This summer, I was fortunate enough to work on a community archaeology event centred around the Roman town of Æclanum, along the Appian Way (modern Passo di Mirabella, Italy). The role of this type of archaeology in connecting local communities to their heritage is significant, with many possibilities for creativity and fun. Our teams included scholars from several international institutions and students from over 70 universities, which added to the diversity of ideas and approaches for our Open Day.
The directors of the Æclanum excavation, led by the University of Edinburgh and the Apolline Project, wanted to begin developing a presence within the community to encourage future seasons of public engagement and interest.
What made this experience challenging and exciting was that it was my first time at the helm of a community archaeology project, and it needed to be delivered in Italian. There were many things to consider when beginning to create materials and plan events. I approached the project from the ground up, so to speak: the first step was to establish the directors’ aims and objectives, then to research how previous and current community archaeology projects conducted their own programs, i.e. their methodologies. By doing so, the questions of methodology, and of desired outcomes that needed to be addressed in the Æclanum project, would be more comprehensively realized.
One of our aims was to come up with educational games and materials that would engage the schoolchildren and adult visitors on the open day and beyond. As an illustrator and archaeologist, foundational elements were essential to design and establish a consistency in the materials for the site that were accurate representations but also a bit fun. We came up with a site logo that represented the wolf, which is regionally and historically significant to the region of Irpinia.
It was a lot of fun developing the style to create the characters, images, and icons that we would use for the site. The site maps were designed with a comic style, which could be easily understood and read by any visitor to the site. Larger print items and digital materials (which could be accessed online) shared the comic style, to appeal broadly and convey information colourfully and effectively.
One of the most exciting things about doing illustration work on an ongoing excavation, and developing materials for an open day, is the things that you discover can be woven into the displays within a few days! An inscription that was found on a Friday was drawn, digitized and turned into a stamp by the following week! It was incredibly cool for me to be a part of that.
As the buses rolled in, our supervisors and students showed their expertise and enthusiasm for archaeology, with the visitors of all ages participating in the activities and tours. Based on their feedback, we were thrilled by the positive response, and grateful for input on areas which they would like to see or experience more.
What surprised me the most during this process was the importance of flexibility and fluidity. It is impossible to know how many people will turn up to an open day, and having great tours and activity tables can come down to contingency plans and experienced public speakers. Similarly, some activities, which the archaeology students were engaged in during the event, became immediate hits with the children who took to the work brilliantly! Things that weren’t planned necessarily to be interactive developed that way throughout the day, and it was fantastic to have the young visitors inform us about how and with what they wanted to interact!
With many exciting ways being developed to engage new audiences and young people with community archaeology, I am thrilled to be able to work in such a dynamic and creative area of archaeology.