There are few of us who have never wondered what relics lie beneath our feet and how the people lived who left them there. In just about any part of Italy, that curiosity is constantly fed by the visible remains of previous civilisations and the knowledge that wherever a blade is put into earth, something will turn up.

Every now and again, we read about how previous ideas were modified and occasionally changed dramatically by new archaeological work and maybe we have questioned the point of all this meticulous digging: is it just to give us insights into the pure knowledge of the past? Or to prove some very contemporary political point? Or to create an upmarket intellectual Disneyland or just increase the tourist trade?

For a fortnight this writer was privileged enough to be on the other side of the question, actually sitting in the dust and trying literally to piece together the past and make a small contribution to the knowledge of the history of Lazio.

The site was S. Severa, an imposing keep, castle, hospital complex and much else on the coast 50 or so kms north-west of Rome. S. Severa is the site of ancient Pyrgi, the port of Cerveteri, and its quays are still visible just under the water for a few hundred metres out to sea. There are Etruscan temples south-west of today