When he found a roll of bread in the ashes of a tower burnt some 1,700 years ago, archaeologist David Trump was more excited than when he stumbled upon a gold earring on the same site in Safi.
“Earrings had already been found in Punic and Roman tombs but the burnt bread roll was – and still is to the best of my knowledge – the only bread roll from the Roman period found in Malta and probably the only one this side of Pompeii.
“Mortimer Wheeler said that archaeologists are not digging for things but for people and the roll brings to mind the people who were meant to eat it. It brings the past to life,” Dr Trump, 82, said.
In a lecture to a packed hall at the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta about his 60 years of archaeology in Malta, Dr Trump, who was here with his wife Bridget, 77, insisted that, for archaeologists, information was much more interesting and valuable than gold.
He recounted how he had found the golden earring and bread roll in the ashes around the excavation site of Tal-Ġawhar Tower, Safi, in 1960.
“The story more or less leapt out at us. In one of the two doorways leading out of a room there were two little bronze buckets, one inside the other, lying on their side and partly crushed.
“My story is this: the lady of the house was inside when the fire alarm was raised. She dashed out, grabbing her jewel box, tripped on the buckets, dropped the box, hastily scooped up what she could back into the box and then made a dash for the door and the open air... missing one earring.”
Dr Trump went on to illustrate the importance of information with discoveries made at Skorba, which is considered structurally as a secondary temple.
The information his team unearthed nearly 30 years after Charles Zammit, the son of Temi, dug the site, which included “rich” pottery and animal remains, answered the “puzzling” question of the origin of the Maltese prehistoric temples.
“The temples developed from themselves, starting from two modest little shrines in Skorba, which date back 4,500BC, while the Ġgantija temples came around 3,600 BC,” Dr Trump said.
“Nothing we got from Skorba would qualify as treasure in most people’s understanding of the word but Skorba scored very high when it came to archaeologists’ information treasure.”
Dr Trump first set foot in Malta in 1954 to assist John Evans with excavations in Ġgantija. Following a doctorate at the University of Cambridge, he spent five years as the curator of the Archaeology Museum in Malta.
Malta is going to keep archaeologists happy for many years to come
But, apart from his work at the museum, between 1958 and 1963 he excavated a number of sites, with Skorba being the most rewarding. For the next 30 years, he was a tutor of archaeology at the University of Cambridge and returned to Malta from time to time with his students. Between 1986 and 1994 he formed part of the team that excavated the Xagħra Circle.
Although he retired in 1997, he has continued research in Malta and Sardinia and published several books, including Malta Prehistory and Temples with Daniel Cilia.
He comes back whenever he gets the opportunity, providing advice where required. This time, he visited excavation sites of pottery remains from the Ġgantija and Żebbuġ phases at Taċ-Ċawla in Gozo, feeling “rather envious” of the archaeologists there.
“There’s a lot more to be done here... Malta is going to keep archaeologists happy for many years to come,” he said.
Malta also brought Dr Trump closer to then Bridget Wilson, who first came to Malta in 1960. The couple have since worked together and their first of three sons, who was born in Malta, was even taken on site during excavations at Skorba.
Dr Trump had a word of useful advice: “If an archaeologist is marrying at all, he or she must find another archaeologist. The subject is so enthralling and absorbing that to marry someone who wasn’t interested in it would be a big mistake.”