“Intellectual Strabismus” or being an archaeologist in 2015

As I am an archaeologist and it is 2015, today I am about to start my very first class of the course “Accounting and Managerial Finance”.



I know, people have always cringed when they saw words such archaeology and business in the same sentence, without a vs. to separate them.

But, as I said, it is 2015 and being an archaeologist today entails having many different skills and responsibilities. And they are not always taught in the archaeology faculty.

Deep down, I’ve always known it. But it is only thanks to the book “Archeostorie. Unconventional handbook of real-life archaeology” that I became fully aware of how many archaeologists in Italy over time felt the need to ‘crossbreed’ with other professions.

“Archeostorie” provides a window into the daily lives of archaeologists in Italy: 34 professionals gathered together to tell the world their own experience. The resulting picture is basically a statement: being an archaeologist today implies and refers to much more than the classical archaeologist brandishing a trowel!

During the past two decades, archaeological practice has been transformed by internal and external forces, requiring archaeologists to develop new skills and ethical principles for the practice of archaeology in all its applications.  This also means, that at some point in his/her career over the past two decades, every archaeologist has found his/herself lacking in some area of vital importance.

For me, that I have a background in cultural heritage management, that area is business administration.

Fundamentally any museum or archaeological site is a business, in the sense that money (or in most cases, the lack of) is part of any decision taken. You can’t (and shouldn’t) run an archaeological site just with volunteers. And even if you did, you would still have boring bills to pay.

There you go, money is everywhere.

Particularly in this historical moment of political uncertainty, economic recession and social pressure – exactly when the global community would need its cultural resources more than ever – money is the major constraint.

Someone could argue that this is no job for an archaeologist, to manage money – you have professional financial managers that can do that for you.

Of course, I am not saying we don’t need them at all –we do! – but my reply, however, would be: they are not cross-eyed.

They are not trained to look at the books and at the same time considered which wall of that domus is to be prioritised for a conservation intervention. And they are not trained to put together a budget for a proposal while looking at the long-term goals of the community engagement strategy either.

There is a need for a hybrid.

Being able to use our resources wisely, being creative in the way we traditionally fund archaeology and being able to maximise benefits produced by archaeology are, to me, the most pressing issues of my profession.

And this is also the reason why I spend summer days in Rome indoors, playing the CFO of imaginary companies on Excel spreadsheets (and I enjoy it!).

I want to be a cross-eyed archaeologist!

The library of an archaeologist affected with "intellectual strabismus"

The library of an archaeologist affected with “intellectual strabismus”

Archeostorie: contemporary archaeology as a brand

Who is this amusing, coloured and cardboarded puppet that sustain the leaning Tower of Pisa?

archeostorie a pisa

It all started with last year’s Day of Archaeology. Until then, only few Italians were participating in the DoA, and we thought this should change. So we called to arms the Archeobloggers, i.e., a group of  archaeologists we had gathered together a few months before, who actively write about archaeology on the Web. It was a real success: the organizers even created a local category, “Italy”, in order to allow visibility to this wide collective enterprise.

DoA 2014 Italy

However, this was by no means a random participation: we were very careful in assigning to everyone a specific duty, according to the capabilities and professional experiences of each of them, so that we could show how many different things Italian archaeologists do. Moreover, we wanted to demonstrate that, even if very few of us work as “traditional” archaeologists in Universities or in the Public Cultural Heritage Administration, this doesn’t mean that most archaeologists are unoccupied, as common people in Italy generally assume. On the contrary, there is a wide variety of things that archaeologists can do, especially in the fields of management and communication of Cultural Heritage. Believe it or not, they are all real jobs you can make a living from!

To cut a long story short, we decided to turn our DoA posts into a book. Actually, a handbook for University students who have the right to know how many job opportunities can spring from a degree in Archaeology. Only few professors talk about real job opportunities in class, so we had to fill this incredible gap.

Archeostorie was published last March by Cisalpino-Monduzzi, collecting 31 exciting, compelling and fantastic stories. The subtitle runs “Unconventional handbook of real-life archaeology.” It was conceived for students but it turned out an incredibly readable book for everybody: a collection of  real, genuine adventures in archaeology. Archeostorie is therefore significantly contributing to raise public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world, and it concretely shows people how useful our past is to modernity.

We added some posts to the DoA original ones in order to have a very wide overview: from experimental archaeology to reenactment and videogames, from video making to journalism and social media, from community archaeology to crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, from landscape planning to management and branding. You can see many of them on our colourful cover, painted by Francesco Ghizzani Marcìa, an archaeologist of course!

archeostorie copertina

We want archaeologists to be storyteller, and “Storyteller Archaeologist” (Archeologo Cantastorie) is the name of our mascot.

We asked everybody to tell good stories: significant episodes in their professional careers that would clearly explain what their job consists of, and what on hell they do every single day. We wanted narratives, and very concrete ones so that students could almost imagine to be side by side with each of us in a virtual training course.

It was not easy to have archaeologists create narratives. We made some of them rewrite their story several time, we rewrote several paragraphs ourselves, and our final editing work was a nightmare, but eventually we succeeded.

archeostorie in italia doa

We spent the past five months touring Italian Universities and public halls to present the book and discuss what really means to be an archaeologist today. But this is not the end: our “Archeostorie tour” is going on with several summer events and again presentations next fall and winter. Everybody is requesting our show: we bring excitement and positive ideas wherever we go, we are contagious. We demonstrate that archaeologists can actually take a leading role in our societies, provided they want it and strive for it.

We already reprinted the book and added a preface by Filippo Maria Gambari who drew a sort of history of the discipline in Italy from the times when it was mostly history of ancient art up to the Archeostorie movement, and a postscript by Daniele Manacorda who practically hands the torch to us and says we represent the future of archaeology. We are honored of these as well as of all the many positive and encouraging comments we received. We do not know if we are really designing our future, but we know we are clearly showing how powerful our discipline can be in the present. Archeostorie conveys strength and enthusiasm. Archeostorie is a source of inspiration and an occasion for discussion. Archeostorie, like it or not, is becoming a brand.


Cinzia Dal Maso, Francesco Ripanti