darkness under the umbrellas that shade the café’s outdoor seating, we had an expert vantage point of the two possible routes one could take to get to the piazza. Of course we loved to see our own Americani trudging uphill for coffee–supervisors, directors, volunteers; the Piazza del Museo was our social hub, and patronizing our favorite café meant hearing and relating stories from the previous day. This café, however, was also a favorite place for many of our favorite locals. After attending church, many Aidonesi like to have a cappuccino, but they all need to have brioche with almond or lemon granita. We loved to talk to the local friends and partners of the project as we spent our Sunday like they spent their Sunday.

View of the Piazza del Museo early on a Sunday. Photo by author.

The following Monday mornings at 5:45, our apartment roused itself from its dreams of a Sicily without barking dogs in the night. We threw on clothes and rushed out the door to have the streets of Aidone to ourselves for the only part of the day. The cool morning air carried us into the vacant main piazza. Rounding the corner we stepped over sleeping dogs that owned the sidewalk in the nighttime. We marched up the road nicknamed by the project “steep hill,” passing our barbershop, a bar we called “wine bar,” and two ceramics stores, until we got to the church steps waiting for us at the top. Some project members already sat sunscreening, having finished breakfast early, but the boys from my apartment headed straight to the dig house for coffee, bread, and eggs. Within 20 feet of our destination, we could hear laughter echoing from the window. Breakfast was a time in which everyone was a “morning person,” where everyone talked and joked and unified our individual selves into the single project entity before the workday. Some volunteers were ostracized, however, who savagely put both butter and jelly on the same piece of bread.

In the final minutes leading up to our departure time at 6:45, everyone sat on the church steps. As huge fans, we anxiously waited to greet one Aidonese man who walked his beautiful and gigantic dog past us every morning at 6:40. Sometimes from about 50 feet away he and his dog would perform for us: sit, stay, even shake were in their back pocket, and after a successful trick they might quickly glance over toward their 30 smiling American audience members. When the show was over, they would walk by and wave to us one last time before continuing on their way.

Small rituals like this one governed our days. At 10:00 AM on site, one of the field directors would shout “Cookie Break!” to announce our 20 minute break in the shade. There, we ate a few cookies and re-applied our sunscreen. The iPads, used for recording information in the field, were temporarily used for distributing funny images until the break was over. Another ritual in the field began at 1:00 PM, in which we listened to music from someone’s Bluetooth speaker as we washed pottery sherds for an hour. Disco Mondays was by far the favorite playlist.

A more lavish ritual took place on one or two Friday nights throughout the season: karaoke nights. A favored bar of ours would close off its adjacent street with caution tape so that our entire project and a significant portion of the town could sit outside and enjoy amateur karaoke performances in the street hosted by a local (but professional) DJ. Buses were halted in their tracks as they were unable to complete their normal route. This phased no one–not even the bus driver, who understood the importance of karaoke.

My favorite ritual of all, however, was our daily project dinner. Three project members were selected each day to prepare for the meal. Rather than strictly setting up, this job also involved announcing to the group what we would be having for dinner. These announcements were always creative and funny, often turning into short speeches filled with classical references and archaeological puns. After we had eaten our fill, many of us remained at the table playing Sicilian card games that involved a great amount of shouting and cheating.

Finally, the day had come to its end and we all slowly dispersed to our apartments to the sound of dogs barking. After one last peek from the balcony of the town and the rolling hills surrounding us, we crept into our rooms. Stretching out in bed, we looked forward to coffee, bread, and eggs that awaited us the following morning.

The gigantic dog in his yard sees his fans walking by. Photo by author.

The author and Supervisor Dr. Elizabeth Wueste recording the position of an architectural find. Photo by Field Director Dr. J Thomas Benton.