Rain or Shine, We Dig Archaeology at S’Urachi


Today we awoke to an unusually cold morning in Sardinia, but arrived at the site with trowels in hand and ponchos ready for the intermittent drizzle of the morning. We are about three weeks in to our second season excavating at the Bronze Age nuraghe of S’Urachi, where we are exploring the architecture of the nuraghe and the use of the surrounding landscape in later periods.


A Recently Excavated Wall in Trench D

In the morning we continued work in Trench D, where we are defining the outer wall of one of the towers and digging a test trench to explore later walls that abut the tower. In Trench E, we are excavating the remains of a tabouna, or oven, outside the nuraghe walls and discovering astonishing quantities of animal bones and ceramics. We even found a cow mandible while excavating around the oven.


Emily Modrall Holding a Large Bovine Mandible

The geophysics team spent the morning doing a magnetometry survey on top of the nuraghe, having completed GPR and magnetometry in some of the he surrounding fields in the past few days. We are hoping the processed data will help us understand the structure of the building, and perhaps understand use of the landscape around the nuraghe in antiquity.


Peter Van Dommelen Discussing the Site With Our Geophysics Team 

Despite the rain, we had a great turnout for our open day at the site, and visitors came from around the island to visit the trenches. In the afternoon, the rain subsided but the visitors did not! The interest only increased, and we had quite a few visitors both at the site and our lab. At the lab, we showed visitors our collection of animal bones from Trench E but it was still business as usual: washing ceramics, processing soil samples and working on our documentation of the site.


Andrea Roppa Giving a Tour of Trench D to Visitors

A not so sunny day in Sardinia

At nuraghe S’Urachi on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia (, the 2014 Day of Archaeology takes place both online and on-site, as today is also our open day.

Against all expectations and the odds, the 2014 Day of Archaeology looks and feels more like fall than summer: at 7 am, we arrived on site under a gentle drizzle that soon turned into a near-constant fine rain – unheard of in the Mediterranean at this time of the year!

Day-by-day impressions and views are posted on

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sieving dirt and geophysics on the nuraghe (by our colleagues of Eastern Atlas)

S’Urachi Project in Sardinia (Italy)

This month (July 2013) has seen the start of a new fieldwork project in Sardinia at nuraghe S’Urachi on the central west coast of Sardinia. Undertaken jointly by the town of San Vero Milis and Brown University/the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, excavations have begun to explore Classical-period settlement around the prehistoric monument. The first campaign has brought to light Punic houses on one side and a series of activity areas and dumps on the other.

As the first campaign is drawing to a close, today, July 26, is the project Open Day and we hope to present our preliminary results to the many people who have followed both in the village and online – see

Every Day Bridging a Gap in My Mind

Even though the largest part of the day is occupied with work, there is always a moment I can dedicate to archaeology, amateur archaeology or armchair archaeology you may well call it. I don’t dig archaeological sites but I dig into any form of information, be it publications or the internet. I even get out of my armchair to dedicate my entire vacation to visiting archaeological sites, museums and exhibitions and taking pictures of stuff a normal person would walk by.  All because I want to tell the story of Sardinia and Sicily in prehistoric times.

Giant statue of Monte Prama.

Giant statue of Monte Prama. Over 5000 fragments and pieces were assembled in 28 statues to be displayed to the public for the first time in 2011. I made the trip in december to visit this exhibition.

I take my pictures of stones and sherds, publish them on my site and tell my visitors what they are looking at. I tell them why these stones or sherds are interesting and what happened to them in the past. I hope to attract their attention beyond their normal level of knowledge, to get them to look at details and not to walk past them, to recognize what they are looking at, and even perhaps enjoy what they are visiting, beyond the usual ten to thirty minutes it takes to bore them to death (seen one seen them all, it’s just a heap of stones what’s the use).

Bonu Ighinu culture

Decorated pottery Bonu Ighinu culture on display at the archaeological museum G.A. Sanna at Sassari, Sardinia. Treasures of the past.

So I sit in my armchair, well really it is an old kitchen chair, in front of my screen working away hundreds of images, reading endless stuff and combining it into texts hoping to capture the imagination of the traveller, the schoolkid, even the scholar, the same way these stones and sherds are capturing my own imagination. I sit there in the morning before going to work, sometimes in the evening to write some text, getting my satisfaction from a one-liner, a single appreciating remark left as a comment, bridging in my way the gap between the archaeologist who enthusiastically uncovered his artifact and the larger public interested in a remote past.



