Archaeological Dig in Butrint, Albania

Albania may have been the most exciting adventure yet as we actually went to an archaeological dig of Roman ruins in the mountains of Butrint (pronounced Boo-Trint).  A passionate archaeologist named David Hernandez took precious time out of his day to give us a short lecture on-site and told us what they have been finding over the last eight weeks.  

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This includes Greek writing, pottery, and other important ancient artifacts, even an iron pipe that was very well preserved.  He was clearly very excited as the area they were digging was part of a Roman forum, and the team of workers were busy measuring, and sifting through the artifacts in a screen.

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Having this kind of access to such an important historical situation was well beyond anything I could have imagined.  I saw and photographed their tools, and even a page in his log book with a ruler and rolled maps.  It was not open to the public and we got to see it thanks to Liz Bartman who is President of the Archaeology Association of America.  

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David is a professor at Notre Dame, and a member of the association.  I sincerely thanked him for his talk and told him he was a true "rock" star.  Get it?  Once home I plan to do more research on Archaeology as it is quite fascinating.  

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Other sights in this area were the "Baptistery" which had the detailed floor uncovered, as well as the "Basilica", used long ago as a church by the Romans.  On random walls you could see Greek writing which was chiseled into the rocks.  I was flabbergasted and felt like Indiana Jones, but more handsome of course. To touch and photograph these walls was to connect me with someone from 2,000 years ago or longer.  

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Supposedly the writing included the names of slaves who were freed. While it will require more independent research, the area was under Roman control then.  We wandered around these woods with ruins everywhere and the heat did not bother me as I just looked around awestruck.  

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This particular area in Butrint was not accessible under Communist rule.  Only recently have they gotten their freedom, and even still, there are 120 different parties, socialist, democrat, and more.  The guide said it's hard to keep up with all of them. Albania in general was well developed with hotels, restaurants and shops, yet there was still a tremendous amount of construction happening everywhere.  It was clearly not as sophisticated as the last countries we visited.  They are not on the Euro, and the economic woes of Italy and Greece are hurting their GNP.  This was the first time gypsy kids came up to us as we got off the bus trying to sell cheap bracelets and necklaces.  They weren't very aggressive but they were a bit pushy, repeating "one euro, one euro". Then, one of the littlest boys who was likely around 7 years old, grabbed his Mom's hand and pointed at her belly. "See, baby" he said smiling wide. Amazing how many tourists likely see this and buy just out of sympathy.  These kids knew what they were doing, and I felt uncomfortable for a few seconds as one of the older boys was pushy.  NO, I repeated, NO thanks, and finally NOOO, before he left me alone. 

It was interesting to see the contrast in countries and how being oppressed by communist rule stifled their growth.  They were cut off from the world, and their citizens were not allowed to travel outside of Albania.  They were forbidden to practice religion, and could not live anywhere near the borders to prevent attempts at escaping.  There were goats and sheep on the sides of the roads as we passed large Rocky Mountains and pristine lakes.  It's clear that Albania has the natural resources to be a massively popular tourist attraction.  This will take time, but I did see evidence of travelers enjoying their country either at waterfront hotels, or lounging at eateries.  

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As we boarded the bus, many passengers were overheard saying it was the highlight of their trip.  For me, it was definitely one of them, and more importantly an experience that undoubtedly opened my eyes to the world of archaeology.  

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Once back at the ship I downloaded a few of the photos from the day and prepared for my last lecture, "Creating Dramatic Landscapes".  Tonight is our Captain's farewell cocktail hour and dinner.  They would do it tomorrow but we have a busy day in Montenegro followed by Croatia in the evening.  I need to start the packing process.  

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For more information on David Hernandez, this article offers a good look at his work, recent awards and accomplishments. You can also view his faculty page at Notre Dame here