July, Friday 17th: a typical torrid day spent on an unusual practice at Stellata di Bondeno (Ferrara, Northern Italy), a village lost among the unending countryside that characterizes the Emilia Romagna landscape. A handful of archaeologists loaded with panels, stickers and various promotional materials are going to their stand – three spoiled tables covered by a gazebo made of raw plastic materials – placed inside the Bundan Celtic Festival, a major annual event hosted around the Rocca di Stellata. And I, newbie archaeobotanist and technology addicted, am following them, equipped with my camera, some flyers and a lot of enthusiasm.
Three long days of multiple didactic activities are expecting us in a place where time barriers are inexistent. Is there a most suitable place to diffuse archaeology?
Arrived at our destination a curious man approaches us:
– Oh well, you must be the archaeologists! By the way… what are you up to now? –
– We’re preparing for the new excavation campaign at Pilastri, on September 14th ! –
– And what is your excavation about? A cavemen village? –
– Er… not exactly. Indeed, a village of about 3500 years ago, but… the inhabitants weren’t “cavemen”. They worn amber and mastered bronze. –
The handful of archaeologists in question are the guys (plus a recently acquired archeofriend) of the Terramara of Pilastri, a project of public archaeology began in 2013, and emerged from a crucial situation: the Emilian earthquake of 2012. That dramatic event forced those who were stunned by it to rescue one of their main human values: their cultural identity. And that, after quite an adventure, turned into a set of three excavation campaigns funded by the Municipality of Bondeno and some local associations, with the constant supervision by the Superintendence for Archaeology of Emilia Romagna. It was an incredible opportunity for us, young postgrads living one of the hardest periods that Italian archaeology has ever known, such the right occasion to express the necessity of a renewal of the discipline.
We have built a solid network made of human relations with the inhabitants of Pilastri and surroundings. Undoubtedly, the hardest task was to let them understand why we were in love for that mound of dirt and broken ceramic fragments coming straight from the Bronze Age. And they understood. In the last year we metabolized a great lesson: sharing the archaeological point of view isn’t such an easy task, although you’re able to master the standard vectors of communication. You must interact with people and try to walk in their shoes; the best media to explain archaeology are archaeologists themselves. That lead us to play an active role at the festival, turning ourselves into the ultimate vectors of a peaceful… archaeopropaganda.
So after a quick fitting of our stand, we start offering laboratorial activities to kids and adults, taking part in reenacting, explaining our intentions and our “mission” to everyone, apparently doing what promoters do. The difference lies either in the approach either into the contents. The act of borrowing techniques belonging to other fields of study is the very heart of our discipline, so why don’t we take a closer look on communication strategies?
People are not confident with our role in society, and lesser than that they’re aware of what we do and why. So, a winning strategy for propagate the very meaning of our discipline could be make the extraordinary experience of archaeology more ordinary. At least this kind of approach is working for us with the people of Pilastri.
A funny bookmark given to someone by an enthusiast archaeologist can make the difference, directly rising the interest for a profession which every adult was fascinated by in youth. A profession that must be shared with the entire world because speaks of humanity. Archaeology is public for definition, only the archaeologists themselves aren’t aware of this. They still need to specify it.
P.S. I’ll provide an english translation of the official website sooner as possible!