A giant among men

My first real love was archaeology.

I guess, that’s not surprising seeing I grew up in a country which boasts the oldest free-standing prehistoric monuments in the world, with a history buff for a mother.

I was fascinated by what the peoples who walked the same earth I did millennia before me could have been up to. I was chuffed to bits that they were probably a goddess worshipping cult with high priestesses. I never ceased to be amazed by the absolutely gigantic stones that they had somehow shaped and carried to form these megalithic structures.

I also for some reason experienced genuine thrilling sensations whenever I visited Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra, in particular. There is something about that place. I can’t explain it. And in fact, I’ve had a number of very particular experiences there, some of which are NSFW!

mnajdra-temples-e1285802282774
The magical temples of Mnajdra

But the place I cherish the most is one of the least visited sites – indeed, I’m not even sure if it’s open to the public nowadays.

I’m talking about the Xagħra Hypogeum in Gozo.

I have personal ties to the place. First of all, the site was re-discovered in 1964 thanks to an 1825 painting by Charles de Brocktorff who, like my ancestors, travelled around painting on commission. But, most magically for me, I was lucky enough to work on the dig, alongside a foreign team of archaeologists during my student workphase back in the 90s.

brocktorff_06
The Brocktorff painting that allowed for the Gozitan prehistoric site to be re-discovered.

They were led by a legend in the field, Dr David Trump. He was a true English gentleman, of little words, as pale as snow, always hunched up over some remain or another. This was an eye-opening experience for me.

First of all, I got to interact with foreign talent, such a blessing for someone coming from a tiny island. I got to appreciate hard work because archaeology is that! It’s back-breaking and, at least in the middle of the Mediterranean in summer, close to heatstroke inducing. It’s also very grimy, dusty work. But somehow, there’s something very serene about it too, as you go about your day, mapping out your assigned zone, laying down the markers, sifting through tonnes of dust or soil to hopefully stumble across something interesting.

You’d immediately notice when that happened, as a buzz would start flitting around in the sweltering heat, with people slowly abandoning their posts to commune around the latest find.

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Dr David H. Trump, leading archaeologist

And in all this, there was Dr Trump, quietly carrying out his work, with always a kind word even for the lowliest of the lot – me.

My life took me in other directions, though, bizarrely, my god-daughter is now an archaeologist!

But I will always treasure that summer which taught me that good work is hard work, that team work is good work, that questions are vital, and that after all the slogging, partying the night away is also a must!

Dr Trump certainly never knew the effect he had on my much younger self, and this in itself is a lesson.

Farewell Dr Trump, and thank you for all the love and knowledge you bestowed upon our country.

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