Stanford University

Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project

About the Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project

The Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project is a collaborative excavation, survey, and heritage management initiative focusing on the maritime landscape off the southeast coast of Sicily, Italy. Since 2013, the project has been undertaking excavation, conservation, and study of the materials from the most famous site along this coast, the "Church Wreck," a ship that sank while carrying prefabricated architectural pieces for the construction of a church in the 6th century AD. One of the project's aims is to utilize community archaeology and public outreach to implement site management alongside local initiatives for environmentally sustainable tourism and economic development.

Undergraduate Field School

scuba diving student taking measurements during underwater excavation
Student Elle Ota taking measurements during a dig

The focus of the Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project for field school students is:

  • Archaeological excavation
  • Underwater archaeology
  • 3-D artifact documentation
  • Cultural heritage
  • Conservation

In 2019, the Marzamemi field school will have an option to either apply in a diving or non-diving role. 

Pre-departure training

The Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project has a pre-field training requirement that takes place during spring quarter prior to departure. Accepted students will be in communication with Professor Leidwanger and Archaeology Center staff about scheduling this training.

Requirements for students accepted to dive:

  • Open water scuba certification
  • Advanced open water scuba certification

Proof of certification is required prior to departure, and will be reviewed by Stanford University's diving safety officer. Diving proficiency and safety will also be reviewed by local diving experts at Marzamemi prior to the first dive. Having these certifications is not a requirement of application to the field school, but is a requirement of participation for accepted field school students that must be completed prior to departure.

Requirements for all students:

  • Completion of a CPR/first aid course
  • A medical exam which can be completed at Vaden Health Center (for diving students, this will be a dive-specific exam, and you will receive a form to complete)
  • Upon their return to Stanford, the Archaeology Center requires that all field school students participate in SURPS (Symposia for Undergraduate Research and Public Service). Students from each field school are expected to work together to complete an application, prepare a poster, and present at the SURPS event the Friday of reunion-homecoming weekend.
  • Each of our field schools is part of an ongoing research project led by a Stanford faculty member. While in the field, undergraduates are expected to contribute to the team effort of the archaeological project at the faculty member's direction. Field work can take the form of a number of different activities, from clearing undergrowth in preparation for excavation to laboratory analysis of archaeological samples. Each day's activities can look different, and may change depending on the evolving direction of the research. Students participating in a field school should be prepared to be flexible and responsive to the instructions of the faculty member or other senior project staff.
Underwater excavation at Marzamemi

On site

Each diving student will work in a pair with a more experienced staff member to build diving and underwater archaeology skills. Diving students should expect to dive in two-hour shifts for half of each day. During the other half-day, students will participate in artifact documentation and research in our museum laboratory. 

Students who are accepted for a non-diving position at the field school will play a major role in the work we do with objects, not only conservation, 3D documentation, and study of waterlogged finds, but leveraging these to help implement new research and exhibit possibilities. They may also have opportunities to play a role in documentation and research on more recent heritage in Marzamemi related to fishing and the refugee plight.

Students in both diving and non-diving roles should expect to work Monday-Saturday for the entire six week field school.

Students will spend the full six weeks of this opportunity in the field, participating each day in excavation, artifact documentation, research, and conservation in the museum laboratory. To broaden and deepen their perspective on the local Sicilian culture and history, students will have the opportunity to visit several museums and other local sites with thematic and material culture relevance to their fieldwork. Students are highly encouraged to hone and develop their research interests through their work at Marzamemi; students will have the opportunity to develop and pursue a research specialty in consultation with Stanford faculty, graduate students, and professional archaeologists from around the world.

Marzamemi 2018

Credit: Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project

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A day in the life at Marzamemi

2018 field school participant Robin Willscheidt (2019) writes about her experience at Marzamemi:

Our site at Marzamemi, lying up to 8 meters underwater, is dense. The number of objects we discover on a daily basis is far greater than what is generally found on terrestrial excavations. Because of the maritime nature of the site, we need to take different precautions and strategies when recording, excavating, and preserving artifacts. This provides both a whole new archaeological perspective and the opportunity to engage in scientific scuba diving.

Typically, our day starts at 6/6:30 AM. We eat breakfast as a team and have daily announcements, including our area of excavation, dive/excavation buddy, and morning dive shift. If you have first shift, you head to the dive shop and prepare your dive bucket (your kit), prepare/check your equipment, and load up the boat. After a 5 min. boat ride to site, we begin excavation. Students (working with a more experienced dive buddy) spend time underwater sketching, dredging up sediment, and flagging and collecting artifacts. We usually have two dives each shift, with a tank change in the middle. Whichever team isn't diving the first shift spends the morning at the Rudini museum, our primary land-based workspace, registering objects from their previous dives. After registration, activities include cataloging (measuring and describing) artifacts, preservation activities, and data entry.  Each team gets both underwater and Rudini time before lunch. After lunch and a nap break (don’t forget to fill out your dive logs), we return to Rudini. 

We have dinner together as a team, with our daily debrief, and go to bed around 9:30/10:00 PM. Weekends and some afternoons, we have brief presentations/practical learning opportunities with grad students or visiting experts. Last year, these ranged from concretion casting to ceramics identification, site recording, and 3D modeling.



Contact: Professor Justin Leidwanger


Learn more about Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project, Italy

Applications are closed for summer 2019. Please check back next fall for summer 2020 opportunities!