Story: What the moles tell us

Hunting for mysteries in time

A treasure of 804 coins and more than 6,000 other objects. In the heart of the Mendrisiotto district, you can leap back into the past by walking among the remains of a village with roots in Prehistory...

In Tremona, an Archaeological Park, since 2016, just put on 3D glasses and History will appear in front of your eyes in the form of food, artisans, weapons, and jewellery. Also many questions, some of which we put to Alfio Martinelli who began investigating this hill in 1988.


Alfio Martinelli, archaeologist

Alfio Martinelli, archaeologist
Archaeology makes you realise how small and humble you are: you think you know many things, but you're wrong!

“Sorry: whose car is parked out front? The white Lotus convertible...” The car belongs to Alfio Martinelli, a retired professor, but now a full-time archaeologist. He's wearing a check shirt with short sleeves, light-coloured trousers, and has white hair and an inquisitive look, with an ironic flicker in his eyes. 

For Alfio, the important message is that Archaeology is not a dusty and boring subject, but something tangible that arouses interest and stimulates the curiosity of both young and old.

Alfio Martinelli, how was your passion for archaeology born?

I must say that my interest in Archaeology was born a long time ago. My father had a construction company and he often took me to his sites. There I saw many mysterious objects that stimulated me to reflect on their possible use. The beauty of Archaeology is that you can work outdoors and think at the same time.

What are the most common questions?

What is it? How did they use it? I then try to imagine how the adult or child who used this object thought and sometimes they start talking to me. But I get angry with myself when I cannot understand what something is and what it was used for.

Why was this settlement founded right here in Tremona?

I don't have all the answers. Answering your question “Why here?” I can only answer that this was possibly a strategic point for control of the area, as a hill is useful for more effective defence... but then I say to myself: thousands of years ago there were very few people in the Mendrisio area. Why did they need to come up here? I don't have an answer. The Tremona Archaeological Park is shrouded in mystery and I enjoy digging into its history: it's an interesting challenge.


For those who are unable to take part in a dig or meet you at the site, it is still possible to take a leap back into the past using the 3D glasses that take you into the history of Tremona. The augmented reality glasses are very helpful for understanding Tremona: you can see the first cabins, the fortified village, and the times when it was destroyed by flames and then rebuilt.

Parco Archeologico Tremona-Castello

You see the blacksmith working in his forge and you can learn what they used to eat.

I get angry with myself when I can't figure out what is the object that I found and how it was used.

In June, during excavations that last weeks and are open to all, we conduct research.

There are people who are taking part for the first time and others who have been coming here for 20 years: a former university student of mine has been coming to Ticino for several years.

Parco Archeologico Tremona-Castello
Pro tip
You can also travel through time to Lugano: in the district of Santa Maria degli Angioli and Villa Ciani you can discover the city thanks to augmented reality.
In Ticino there are various archaeological museums, often in evocative places: don't miss those in the Castles of Bellinzona or in the Visconteo Castle of Locarno.
Whether in the footsteps of pirates in the region of Ascona-Locarno or in those of fossils and history, treasure hunts fascinate all children.

And, finally, moles also help us: we realised the importance and antiquity of Tremona thanks to mole burrows. Moles live underground and bring to the surface everything they find, including fragments of objects and two arrowheads, one of iron and one of flint.

In addition to the age of the finds, we can also learn that the materials used sometimes came from hundreds of kilometres away!

“Children's questions leave you dumbstruck for their candour and simplicity, and yet they are often difficult to answer.”


The mystery continues.