Letters From… Malta

This was one of many letters published in the Melbourne University Student Magazine – Farrago. It was part of a series on the various things people did during their summer break. I had done a summer semester course working on an archaeological dig in Malta.

Hey Guys,

We’ve just about finished up here in Malta. 107-214 Island Archaeology: Malta and Gozo was a blast. For three weeks we checked out all the significant archaeological sites that Malta has to offer (and some historic ones too, just for kicks) and let me tell you, there’s quite a few of them. I’ll be quite sad to leave this place, the group has been wonderful and the overall experience of this trip will be difficult to forget.

It is hard to believe that only 3 weeks ago, having just completed end-of-year examinations, we all arrived in a very jet-lagged state in the airport in Malta. I was initially quite anxious about the group, there were 6 undergrads and 11 mature-aged students. However, far from being the senile, slow-going group of people I was half expecting, I was pleasantly surprised by a group of people who were as sharp as any tack would ever hope to be.

Malta is a wonderful place. We might be approaching the winter solstice, but you wouldn’t know it as its central location in the Mediterranean ensures that it is fairly warm all year round. It is also very rich in terms of its history and culture owing to its location, right on the crossroads of Mediterranean maritime trade routes. Everywhere you look, there are monuments which date back hundreds, often thousands, of years (which is, of course, the reason that we are here).

The people here are very interesting. There is a strong British influence due to Malta having been an ex-British colony. The language tells of a mixed history during the time of the crusades. It is an interesting mix of languages which derive from Latin and also Arabic. Luckily, everyone here speaks English because it is still an official language. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion here and there are churches everywhere. The capital, Valetta, is a fortress and it is named after a previous grand master of the Knights Hospitaller (a.k.a, funnily enough, the Knights of Malta)

The course has been very educational. All of us have learned a fair bit about the prehistory of Malta. Most of this was achieved by visiting the sites of many megalithic stone structures and subterranean complexes. Some of them, like Gigantija (Maltese for “Giant”) are the largest free-standing prehistoric stone structures in the world. Other sites were also of interest because they were in the stages of actually being excavated. Although, because it was winter, we weren’t able to do any actual excavation, we were able to participate in the excavation effort at large.

We worked for three solid days at the University of Malta sorting, classifying, counting, weighing and labelling pottery. This work is vital to determining the significance of the sites being excavated and it was very fulfilling being able to take part in it. This hands-on experience is very different from sitting in (and occasionally snoozing in) a lecture theatre where you would supposedly learn such things. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and enriching experience, and one which I would recommend anyone interested in archaeology, whether it be as a career or just a hobby.

It wasn’t all work and no play for us, we also had days off to explore at our own will. We attended the festival to celebrate the Immaculate Conception which was basically a precession followed by a street party and some fireworks. There is a wealth of things to do to stay occupied in Malta, and while we didn’t get around to going fishing, or taking the ferry for a day trip of Sicily, I did manage to get some time to go scuba diving, as did a couple of others in the group. Some of us even got the time to learn about the art of watercolour.

Well, I’d better go now and finish writing up my field book, which basically catalogues details of the various different sites we visited – anything from level of security access to the colour of the soil. When I get back I’ll have to write some essays as well, but 25 credit points for 3 weeks in Malta seems like a steal. I’ve definitely learned lots this trip too, which is always a bonus (and not all of it has anything to do with Archaeology).

After this, many of us are going off for a wander around Europe, backpacker-style before we head home to Australia.

Take care guys, and I’ll see you all at O-week

Daniel Yeow

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