Filippo Barthélemy

            Few greet strangers as warmly as Filippo greeted me. Across the span of six hours and a sea, the University of Siena student’s joviality was only an emblem of the values which he holds close to his heart. For him, amicability and comradery are crucial for the field of archaeology, and it is only through mutual investment that the greatest discoveries may be brought back to the light.

            He sees these values embodied in his thesis advisor and IMPERO Project director, Professor Edoardo Vanni. “He’s my teacher… my master. He teaches me everything,” Filippo explained, drawing from his cigarette as his dog yelped softly out of view. “When you dig with Edo, it is … as if there isn’t a superior. Everyone is in the same place. Everyone has un compito [a task], something to do … c’è Edoardo; cioé ti fa crescere con lui … anzi chiede consigli. Ti chiede sempre il tuo parere [Edoardo is there; that is, he makes you grow with him … in fact, he asks for advice. He always asks you for your opinion].” For Filippo, this dynamic fosters a “holistic” rather than “individual[istic]” excavation environment. Despite not knowing all of the students prior to arriving at Cannicci and despite the hard work necessitated by their small crew of six budding archaeologists, Filippo found that friends came easy at Monteverdi due precisely to this communality. Through their labor from sunup to sundown, punctuated only by preparing their meals in the estate’s halls, everyone was invested in each component of the work—“dobbiamo tutti fare tutto [we all have to do all],” and everyone present was concerned with uplifting their fellows rather than shining apart.

“We arrive to the dig and we can dig like we want, like our capacity di concede [to give],” Filippo continued. Although he claims that this was the hardest that he has ever worked, especially taking on the task of filling out context sheets in a format and language unfamiliar to him, “è stato giusto [it was right]because ci ha restituito molto…siamo stati riconosciuti per il lavoro che abbiamo fatto [there was much recovered…[and] we were recognized for the work that we did].” The messages of praise and the interest in continued connections following the excavation season were welcome surprises for the Sicilian student. Thus, while—or due to being—challenged by the toils of Cannicci, Filippo saw not only his own improvement but the potentialities of our field, what we can accomplish together as opposed to alone. Having known Edo for five years and having witnessed this man whom he calls “l’anima, the soul, of these digs” also bring the spirit of mutuality to Elba Island, Filippo imagines how he might follow in the same footsteps, seeking American–Italian collaborations and musing on the necessity of comradery to the survival of the discipline. The lack of “la condivisione, l’aiuto [sharing, help]” in archaeology, he argues, is the biggest issue in the field; nevertheless, he asserted: “I think that…possiamo migliorare in questo [we are able to become better in this] … we study archaeology … because it’s a passion, because we want to grow up the cultural … place, our world, our city.”

Although his concerns are communal, Filippo’s passion for archaeology stems from a deeply personal place: “I owe my passion for archaeology, first of all, to my grandfather,” he explained, describing himself as a child passing among the collections of glazed ceramics del suo nonno [of his grandfather], including red and black figure ceramics “that have been passed down from generation to generation inside [his] family.” “Ho studiato, diciamo, ‘a casa mia’ [I studied, (as) we say, ‘at my house’] … watching and touching the vases,” he said as his lips curled upwards fondly at the memory: “So when I was a child, my passion [was] born, and now I [can] realize, I hope, my dream to become an archaeologist, a real archaeologist.” Of his family’s thoughts on this passion, he asserted that his “grandfather is so happy” and that his parents likewise encourage him to follow his heart. Now studying Etruscan, Roman, and to a lesser extent, Greek ceramics, Filippo hopes to finish his research on the submerged artifacts before Elba Island’s shore, in particular the Dressel 1 amphora, and to complete his degree this upcoming December. Afterwards, the world awaits: “I want to travel, I want to see the world…voglio vedere, voglio scopire sempre qualcosa nuovo [I want to see, I want to always discover something new].” Having already gone as far as Texas to the west and India to the east, practicing his English along the way, Filippo wishes to travel specifically as a marine archaeologist, scuba-diving “to bring the past back to life.” With the methodologically foundational education of Siena behind him, he hopes to pursue a master’s in underwater archaeology at Marseille, in France. Regardless of context, however, Filippo is driven by the act of recovery: “When I dig,” he explained, “I think always, ‘I like to do this because … I will [find] … something that was, is, and after, will be … [it] torna in vita, come[s] back to life … e questo bello c’è in ogni cosa che faccio [and there is this beauty in everything that I do].”

As we code-switched in laughter, Filippo’s passion became clearer with every passing second—the same passion which led him to overcome the fears that had first accompanied his transition from the classroom to the field. This fire is tempered, however, with an easy love of existence and interest in the lives of others as, in subsequent breaths, he reminisced on the season’s catch-phrases, his discovery of familial ties with Luca, the nightlife of Paganico, and inquired into my own world. Although I, for now, can only imagine it, Filippo seems right at home in his most relaxing place: leaned back over a cold drink, ready to “live again,” as the day’s work comes softly to an end.

Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes