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Alessandro de Maigret

14 August 1943 - 14 February 2011

Appreciation by Sabina Antonini de Maigret

Alessandro de Maigret

Alessandro de Maigret was born in Perugia on 14 August 1943. He studied Archaeology of the Near East at the Istituto di Studi del Vicino Oriente at Rome University. After graduating in Classical Archaeology in 1971 and specialising in Oriental Archaeology in 1973, he spent several years excavating at Tell Mardikh/Ebla in Syria (1970–1976). This experience of fieldwork, which involved both responsibility for various digs at Ebla and Tell Afiss and archaeological explorations in the region to the south of Aleppo, was accompanied by research concerning the Syrian-Palestinian region in the pre-Hellenistic period.

In 1978–1979 he completed a fellowship at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London, where he broadened his theoretical horizons by studying new archaeological methodologies developed in the United States ('New' Archaeology) and Britain (Environmental Archaeology).

Alessandro first arrived in Yemen in 1980, when he set out to investigate the ancient peoples and cultures of Southern Arabia prior to the first millenium BC and to establish a reliable archaeological chronology for this historical period. Alessandro developed a new basis for documentary evidence that was multidisciplinary in nature against which previous data, mostly inferred from inscriptions, could be compared. From these initial steps the Italian Archaeological Mission in Yemen flourished and last year celebrated 30 years of research activity under Alessandro's direction.

One of Alessandro's early achievements was the discovery of the first Bronze Age settlement to be found in Yemen. During a survey in Khawlan at-Tiyal in 1981, he came across a settlement with evidence of circular dwellings as well as pottery and stone artefacts that were unlike anything then known regarding the South Arabian culture. This discovery was followed in 1984 and 1985 by his full excavation of these Yemeni Bronze Age sites.

During the Summer of 1984, I had the opportunity to take part in the excavations on the site at Wadi Yana'im in Yemen — my first experience in oriental archaeology. Since then, my professional — and indeed personal — life has been linked with Alessandro. His enthusiasm and tireless energy were contagious and enhanced my passion for my research. During the years, we have shared many unforgettable experiences while working together.

In 1985, Alessandro made an exceptional discovery that was very exciting for both of us. The area located in the unexplored and hostile territory of the Bani Dabyan, to the south of Marib, has proved to be one of the most important ancient Sabaean sites in the Wadi Yala. Excavations of the ancient city, initiated in 1987, provided a precise stratigraphy for this archaic Sabaean period, and established with certainty the 'long term view' for the historical chronology of Southern Arabia.

Over the years, he led the Italian Archeological Mission to numerous investigations of archaeological sites throughout Yemen, including the necropoleis of al-Makhdarah (Sirwah) and Waraqah (Dhamar) (1985–1987), in the Minean city of Baraqish, in the Jawf region — his personal 'favourite' — (1990–1992 and 2003–2007), at Tamna' in the Wadi Bayhan (1999–2009) and at Ghayman, Sanaa (2010). In 1998 he was at the head of a Sabaean temple excavation at Yeha (Ethiopia), launching a long-lasting collaboration with the French Mission directed by Christian Robin. Alessandro's interest extended to ancient cultures in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula and in 2008 he began the archaeological investigation at Dumat al-Jandal in Saudi Arabia.

His original work and extensive contributions to the field are recognised within the archaeological community and beyond. He left an outstanding scientific legacy and interested readers are referred to his book, Arabia Felix: an exploration of the archaeological history of Yemen, and Tony Wilkinson's excellent foreword to the 2009 edition (London: Stacey International).

Alessandro shared with his colleagues and students his enthusiasm and passion for his work. His acute curiosity and intellectual sensibility led him to expand his field of interest beyond archaeology to encompass the natural sciences, ethology and human behavior. His multi-disciplinary approach allowed him to develop a comprehensive perspective on South Arabian civilisation in particular and on ancient civilisations in general. Indeed, Alessandro's work has established the intellectual framework for South Arabian archaeological studies for many years to come.

