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The Water Diviner

For forty years I have relied on remote sensing in Italy before starting to excavate. Mostly it has worked out well. In 1978 I found 9th-century grain silos full to the brim with burnt cereal just where the resistivity survey pinpointed them. In 1993 a survey identified the crypt of San Vincenzo Maggiore with alarming accuracy. In 2000-2 our geo-physics team located the previously unknown bridgehead Roman suburb of Butrint. We followed up with massive excavations that have altered our understanding of this Epirote port. In 2010 I wasn’t so fortunate. Various methods on a hilltop at San Pietro d’Asso in Tuscany identified buildings where, excavating in sweltering temperatures, we found literally nothing.

But I have never searched for water before.

Water is by far the most expensive daily expense in my house that I rationalized it was time to see if any lies below our field. First I resorted to familiar remote sensing.

This March the geophysical survey followed the same concept but sent electrical waves far deeper from selected points in the field in search of deposits that might hold water. The result, couched in a great deal of technical verbiage, was at best promising if imprecise. Still raw after my experience at San Pietro, and having just purchased Orhan Pamuk’s new novel (The Red- Haired Woman(2016)) about a water diviner, I asked around the village and came up with a name.

An elm divining rod

Massimo Fanano arrived in a battered Ford estate car with his brother. Massimo is a cheery and rotond seventy-year old and greets me with an obvious delight in parading his skills and technology.

He opens the back door of the car, out pops a little black mongrel, and unveils his technology, three forked branches – actually, slighter than branches. Freshly cut from elms (an alternative is walnut), this is his magician’s wand. Giggling with glee he starts, grasping each side of the fork, grimacing as though struggling with demons, he instantly sets off, the fork inverting then shuddering in his bulky paws. The dog sniffs and bounds away as I follow Massimo and he tracks an underground stream to a point where it meets another channel. The hidden torrent winds like a serpent (his word). Then, he stands still and allows his wand to twist and twist. He mumbles, counting rotations, and when it somehow ceases, this is the depth to which we’ll need to drill – 53 metres!

Massimo Fanano of Attigliano

I try it and sure enough the forked divining sticks rotate in my taut hands. It’s uncanny. I am utterly seduced by Massimo’s glee. Now I wonder if I’ll dig for the water; I rather think I must to test out this ageless remote sensing technology if only to satisfy the jolly water-diviner.

Massimo at work

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