29th of june 2012 at the #dayofarch

Mapping Sardinian bronze age towers

I’m not an archaeologist, I am really a non-practising historian (specialized in contemporary history). So what am I contributing to an event like this where I decided last minute I may have something to say? I have a passion for archaeology, always had, so much that I took courses at the university to understand archaeology and participated in an excavation (as a student in 2004). I dived into the prehistory of Sardinia and visited archaeological sites. About two years ago I started mapping Sardinian bronze age towers called nuraghi (sing. Nuraghe) using a database and Google Maps to render these on a website available to everyone.  The Sardinian bronze age towers were built between 1800 and 900 BC and range from simple towers to complex multi-towered buildings.

Nuraghe Sorgono Ghilarza

Nuraghe Sorgono at Ghilarza

My work on this small self-defined project is confined to the weekend due to my normal day to day job (yes in the IT, and no nothing to do with my study). On saturdays I pick up the maps of Sardinia published by the Istituto Geografico Militare (IGM) scale 1:25.000 and look for the marks of the nuraghi on these maps. In the past the IGM and archaeologists collaborated to publish archaeological maps of Sardinia and since then the IGM has included them in the newest maps which are of 1989-1990.

I compare the marks to the marked nuraghi on Wikimapia. A number of passionates have started marking the nuraghi on Wikimapia which has made my work that much easier to find the exact geo coordinates. Next I locate the exact position on Google Earth and retrieve the information of the altitude (which is an approximate measurement).
This data, including the name of the municipality and the province of appurtenance, is entered in the database and then published through a Google map on the website. This way in the past two years I have built a database of over 3300 entries and am still working.

A sample of the map of nuraghi

A sample of the map of nuraghi in Google maps

In so far these bronze age towers have been subject to excavations or research I am trying to get as much as possible hold of published material to relate these to the nuraghi. One publication in particular concerns the archaeological maps of 1919-1946 by Antonio Taramelli, which provides also first hand information from the archaeologist, with a list of descriptions of archaeological structures and finds. But there are a lot of publications by many archaeologists with maps and lists of nuraghi or detailed excavation reports.

Obviously there is a concern regarding the preservation of so many prehistoric sites, and there are many more if you include nuragic (prehistoric) villages, tombs, sanctuaries. Many bronze age towers have already been dismantled, the stones used for construction of villages, roads and railroads. By keeping trace of these bronze age structures and publishing a list and a map I hope that my small project may contribute in maintaining this cultural heritage and serve as a bridge between the invaluable work of the archaeologists and the broader public.

Inside nuraghe Santu Antine Torralba

Inside nuraghe Santu Antine TorralbaNuraghe Losa Abbasanta


Nuraghe Losa at Abbasanta

Nuraghe Losa at Abbasanta





Map of Nuraghi

A day of archaeology: a PhD student’s perspective

I don’t know if I have a typical day as an archaeologist. I am not sure if there is any such thing in the world of archaeology! I am a PhD student, working on the phytolith analysis of several Early Bronze Age sites in the Near East (Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq). I am also the mother of an almost two year old, and I do some freelance work (editing and phytolith analysis) to earn a little extra money.

So, a ‘typical day’ means first getting my daughter ready so that my mum can pick her up and take her out for the day. (Thank God for mothers!) Then I have a few precious hours to research, analyse, write, procrastinate, clean the flat, etc etc. Right now, I am working on a report for a pilot phytolith study for a Bronze Age site in Sardinia. We weren’t sure if there would be any phytoliths preserved in the sediments, so we decided to start with five samples. Fortunately, there are a lot of phytoliths, both single cells and mulitcells, which should give some good palaeoecological information on the site. I have counted the phytoliths on the five slides, so today I will be analysing the results to see if there are any trends between the phytolith morphotypes and contexts. After compiling some statistics and pretty graphs, I will write up a short report to send to the director of the site. Hopefully, this will encourage her to send me the rest of the samples.

Then it’s quality time with my daughter, followed by dinner and bedtime (for her!). The quiet hours that follow will be dedicated to my PhD — my nose will be buried in some article or other, or I will be looking down my microscope to study more pretty bits of silica.