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UNG professor and students explore Sicily's ancient past

Balco in Sicily1
University of North Georgia (UNG) students Isabella Martino, from left, Morgan Furbee, Daniel Bell and Alexis Walls participated in the Sicilian Archaeological Field School for four weeks this summer on Monte Bonifato, a forested mountain in northwestern Sicily. They recorded data while conducting a surface test to determine if artifacts were present in that area.

This summer, University of North Georgia (UNG) assistant professor Dr. William Balco stood on the Sicilian ground occupied by inhabitants during the Iron Age and relished learning new elements about their civilization.

But it wasn't the best part of his archaeological trip to Alcamo, Sicily.

"My favorite part is watching the students as they discover things," Balco said.

The anthropology coordinator took nine UNG students to Monte Bonifato, a forested mountain in northwestern Sicily. The students spent four weeks searching for artifacts from multiple ancient cultures who populated the area during the past 3,000 years.

Jennifer Hill, a UNG senior pursuing a degree in history with an anthropology minor, said she knew Greeks and Romans occupied Sicily but was unaware of others.

"I didn't know there was an Arab culture and I didn't know Normans lived there," she said. "I asked the teacher's assistant if there was anybody here with red hair, since I am a redhead. And he said 'Actually on the other side of the island there are lots of redheads, because the Normans settled there.' That was really shocking to me. "

The trip also cemented Hill's future.

"This trip has solidified that archaeology is definitely what I would love to do as my full career or at least as a hobby," she said. "I don't know what my future holds. It is wide open, but archaeology will play a part."

Amanda Ward, who plans to graduate in December with a history degree, was excited by the whole adventure.

"It was the first time I'd been out on any kind of archaeological site or dig," she said. "Everything was new to me."

Ward applied to participate in the Sicilian Archaeological Field School, which is a partnership among UNG, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the archaeological section of the Superintendency of Trapani, an Italian Provincial Office directed by Dr. Rosella Giglio. The field school teaches students about field and lab methods, such as how to find sites, how to identify cultural materials, and how to process artifacts to study them.

Ward said she became fully immersed in searching for pottery on the Sicilian trip.

"The first piece of pottery that you find is the most exciting," she said.

Isabella Martino, a senior chemistry and art major from Cumming, said she learned more than she expected.

“Students may not realize the things you gain,” the 21-year-old said. “You not only gain course credit and priceless experience, but you learn more about yourself, how to adapt in an environment and culture different from your own, and ultimately to be more grateful for all that you have.”

But students are not the only ones reaping the rewards. Balco, who has traveled to different archaeological sites in Italy, said he has increased his understanding of the Sicilian population from the Iron Age. He explained he can find answers to the questions of how they organized their cities, how they used the landscape in different ways, what they produced and manufactured, and how their society transformed over time.

"You start putting the pieces of the puzzle together," Balco said. "You start seeing the bigger picture, and then you have to put it on hold for a year."

That is why archaeology is a patient discipline.

"You have to wait another year to answer the questions you thought of at the end of the previous season," Balco said.

Therefore, he will return to Sicily with another group of students to continue the research during the summer of 2018.

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