I'm an Italian archaeologist, specializing at SISBA (Scuola Interateneo di Specializzazione in Beni Archeologici - Trieste, Udine, Venezia). Archeo-director in Vignale and video-narration enthusiast. I write about video and archaeology at: http://archeovideo.wordpress.com. If you want to know more: http://unisi.academia.edu/FrancescoRipanti

Exploring Archaeology with the Video Storyteller

“You are an archaeologist, I mean, you dig dinosaurs?!”
“What are you saying? Archaeologists dig for the truth…”
“Dear friends, listen to me! Archaeologists dig very important sites, study pottery and write very boring scientific publication for reconstructing the life of the past. This is archaeology!”
“But it’s not all. Archaeology is pointless if you don’t tell it to people. To involve people in the telling of archaeology via video, that’s the way I like archaeology!”
“Telling stories via video? I’m not sure you are an archaeologist!”

No doubts, I am an archaeologist. I have a degree in archaeology and I tell entertaining stories of archaeology using video. This is also my “Day of archaeology”.
There are many specializations in contemporary archaeology: the landscape archaeologist, the geoarchaeologist, the osteoarchaeologist, the GIS and the 3D expert etc. I am a video storyteller of archaeology!

I don’t think I don’t do archaeology. I dig with my other colleagues, I use trowel and pickaxe, I fulfil my sheets and write my diary. But my scope is to communicate what I dig and the way I like most is recording videos. Why recording videos?
Video is a way of telling but also the scope, the final product. Almost everyone like to take part in a video, everyone like to see themselves in a video and to say to friends: “Hey, have you seen me in that video?”. Last but not least, YouTube is one of the most popular search engine on the Web and when you publish your video on YouTube everyone can see it.
Video is also the medium that narrates stories in the best way because it puts together images and sounds. And every archaeologist knows that a site is an infinite container of stories. We have all the ingredients for a good recipe!

Film making a Vignale 2

I ask constantly myself if I can record a story about what I’m digging and in which way I can tell it. There are countless ways to do it: free you creativity and choose the one you think better for your necessity. You can let archaeologists talk about the site or write and record a story set in the past. You can make a time-lapse video or tell a day at the excavation. What about a point of view of a child or the memories of an old man?
The first step is one of the most difficult: if you aren’t a field director you need an approval for recording your footage; secondly you need the availability of the archaeologists for taking part in the video. Usually archaeologists like to stay in front of the camera. After some shooting they will be confident and involved in what they are doing. Have a look at this video recorded in Vignale and presented at TAG 2012 in Liverpool. Its title is “Last days of fieldwork in room 14” and tell what have been dug in this area of the site through words, photos, time-lapses and diaries. The point is that also excavation can be told in a entertaining way using the right media.

One of the aspect I like more of narrating archaeology via camera is that video is not only a visual medium but also an involving one. It can involve common people to take part in the narration of an archaeological site. At Vignale (Tuscany), a Roman mansio excavated by the University of Siena, in October 2013 children help archaeologists in denounce the activity of looters in the site with a brief video, entitled “Giù le mani dalla nostra storia” (Hands off our history). In agree with archaeologists, they wrote a screenplay and got to the site to record this footage. They had a strong relationship with Vignale and recording this video they had the possibility of doing battle for the site.

After this brief venture in the world of the video storyteller of archaeology, I would like to have a good screenplay with an archaeo-story and record it. Unfortunately, as in 2013, July isn’t a period of film making, so my “Day of Archaeology” is a static day of study. Anyway I’m sure I’ll see many videos embedded in other posts. I’ll enjoy them and the stories inside them!

The Curious Loneliness of the Director of Archaeology

Have you ever seen, on TV or on the Web, videos about archaeology, leaving aside documentaries?
Probably not if you live in Italy.

Have you ever seen an archaeologist recording with a camera?
Probably not if you live in Italy.

I’m an Italian archaeologist and when I don’t dig I edit videos recorded during the excavation (when I’m too tired for studying…).
I’m also a video-narration/storytelling enthusiast, and these two interests mixed together led me to produce footage like this, a docudrama that performs the 2011 excavation season in the Roman site of Vignale (Italy).

My archaeological life so far has been a mix of university studies, excavations and recording videos. But communicating fieldwork is my favorite activity and I like to do it via video, especially referring to the point of view of the archaeologists, translated in a story using the genre of docudrama. Putting together images and sounds/voices, in my opinion video is the best medium for telling histories of archaeology, from the most famous to the worst preserved site. I think video can become a fundamental way of communication and involvement, raising public awareness of archaeological fieldwork.
This summer seems to be not so different from the others, even if more satisfactory until now. In June, Giuliano De Felice and I won the first Italian video contest about archaeology, organized by Mappa Project, with this short video about Open Access in archaeology (not subtitled yet). It has been absolutely terrific winning this contest with a dialogue instead of the usual 3D models or documentary.

Later on, I’ve started a new column about video-narration in archaeology on “Archeologia tardoantica e medievale a Siena” Facebook page. Every week I review one or two videos from all over the world that are characterized by a special care about narration; from this derives the name of the column “Making archaeology as a movie“.

Today archaeology covers a wide variety of works and specialisms. Video-communication is not among the most popular at all and sometimes I feel I’m doing it for myself and a few other people (and always gratis!). But this doesn’t mean that is less important and less necessary. It’s part of the archaeological process and I’m going on doing it, trying to achieve a better and more involving communication of the fieldwork.

recording in vignale

I will spend my Day of Archaeology 2013 at home, editing videos but most of all studying boring books. Therefore I’m impatiently waiting for the new excavation season in Vignale, next September, when I can experience something new about video during fieldwork and resume the dig. This is definitely my favorite way for celebrating a great Day of Archaeology.