Alessandro passed away on 14 February 2011. His family, friends and colleagues will greatly miss his insights, support and companionship.

Appreciation by Francesco Fedele

Right to left: Alessandro de Maigret, Sabina Antonini and Francesco Fedele, discussing the extramural excavations at Baraqish, Yemen, in 2005.
Right to left: Alessandro de Maigret, Sabina Antonini and Francesco Fedele, discussing the extramural excavations at Baraqish, Yemen, in 2005.

A lasting merit of Alessandro de Maigret was to promote pioneering, broad-spectrum work on Yemen's prehistory, an effort that led the recently established Italian Archaeological Mission well beyond traditional culture history. In 1983–84 he was industrious in arranging studies of lithic industries as well as plant residue and animal bones, ancient irrigation systems (through interpretation of aerial photographs) as well as Islamic religious architecture. I consider myself very fortunate to have been part of such a wide-ranging mission.

The invitation came as a surprise in 1984. We had met only once, during his fellowship at London University's Institute of Archaeology in 1979. A fondness for environmental archaeology was certainly apparent when we first met; Claudio Vita-Finzi was among the people he would single out as the most inspirational. In London he also acquired an awareness of the importance of immediately obtaining radiocarbon determinations where critical historical issues were concerned. Had he not pursued archaeology with some success — he would often say in his later years — he would have liked to have become a natural scientist. A year later I was asked to review for Oriens Antiquus his first ambitious monograph, and praised the 'promising way' in which he had tried to interpret Iron Age Hama, in Syria, according to the tenets of the New Archaeology. My interests lay far away from the Middle East and I didn't even know that he had obtained a teaching post at Naples, Istituto Orientale, 200m from the 'main' University of Naples campus in which I was myself working, his senior in terms of university career. A common friend in Rome had suggested my name as a Neolithic and 'mountain' specialist (in the Alps), and Alessandro crossed that road distance in old Naples to invite me to tackle a vastly different Neolithic — up the Yemen Highlands.

Alessandro de Maigret (white hat) inspecting the then revealed foundations of the Minaean wall at Baraqish, with Francesco Fedele, in December 2006.
Alessandro de Maigret (white hat) inspecting the then revealed foundations of the Minaean wall at Baraqish, with Francesco Fedele, in December 2006.

Those of us who were part of the Mission in those days share — I believe — indelible memories of living and working in the communal atmosphere of the Mission's house in San'ā', with Alessandro an energetic leader and scrupulous manager, ever supportive and respectful of the work of others. Another newcomer in 1984 was geologist Bruno Marcolongo: perhaps my most poignant memory, and one that tells a lot about Alessandro's character, is how he chose to welcome us both — our introduction to Yemen. We went round for four days over most of our study area in the eastern highlands, the three of us with him as the driver, covering breathtaking terrain and sleeping in the open at night. I later learnt that certain places might have been dangerous. We visited and discussed most of the sites from the first three-year period of the Mission's activity. Clearly, Alessandro was as much interested in illustrating his sites as in learning from our own reactions and perspectives. This unprecedented tour was for him a critical recapitulation of what he thought he knew, I realised, while we novices were presented with a matter-of-fact, thought-provoking immersion in an unknown world.

Lives later,[1] Alessandro asked me to Barāqish. By 2003 the focus of a renewed Italian Mission had shifted to this fabulous city-ruin in the difficult Yemeni Jawf. Once again Alessandro typically immersed himself in the programme with vision, tireless energy, and personal kindness. But in 2007 he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent major surgery. This forcibly prevented him from returning to Barāqish, and the excavation plans were changed to a study season, sad though fruitful, which was to be our last. Coincidentally, political tensions were mounting in the province that continue to this day. I wish to record how Barāqish cemented our friendship as never before. I was given a chance to expand the original archaeological programme and do something that was for me unprecedented (a large extramural excavation supported by geoarchaeological approaches), and he showed great appreciation. I believe we gave each other mutual support, and it was a pleasure to work with him in the rich environment and safe haven he had created once more.

