Alessia Mandorlo

            In Alessia, it is easy to see a scholar who not only burns with the love of her craft but has moved mountains in its name. When asked about her life outside of archaeology, she is puzzled at the thought. Although she spoke of her days beyond her dig sites with peace crossing across her face, highlighting reading and settling down at the end of the day to eat dinner, play sports, and spend time with her friends and colleagues, to engage in activities that help her to shed stress and the exterior world, she claims: “se fosse per me, scaverei per tutta la mia vita, anche con sole cinque ore di sonno al giorno [if it were [up to] me, I would excavate for the whole [of] my life, even with only five hours of sleep in the day].” This passion is as deep as it is strong, a profundity that echoes even in her favorite songs, particularly those of the past century “che sono…introspettive, che fanno riflettere [which are…introspective, which make you think].” Though maybe sad for some, for Alessia, as she joked, in a “fase filosofica [philosophical phase],” they speak to deeper truths of the human condition, and this heavy, knowing gaze colors all that she does.

Still, despite sitting tall with shoulders back, carrying an aura that garners respect, her movements are soft: her voice grows quiet in spoonfuls of laughter as she leans forward, her shoulders curving inward and her eyes and half-nervous smile turning towards a corner of the sky. “La passione forte [the strong passion]” within her heart bolsters her in her excavations and allows the budding scholar “portar avanti [to carry on]” in the field and in her university work to which go the majority of her efforts; however, this is a strength that has flourished in the face of doubt. In her second year of her magistrale [‘master’s degree’], having finished her coursework and with only her thesis ahead, there is indeed much before her, and she admits that “purtroppo certe volte pens[a] troppo [unfortunately, certain times [she] thinks too much]”; nevertheless, lying in this student’s wake is a pathway of forged connections and fulfilling experiences that follow her with every step.

Alessia began her journey in her home, the Umbrian city of Perugia, and even her research today is tied to those hills that she grew up in. She completed her triennale [three-year degree] studying cultural heritage within an archaeological lens at the l’Università degli Studi di Perugia, where she likewise participated in her first excavation at the ancient port of Gravisca in Tarquinia. After graduating, she joined an excavation in the archeological park of Roselle under the guidance of Professors Stefano Camporeale and Luca Passalacqua, subsequently enrolling in the University of Siena and, in the following year, participating in an excavation with Professor Stefano Campana, who went on to become her thesis advisor. From both of these experiences, she learned “una metodologia vera di scavo con un approccio totalmente diverso rispetto a prima [a true methodology of excavation with a totally different approach in respect to the first]” that ushered her to the university’s door. Currently, Alessia works with a cooperative doing archaeological surveyance and has her sights both on a graduate degree in the city of Lecce and on continuing her growth into the workforce afterwards — “rimanendo [remaining],” in any case, “in Italia.”

 Since her first excavation in the second year of her triennale, “tutto, davvero tutto [everything, really everything]” has changed, but the connections that she forged during that time facilitated and prepared her for her secondary degree. The words of praise that others held for the University of Siena pushed her to the Tuscan city, alongside her realizations that the university held great opportunities for her to follow her specific passions and, ultimately, many chances to work in the field. “Il metodo, l’approccio [a Siena] mi hanno formata tantissimo [the method, the approach [at Siena] has shaped me very much],” she explained, and she likely would not have otherwise had the opportunity for archeological surveyance; however, “oltre alle esperienze di scavo, l’Università mi ha permesso di instaurare grandi relazioni di amicizia, che sono cresciute e diventate molto speciali [in addition to the excavation experiences, the university allowed me to establish great friendships, which grew and became very special].” Fervently describing her colleagues as “un bellissimo gruppo [a wonderful group],”Alessia has joined at Siena “una grande famiglia, una grande piccola famiglia [a big family, a big, little family].”

Alessia’s initial feelings upon arriving to Siena were very different, however. Despite being always “abbastanza legata al territorio [quite bound to the territory],” she can still recall her intrusive thoughts, when she would often tell herself: “‘non è la strada per me; non sono capace’ [‘this is not the path for me; I am not capable’]” as she, in the face of great fear and peers seemingly better equipped and prepared than she, made her way “da…fuori [from outside]” with a triennale thesis on Gravisca’s Attic ceramics to a new city and new academic interests. Now, she is “molto soddisfatta dell’evoluzione del percorso, anche per conoscere il prossimo [very satisfied with the evolution of her studies and to learn the next [thing]].” After managing the Roman materials at the warehouse at Roselle, Alessia began to find greater clarity in her direction at the side of Professor Campana, preparing for a thesis focused on the ancient landscape of her homeland that likewise looks to “le relazioni tra siti e siti [the relationships between sites and sites],” the resources therein, and the larger context. She remembers the moment well: on the sixteenth of June, just after finishing an exam, she met with Professor Campana concerning her thesis; from this, she formulated her interest in studying landscape archaeology, and her professor offered to become her advisor in the same breath. “Questo è il ricordo più vicino che ho nel punto del comprende…quale la strada mia e che mi ha regalato una forza fantastica [This is the closest memory that I have to understanding…which path [was] mine and that gave me a fantastic strength],” she told me through a grin as she recalled a fortifying chant that she gave at the time. Through her journey, Alessia sees herself in the footsteps of her heroes — those whom she works with every day, even those whom she has known since she was small, who grow just as she now grows as she finds herself in “propria una fase di cambiamento [her own phase of change],” having uprooted to a new university and sprouting new shoots.

At Cannicci, this scholar, who was itching to retreat from the world, found herself somewhere new once more, basking in “quel piccolo mondo, che permette di distaccarti completamente dalla realtà [that little world, which allows you to detach completely from reality]” that excavation permits. She was nervous at first, just as she was before the doors of the University of Siena, arriving in the second week of the excavation; however, this time, she practically “conoscev[a] tutti là [knew everyone there]” and forged bonds with those whom she knew less. She continued to learn and to grow from the uniqueness of the site, particularly from what she called “l’autogestione [the self-management],” not depending on others but assisting one another in an hour of need. While expressing her admiration for our site that crosses continents, universities, and beams with potential, Alessia brings this same spirit of possibility in return: Once a little girl with a love of history who urged herself to write and to try to pursue her dreams, the first soil that this young scholar worked led her to say “sì, è mio [yes, it is mine],” to grow into what she is today, and to continue onward still.

Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes

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