March 18, 2014 6:13 am
Updated: March 18, 2014 2:36 pm

SMU researchers trying to conserve ancient Italian artifacts

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HALIFAX – A group of Halifax researchers are trying to conserve ancient artifacts on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Saint Mary’s University students discovered three pieces of bronze last summer near Irsina, Italy, which is east of Naples, while on an archaeological survey.

Myles McCallum, a modern languages and classics professor at SMU who led the survey, said the group was trying reconstruct settlement patterns in the area and were examining locations of towns and farms in relation to roadways, rivers and other natural resources.

Students John MacDougall and David MacLellan stumbled upon the find as they walked through a field.

“Lying there on the surface were three pieces of bronze,” said MacLellan.


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“Oh my, that was definitely our first thought. After that, shock took in. We knew this was a major find and was going to be something big.”

The students began plotting the bronze pieces to find out where they fell in relation to other sites in the area the group was surveying. There were no other artifacts found where the bronzes were discovered.

“This seemed to be a unique find in the area. Why was that bronze there?” MacLellan said.

McCallum said the artifacts are pieces of armour that were once worn as shinguards and a shield boss.

“The bronze pieces are at least 2,500 years old and probably date to sometime in the fifth or sixth century B.C.,” he said.

Most notably, the researchers say the discovery is quite extraordinary considering they only tend to find pottery or building materials while on surveys.

“This is what you find when you’re digging up tombs in a cemetery or digging up a site like Pompeii or in the City of Rome. [This is] Not something you would expect to find on the surface at all,” McCallum said.

The uniqueness of the find is why they want the pieces to be preserved.

The researchers are looking to preserve their find, but in the midst of an economic crisis, the Italian government is not in a position to help out financially.

As a result, the Halifax researchers themselves are raising money to conserve them there.

Without conservation, McCallum said the pieces will be stored by the Italian government but without a plan to prevent the pieces from disintegrating due to oxidization.

The researchers add conserving the pieces of armour will help give context to the rare discovery.

“Conserving this and tying it into its full context will help give us a better understanding of who was living in the area and what they were doing in the area,” said MacDougall.

“If it’s not conserved, we won’t find out about its original context and we’ll never know.”

“Were there military places down there, military activity? Was it something unique and local? Was this a special grave? Trying to piece it together is important,” said MacLellan.

“It’s up to us to start saving this cultural material so it doesn’t get lost.”

Though Southern Italy may be a world away, MacDougall said that better understanding life there thousands of years ago helps better understand culture here today.

“North American culture is obviously derived out of European culture. We’ve developed culture, literature, military styles, poetry…everything has all grown up all over the world.

Every little bit we can help piece together will help us understand where we’ve all come from,” he said.

A fundraising effort is underway on GoFundMe and the researchers want to raise $10,000.

McCallum said he is also speaking to the Town of Irsina, where the artifacts were discovered, and a private museum about donating towards the conservation efforts.

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