Alessandro greatly liked meaning and context, clarity in writing as well as loyalty in personal relationships. He was a simple but remarkable man. I count myself fortunate to have shared in the professional endeavours he proposed, and to have enjoyed his unfailing friendship.

[1] See Sabina Antonini's piece, as well as my own 'In memoriam Alessandro de Maigret', Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 41, 2011: xi–xiii.

Appreciation by Bruno Marcolongo

Alessandro de Maigret
Sotto la rinfrescante ombra della tenda principale dell'accampamento di Baraqish Alessandro de Maigret è circondato da Enzo Francaviglia, Franco Brancaleoni, Enzo Labianca, Bruno Marcolongo, Mario Liverani, Giovanni Pettinato (da sinistra a destra, 1989).

La profonda amicizia che mi lega ad Alessandro de Maigret fonda le sue radici in quella entusiasmante avventura di vita e di cultura che è stata l'esplorazione geo-archeologica dello Yemen, iniziata assieme nel 1984 e continuatasi per circa una ventina di anni.

La mia formazione naturalistica di base, congiunta con l'interesse scientifico per l'uso di tecnologie avanzate di foto interpretazione e telerilevamento applicate allo studio diacronico dei rapporti uomo-ambiente, ha trovato subito in Alessandro un attento, lucido e appassionato interlocutore, sostenitore del nuovo approccio multidisciplinare su cui si basa la "New Archaeology" e la "Environmental Archaeology".

Quindi in perfetta sintonia abbiamo calcato le polverose e petrose piste del Khawlan at-Tiyal e poi del Ramlat as-Sabatayn, del Jawf-Hadramawt, della piana di Dhamar e Mabar, alla ricerca non solo di tracce del passato ma anche del senso profondo dell'esistenza.

Amicizia cresciuta inoltre attraverso un percorso di indagine interiore nell'ambito di una comune Fratellanza Universale e consolidata da incontri, seminari, convegni che, sebbene discontinui, tuttavia sono sempre stati ricchi di idee e risultati, come la breve ma intensa stagione di ricerca e didattica vissuta nella primavera del 2003 a Sana'a presso il "Centro Italo-Yemenita di formazione Archeologica", dove ero stato invitato a condurre un laboratorio di "Geomorfologia e Telerilevamento applicato all'Archeologia".

Alessandro de Maigret
Brindando al progetto di Dumat al-Jandal. Radici profonde che generano un nuovo ricco raccolto (2009).

Nelle fasi iniziali della sua malattia ho incontrato Alessandro più volte all'Ospedale Sant'Antonio di Padova, trovandolo sempre sostenuto da una forte volontà a contrastare la sfortuna e pronto a pianificare con l'usuale entusiasmo e capacità nuove ricerche, come quella avviata sul sito nabateo di Dumat al-Jandal in Arabia Saudita, da lui diretta con grande esperienza ed intuito nelle sue due ultime campagne di scavo e ricognizione del 2008 e 2009.

Alessandro mi invitò ad affiancarlo in questa nuova esaltante avventura culturale ben tre anni fa, ma purtroppo sfortunatamente ho potuto partecipare alla sua missione solo nell'ottobre del 2011, dopo la sua prematura triste scomparsa. Durante il mio recente soggiorno a Dumat al-Jandal ho calcato i suoi passi e ho visto i luoghi da lui prescelti quali punti promettenti per gli scavi, avendo quindi la possibilità non solo di verificarne la bontà delle indicazioni ma vivendone le intuizioni e raccogliendone i consigli.

In piedi sulla sponda meridionale dell'antico lago prosciugato della città, oggi coperto dal lussureggiante palmeto dell'oasi di Dumat al-Jandal, ho conversato con entusiasmo e passione come un tempo con lui, parlando delle modificazioni del paesaggio e del corso di wadi Sirhan, che viene al presente inghiottito dalle sabbie infuocate del deserto del Nefud.

