Megan’s eyes are always bright with curiosity and wonder—blue and stretching at her surroundings and brimming with an almost innocent love of being alive in the world. Framed by the crawling ivy creeping up Monteverdi’s walls as we spoke, the twenty-two-year-old seemed, as she did most days, to embrace both the spontaneity of discovery, embedded in every setting from train rides into the unknown to unexpected finds nestled in the soil, and the air of calm relaxation, well-deserved after our labor.
Travelling on her own across the sea for the first time, the IMPERO Project offered both a haven of familiarity and a welcomed dive into the unfamiliar. Having just graduated with a Bachelor’s in anthropology from SUNY Oneonta this past spring, taking the basic classes for the different foci of the field but gravitating towards archaeology and zooarchaeology in particular, as well as having participated in a field school near her college excavating a Late Archaic hunter-gatherer site, Megan had the anchor of prior experience on both a scientific and a social level. The close quarters of Monteverdi recalled the tight-knit friendships formed working and living side-by-side with her prior field school companions, and despite her deep love for and desire to remain close to her family in the small town of Warwick, NY, Megan befriended her new peers with ease: “Doing hard work together brings you together, no matter what.” Simultaneously, it is in the differences between and uniqueness of these field experiences that Megan found joy: “I’m glad I got to see both sides of it,” she asserted regarding experiencing the differences in methodology, pacing, and environment which opened her mind to different forms of labor, “I’m always down to…find new things and learn about new cultures.” She greets her interest in zooarchaeology with the same potential, keeping an adventurous attitude to both the location and the manner of labor that she imagines in her future.
Truly embodying this ambivalence of adventure and nostalgia, working with the IMPERO Project has fulfilled Megan’s childhood dream of travel and discovery, and she appreciates the universality of anthropology and archaeology as disciplines that would allow her to explore far and wide and beyond the superficial: “I’ve always wanted to travel…[to] see the world; I want to [do] all the sight-seeing…but I also want to go deeper and see things that haven’t even been discovered yet.” In the soil of Castellaraccio, Megan came face-to-face with the realization of this desire, overcoming the initial anxiety that always accompanies unfamiliar beginnings. “When we were working at the castle and I found the coin…I think my heart exploded out of my chest…it was a wonderful feeling,” she explained, describing the wave of excitement that overshadowed her initial nervousness about making new friends and imagining seeing that coin in a museum one day, her own actions forever inscribed into its recovery and the transmission of that history: “hopefully this…stuff that we find will eventually be presented to the rest of the world.” Although she began college unsure of her direction, coming to love this field through introductory courses, continuing down this newly revealed path seems to Megan to be the best means to continue to grow, learn, travel, and to embed herself into the process of uncovering the past.
By providing these opportunities for discovery, the IMPERO Project has further lit the fire of Megan’s passion to trek into the unknown, finally following the rest of her family’s footsteps by experiencing Europe for the first time; therefore, while she “would…absolutely come back [to Italy],” her eyes have soaked in a larger vision, imagining returning “to [her Irish] roots” by journeying to the United Kingdom, picturing Sweden, Poland, Switzerland, and the portions of the United States beyond the regions surrounding New York State which, so far, have been the only ones that she has come to know—she dreams of adventuring to “literally everywhere.” While she is open to different directions regarding her studies, taking this upcoming year as a moment to pause and to save up money and experience, hopefully repeating a museum internship that she held in the past as well as working in a Cultural Resource Management position, this taste for travel has embedded itself into her academic prospects. “I will be somewhere else in the future,” Megan asserted as she explained that she is looking at schools both with zooarchaeological laboratories and the potential to delve into museum studies: “I adapted really easily [to both college and the Monteverdi archaeological field school], and it makes me eager to go to different places because I feel like I’ll have the same experience there as well…I’m ready to travel again.”
Conversely, travel has also reminded Megan of how much she loves home: “I think [different settings have] really made me realize how important…the place where you come from and the people that you come from are.” The young student recalled her eagerness to leave for college when she was in high school, but actually moving away made her realize not to “take anything for granted…because [family] is the best thing in the world.” In this way, Megan is always torn evenly between wanting to leave and wanting to stay, and although she sets off into the world for a taste of the new, her family is a tether that keeps her from being gone for too long, especially now with her sister’s twin baby boys who have just come into the world: “I’m really, really close to my family, so I love being near them…anywhere near them is perfect for me.” In fact, although she spent a month abroad, relishing in new experiences such as staying in a hostel for the first time on one of the students’ independent excursions, a living situation which she had previously regarded with some nervousness, even this brand new country across the sea reminded her of her hometown—instilling the former with a sense of familiarity and the latter with an adaptable comfort that never grows stale.
In a similar vein, Megan often finds herself equally torn between adventure and relaxation, oscillating between different preferences and, during the field school, enjoying both lying along the poolside after a long day’s work or excitedly exploring the winding streets of unknown cities. It is on the beach, however, that all angles of this budding historian seem to converge: “I could…live there forever,” she explained, even citing how she had plans to go to the beach immediately after the dig. In addition to the physical tranquility that the welcoming water and the sun-warmed sand bring, acting as a constant, preferable place both home and abroad, poised between calm and adventure, any beach likewise carries the human aspect for Megan: Preferring to be “surrounded by friends,” she normally enjoys this setting with family and companions, relishing in that connection; yet, she also finds peace just listening to music by the waterside and in watching the movement of the waves.
Perhaps Megan enjoys sharing these beautiful moments, beyond her enjoyment of others’ company, because of their indescribability. When dwelling on the cities that she saw, the work that she performed, and the unique artifacts that she pulled from the ground, no two the same, she remarked: “I can explain it, I can show photos…but you really need to be there to see it.” Only those friends whom she adventured to Florence with one Friday afternoon can relive with her the experience of seeing David, larger than life and more grand than she could have imagined; only those same friends feeling its presence at the same moment as she did can understand the shadow of the Colosseum. Even in Oneonta, there are things that she has done and places that she has gone to that no photo can contain, such as “Table Rock,” where she would someday like to return, and its mountain-top view. Whether in New York State close to the place where she has lived since she was five years old or thousands of miles away, Megan understands the pricelessness of being there in the moment; however, while she is not normally a photo person, she plans to commemorate this experience abroad outside of her mind. Buying a new phone with a camera and filling it with hundreds of memories, Megan “journaled through [her] photos,” likewise keeping museum tickets and tangible mementos to compile into a scrapbook. As this wide-eyed, excited mind framed by joyful blonde hair ventures further into the world, further upon “her travelling dream” of which archaeology and anthropology at large are part, she has not only her memories, the fleeting moments shared with others that she holds close to her heart, but physical reminders of the landmarks upon her journey—the trace of her own past and the past found within the ground.
Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes
Photo by: Emma Ramacciotti