SEASONAL work on archaeological sites can be heartbreaking.
Due to funding constraints, weather and logistical issues, a lot of archeological work is done on a seasonal basis: perhaps in the summer months or the autumn depending on where a site is located.
At the end of the season, archaeologists (usually underpaid, underfed and exhausted) do their best to protect their process. This could involve filling in an excavation or covering any new, unfinished areas of a dig to protect it against the elements in the lead up to their return the following season.
In recent months there has been a lot of press attention in Italy aimed at the conduct of foreign tourists. The press and residents as a whole have gone to great pains to indicate how disrespectful certain tourists and visitors have been, and the damage that they have inflicted on various sites and works of art.
Remember the reports of American and Russian tourists carving graffiti into the Colosseum in Rome (and then snapping a selfie)? Or the Dutch football hooligans who damaged the fountain at the Spanish Steps in Rome? Not enough evidence for you? How about the tourists who actually snapped the fingers off a Hercules statue in Cremona while trying to take a selfie?
So far, moral of the story is trashy peeps who value selfies over priceless antiquities have enough brain function to find their way over to Italy. And the press and locals as a result get narky because of the acts of a few idiots.
Well, the press seems to have been pretty quiet on the whole in relation to the American Institute of Roman Culture's revelation in recent days. They've been working seasonally at Ostia Antica which is on the outskirts of Rome: a bayside area which was a harbour side city. It's a place of huge significance: the first colony established by the Romans and, host to Europe's oldest known Synagogue among the feathers in it's cap. At one point it was a city that boasted a population of 100,000.
These days, Ostia Antica is a pretty quiet place that only comes to life when the tourists arrive each year by the bus load.
The American Institute's ongoing work at the huge, sprawling site took a sad turn this week. When the dig team returned to the site and reopened it, they discovered that at some point during the last year, the site had not only been occupied (with debris and junk left behind), but it had been used possibly for satanic rituals. '666', the team reports, had been repeatedly carved across the site, with bird feather remains and evidence of bonfires littering the area.
The Italian press haven't jumped all over the story yet: had there been clear evidence that a foreigner(s) had been involved they probably would've- but it may be impossible to work out who was responsible. If anything comes to light, I'll let you know.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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