Vecchio caro Amico e Fratello, Maestro di vita e di scienza, il tuo cammino procede e i tuoi passi continuano ad indicare la via della conoscenza e della luce.

In Memoria di un Grande Maestro

"Ogni uomo viene da lontano
e cammina verso l'Eterno.
Cammina e riposa da sempre,
senza nascere e senza morire.
Cammina lungo l'acqua gelida
del Fiume
che porta il tepore dell'estate;
nel vento di primavera
che passa tra i fiori dei ciliegi
e porta la voce dell'autunno;
cammina in fretta
e fra il muggito dei grandi Fiumi Sacri
e lo stormire delle foglie al vento
la Voce del Silenzio
e nel buio vede
la Luce sul Sentiero"

(Anonymous, Eastern Zhou Dynasty)

Appreciation by Rosario Valentini

Alessandro de Maigret
Con Alessandro sullo scavo a Baraqish.

Ho incontrato la prima volta Alessandro nel 1998, ero una matricola dell' Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale" (UNO) e ancora avevo idee confuse nel come organizzare il mio piano di studi. Alessandro era rientrato da poco meno di un anno dalla sua esperienza in Arabia Saudita come Addetto culturale all'Ambasciata di Riyadh e stava ricomponendo la Missione Archeologica Italiana nella Repubblica Araba dello Yemen. Dopo quell'incontro tutto mi fu più chiaro e i miei studi hanno preso la via definitiva, prima come studente poi come laureato in Archeologia e Storia dell'arte del vicino Oriente antico fino a diventare Cultore della materia nel 2004.

Ancora ricordo l'emozione che provai quando ci incontrammo all'aeroporto di Fiumicino in partenza per la prima volta con destinazione Sana. Era il dicembre del 1999 e iniziava per me una delle più emozionanti esperienze della mia vita.

Con il protrarsi dell'attività di ricerca nello Yemen, veniva a consolidarsi sempre più la nostra reciproca fiducia ed amicizia e io divenni tra i più presenti e assidui componenti nell'intensa e faticosa esperienza di scavo della Missione. Nel 2003, con l'avvio della campagna di restauro del Tempio di Nakrah a Baraqish ed il contemporaneo scavo nella città di Tamna, Alessandro mi affidò, tra le altre cose, anche la gestione logistica e contabile del campo a Baraqish.

Quando, sempre nel 2003, Alessandro mi propose di affrontare, come argomento della mia tesi, le datazioni al radiocarbonio, ricordo che lasciai il suo studio piuttosto confuso e impaurito. Gli devo essere davvero riconoscente per quella straordinaria intuizione. Sin dal primo momento, infatti, ha saputo delineare con precisione l'importanza di un argomento noto solo in modo sommario alla maggior parte degli archeologi e ha saputo guidarmi con scrupolosità e precisione alla realizzazione di un difficile lavoro di collegamento tra l'archeologia e la chimica. Oggi quel lavoro di tesi è diventato una pubblicazione. Il massimo risultato raggiunto nella mia carriera universitaria.

Alessandro per me è stato un grande maestro e mi ritengo fortunato per averlo conosciuto e aver avuto l'opportunità di essere suo collaboratore.

Nel giorno del suo funerale ricordo che rimasi stupito quando alcuni presenti (parenti, amici ecc) lessero ognuno un proprio pensiero per ricordarlo. Lo stupore fu generato dal fatto che quelle persone, pur non avendole mai incontrate prima abbiano detto le stesse identiche cose che avrei detto io. Il significato è che Alessandro de Maigret era fatto così. Nell'ambito familiare, tra gli amici, i colleghi, Alessandro era sempre lo stesso: un grande studioso, un perfetto gentiluomo, un uomo dal sapere infinito.