University of Melbourne Magazine

New search for the Anzac story

  • That passion has been life-long. Antonio Sagona was born in Tripoli, Libya, and came to Melbourne with his parents when he was four. “I was always fascinated by the ancient past. I remember seeing a documentary about Egypt as a primary school kid and I started to take out books and read and I never looked back.”

    He came to the University in 1974, finished his BA in 1977 and soon after “opportunity knocked” – a position opened up and he has been here ever since, now with an office in the attic level of the Old Quadrangle. “My association with this place is a long one: 40 years as a student, 30 years as a lecturer. It’s a bit like Hotel California – you can’t get out of here. Every time I think I’m going away somewhere it drags me back.”


    On location: Professor Antonio Sagona carries out his survey work in Gallipoli.

    A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London, (and, since 2013, a Member of the Order of Australia) he specialises in the archaeology of the ancient Near East, in particular the regions of Anatolia and the Caucasus. From 1988-2003 he carried out extensive fieldwork in north-eastern Turkey, notably at the sites of Buyuktepe Hoyuk and Sos Hoyuk, and since then has shifted his focus to the Republic of Georgia.

    “The period doesn’t bother me,” he says. “I started as a Bronze Age specialist and I’ve looked at Iron Age and Roman.

    ‘‘But geographically I like the area we call north of Mesopotamia. It goes back to my student days when I was interested in a particular culture and just kept pulling on the chain, which drew me up to Anatolia and the Caucasus.

    “I like the idea of working on frontiers. The Caucasus is that area between Eurasia and the Near East and that interaction of frontier society fascinates me.”

    And though his work at Gallipoli is his first dig into the 20th century, the Peninsula has links stretching back into antiquity. Few know it, but Lone Pine was above an important Roman farmstead settlement and Troy is nearby. “A lot of the officers went to Gallipoli with translations of Homer, and many had the idea that they were going to a new Trojan war.

    “A lot of archaeologists are, how can I put it, a bit apprehensive about crossing historical boundaries, in the sense that you become a specialist – in fact, like so much research these days, it’s becoming reductionist. But I like crossing boundaries – I’ve worked in Turkey, I’ve worked in the Caucasus, I’ve worked classic, late historic and prehistoric sites and now this.”


    – Gary Tippet


    The role of Chinese-Australians in World War One is the subject of an exhibition at Melbourne’s Chinese Museum from 14 July to 19 December 2014. Professor Emeritus Edmond Chiu AM of the University’s Academic Unit for Psychiatry of Old Age was volunteer researcher for the exhibition, Chinese ANZACs: Chinese-Australians and World War One.

    For a behind-the-scenes insight into how the remarkable photos accompanying this article were achieved, head to photographer Craig Sillitoe’s blog.