I expect a morning at the Archaeological Park of Dauni Ascoli Satriano (FG) with about thirty pupils from a preschool near Foggia. They told me that the children are aged between 3 and 5 years, and the information dismayed me a little bit: how can you tell the story of the ancient Dauni to such young children? What should I invent to catch their attention and keep their eyes bright and heedful? I am excited and scared at the same time. Working with children requires huge responsibility: every word and gesture must be weighed because nothing passes unnoticed to them. Moreover they are able to guess your discomfort and your insecurity. Nevertheless one of the most stimulating experiences that a professional archaeologist or anyone else can have.
I move from Bitonto, the city where I live, before 8 in the morning. I drive for more than an hour to go to Ascoli Satriano. But I’m not alone. Elena is with me; she deals with History teaching methods, she is used to working with kids. It’s her job. Instead I have just started telling archeology to children, since when I realized that my job has not so much meaning if I am not able to communicate the beauty and difficulty of my job to other people. We arrive before the bus with children and teachers. So we take some time just to look over the material we have prepared for our game-hike: cut the picture cards for the puzzles and revise gestures and roles for the “morra daunia”. They finally arrive. Jubilant and excited they get out from the bus and they lined up. “They are so tiny!”
It’s our very first thought. They are adorable with colorful backpacks on their shoulders and little hats on their head. They look at you smiling and full of enthusiasm and follow you into the park. They can’t wait to start the game and we feel the same. Our fear is already fading. I want to hug them one by one and soon I get a lump in my throat. It happens to me every time. It is joy, emotion and hope.
Let the games begin: the morra daunia and the puzzle of the cobblestone. We walk and play among traces of ancient houses strewn in the park. I do not know if the kids are able to pick up deeply what we are saying: Many centuries ago here lived the Dauni, a people of warriors, craftsmen and women who took care of home and children. The game has the purpose to be an aid to knowledge and even if only few words will remain in their mind, it is important to keep the feeling of having fun in a place full of history.
One thing leaves you breathless and touches your heart dangerously and tenderly: when they are wrong or they win, children need to tell you their disappointment or their happiness; even though they have never seen you before; they feel the need to hug you and require a lot of affection, just a caress or simply your attention. This is the way they tell you that they are grateful or that you are very nice…
When children are playing – and their games are always very serious – they need to take a break, just to distract their attention. The kids are having a snack and we take a breath: everything’s all right. Some children offer you a snack or tell you that have to go to the toilet, some others ask for your name or tell you something about their mum and dad. The day is bright, warm. It’s nice being outdoors and walking along the paths of the park, flanked by hypogean graves. The same path once used by funeral processions and by men walking in procession towards the sanctuary area.
During the walk someone run along the boulevards, someone picks flowers, someone holds your hand. We arrive at the sanctuary and we try to explain to them how different was that place from our churches. Here they celebrated funeral rites and ceremonies. They look at us puzzled, and as it often happens, they interrupt our speech with questions, remarks, free thoughts. This is good enough for us: we have whet their curiosity. Maybe they will remember this morning, it will not fade among other school memories.
We have time to take a group photo on the terraces of an amphitheatre built inside the park. Everybody with our hands up and our faces radiant with happiness. Among them I feel like a child, lighter and a little happier. Their spell is contagious. Their smiles are the most precious reward we bring back home.
Good life children. I hope you’ll take care of our past and its traces better than us.