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Motya: Unearthing A Lost Civilization by Gaia Servadio
Victor Gollancz, 16.99 hardback, 260 pages

The exhortation of Ulysses, "You were not made to live like brutes but to explore and aquire knowledge", lives on in the breast of Gaia Servadio. This book is about her passionate quest for the lost civilization of Punic Motya. This fortified island city, perched on the western edge of Sicily, was sacked by Dionysius of Syracuse in 376 BC. It was never re-built on, and since preserved by mosquitoes, Jesuits and the English Whitacker family, it offers a near perfect archaeological record of the lost Carthaginian Empire.

Unlike the excavations at Kerkouane in Tunisia, the only comparable site in the Mediterranean, the uncovering of Motya has been fraught with controversy right from Schliemann's first raid-like dig. Gaia Servadio delights in unravelling a dark tale of institutional corruption, nationalistic jealousy and Fascist supression of 'semitic' Italy.

The archaeologists are her heroes, a bizarre and entertaining gallery of individuals. Pip Whitacker, the shy heir to a vast shipping fortune, patiently bought up the island of Motya farm by farm and dug here for 20 years assisted by the local Mafia boss, "il Colonello". Under the proprietorship of his even more reclusive daughter, Delia Whitacker, the naval docks were unearthed by Dr Isserlin. Honor Frost, 'a woman of a certain age who when underwater turns into a mermaid', discovered the first Punic ship here. Vincenzo Tusa, the Sicilian-borne peasant-professor, is another extraordinary figure, a one man conservationist who held back a tidal wave of Mafia backed development. It is fitting that in 1976 he watched the unearthing of the Kouros of Motya, a masterpiece of sculpture that first directed the world's imagination of this lost Punic outpost. As for the rest of the Punic story in Sicily; the rites of sacred prostitution, child sacrifice, the faceless gods, the grotto of the punic sibyl and the death agonies of a doomed city you will have to read Gaia's book.

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