Maria Teresa Sgromo

My first impression of Maria Teresa was that of both a gentle soul and a comrade. She is acutely aware of the people around her, confirming the inclusion of her friends in even this biographical project, but she approaches others with an air of softness; she is as measured as she is warm, as gregarious as she is protective. Although it took many years for her to open herself up to the joy and friendship found in the world around her, Maria Teresa is now able to relish in the relationships that she forms on site, cherishing connections that will last a lifetime.

She is currently working towards her master’s degree in archaeology at the University of Siena, the same institution from which she earned her bachelor’s degree, but Maria Teresa grew up further south than the hills of Tuscany, in a bustling house by the sea. Born in Calabria, she remembers her childhood with fondness, surrounded by her many sisters. Older than her, Maria Teresa’s sisters have acted as her role models and have always been there to help this student down her path; their influence has been even stronger since, just like their father, all the girls cultivated a passion for history and encouraged Maria Teresa to do the same.

Far from home, Maria Teresa is nevertheless able to describe her memories there with such vividness that I could see the children running and smell the coolness of the nearby waves. The chirping of the Sienese birds outside her window turned into the birdsongs of the flying friends that her family owned when she was growing up; the rustling trees beside me became the scene of a family party in the garden. As Maria Teresa took me back to this memory, the laughter that she shared with her sisters and her cousin came alive, as did the branches that they played among in their games of make believe, teasing her parents — little brats, she explained with a soft grin and sigh. She has had similar moments of happiness with her family and friends in recent time; although they no longer play in the trees, she affirmed with laughter, these experiences are fun all the same.

Many of her moments among friends now occur in the trenches. It is refreshing to work together, Maria Teresa explained, because they share a tacit understanding and do not need to ask questions in the same way, although she is always eager to learn. She equally enjoys, however, bonding with the new people that she meets with each excavation, as the intimacy of working ‘all day, every day’ side-by-side is what creates these close connections; indeed, even her companions at Cannicci with whom she also shares Roselle were once strangers that she had to come to know. It was the development of these friendships that made Roselle such a wonderful moment in her memory, and no matter where she goes, the unique experiences that occurred and the fondness for the people that she met here will never leave: Roselle forever “è rimasto nel cuore (has remained in the heart).”

Maria Teresa is thankful to the University of Siena for providing her with a number of experiences and transformative connections, including many opportunities to work in the field in the surrounding area — extending practical experiences on excavation sites as well as in laboratories that not all universities are able to give. Roselle is, in fact, the focus of her thesis work and the locus of her favorite archaeological find to date: Maria Teresa recalled with passion the joy of discovering the preserved floor of the caldarium in Roselle’s Roman baths as well as the suspensurae supporting the floor from below, and she counts herself lucky to have had the opportunity to work in an archaeological park, never devoid of visitors, over these past few years. Through this institution, Maria Teresa has come to understand how to excavate as well as how much she enjoys it and wants to learn; she knows now that continuing to undertake research and fieldwork after she finishes her master’s degree is her dream. Although Maria Teresa is working towards her thesis on Roman architecture little-by-little, the future is far from set in stone. With one more year at Siena and exams to complete, her horizon is set with endless possibilities, and despite the fact that it is not always easy and there are always ups and downs, Maria has hope that her dreams are within her grasp — all she has to do is try.

Not all of Maria Teresa’s excavations have been conducted through the University of Siena. With burgeoning confidence that grows by the day, Maria Teresa has also independently applied to excavate a sanctuary of Diana in Rome with the University of Perugia and a Greek city in Calabria with the University of Messina, Sicily, and now the student is able to add the University at Buffalo’s IMPERO Project to her list. Nevertheless, all of these experiences are tied to a Sienese connection: a site on Elba Island, Maria Teresa’s very first excavation, under the tutelage of IMPERO’s own Dr. Edoardo Vanni. Maria credits Edo with introducing her to archaeology, and she will never forget the beauty of the site, the unique objects and traces of carbon that inspired her down this path. Although the number of excavations that she has been a part of now reach into the double digits, she continues to learn from Edo just as she had all those years ago. When he extended the invitation to come to Cannicci, she agreed without a moment to spare.

Working with the IMPERO Project was a powerful experience for Maria Teresa. Although whether she is a leader or a follower varies situationally, working at Cannicci struck her because all were equal: no one commanded the others, and Edo never simply gave orders on where to dig and what to do, but rather everyone worked in tandem. Maria Teresa described chiming voices rebounding off of one another as each voiced their own opinions and inquired into the thoughts of the others in turn; together, they explored the limits of the site by proposing new directions and fostering their creativity in an enjoyable, inclusive harmony that she hopes to be able to experience again in following years. Even with all her experience, working with IMPERO has taught Maria so much, fostering a faster pace and a broader vision through the presence of Cannicci and (the shaded) Castellaraccio on the same site, granting the ability to explore both Roman and Medieval contexts, and through the opportunity to investigate contexts not directly related to her work. Even still, the carbonized wood amidst beautiful ceramics that she cites as her favorite find from Cannicci recalls the traces in the earth that she so loved on Elba’s shore, and it is clear that, no matter how fleeting, her memories will always remain.

Perhaps it is her immersion in life and the moment that makes Maria Teresa’s past ever present. When I asked if she could describe a moment in which she was completely relaxed, the budding scholar teleported me to a sunset by the sea. Her head was as empty as the beach; there was neither a soul nor a thought to be found. Sometimes, she told me as the scene turned into a string of memories, she will remain by the water as the sun goes to sleep, just to stay up with the stars. Although the sea is her favorite place to be, she also enjoys going into the mountains to hike and seeing new towns and places that, like Monteverdi, are found nestled into the little hills and the fresh air of the fields; in fact, as she recalled a moment in the mountains with the sea beneath and a lake beside that conjured a painting that she had seen, it became clear that Maria Teresa is not unfamiliar with this sense of stillness.  

Even in the novels that she reads (and there is always at least one not far from her side), her favorite subject is a story about life, just like her favorite text that takes the reader to many different places but reveals that the spirit in all places is the same, a novel in which the characters grow and realize that they are not alone. Historical novels are equally inflected by this presence: although these have influenced her in her study of history and pushed her to study archaeology, these are stories that made her want to travel and to meet real people instead of simply reading about them in books. Thus, although she has already gone as far as Paris and Germany, she seeks to expand her horizons and visit Spain, Greece, and even America and Canada one day: some of her family still lives in Calabria, but her sisters have scattered and provide an excuse to travel, and a cousin in Buffalo might bring her one day to our shore.

Although she wishes to remain in Italy, especially amidst those Tuscan hills, Maria Teresa has come a long way from the timid girl who was afraid to see the world. If she could speak to her younger self, she would tell that youth to leave her timidity aside, to be vulnerable and open to new people, places, and experiences. The passage of years has led her to grow into someone who can look upon the friends that she has made and those that she will make in the future with an open heart and a courageous spirit; with time she has developed into someone who gives as gifts to others the sweets that she makes whenever she is stressed or anxious. Maria Teresa has always been surrounded by people, but she has now become interwoven and open to those around her. Now, she is able to affirm that the most important part of an excavation is working together: according to Maria Teresa, archaeology is never done alone.

Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes

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