A day between reenacting and popularization

Let’s start from a due preamble:
As a reenacting group we felt honoured of being invited to take part to the Day of Archaeology and to describe one “typical” day to add our point of view to the italian ranks, but we feel the need of saying at least two things: the first is that we are not archaeologists (some of our members studied or are studying historical disciplines that gave us some basic archaeology knowledge but none of us is a proper archaeologist) and the second is that there’s no such thing as an average day in our camp. So why should we write this post? First of all because our goal as reconstructors and promulgators is to ease people’s approach to archaeology and also because we have the great luck to have the support and cooperation of professionals that allows us to keep our job between the lines of proper philology (while still having much to improve).

So let’s try to hypothesize how a day in our camp or, let’s say, how the chronological flowing of our actions should be.

Phase 0: Vacation. In Italy (but not only) you can’t live out of reenactment and divulgation, nor can you earn money and seldom can you earn enough to cover the expenses. Mostly you support your reenacting activities with the profits of everyday, less loved but necessary jobs.


Phase 1: Research. Let’s say we have a new member and we need to arrange for his or her new equipment.
Research is now necessary (although an adequate part of it was probably done already) to identify what historical and social environment will define the kind of individual our newbie has to represent. Once this is done it’s time to start researching through case history of archeological finds compatible with gender, age and census of the character we want to recreate. Assuming we found a series of perfect matches, a deeper digging on grave goods and their position in the grave will be necessary for a better comprehension of their meaning and use. In some luckier cases we can finally compare our ideas with iconographic representations.

Phase 2: Comparisons. Because archaeological findings aren’t the only source, we compare ourselves with other reenactors, especially if they are more expert and willing to give us some advice. This has always been proved to be an excellent solution to discover new and unexpected points of view.

Phase 3: Materials. From wood to fabric, from metal to food, it’s mandatory to us to find or produce materials as close to the original (or to the supposed originals) as we can.

Phase 4: Production. Here lies the difference between “extra” (people generally hired by the managers of small events to hang around wearing a stage costume rather than a reconstructed outfit), recreator and experimental archaeologist. The first starts with a doodle on a piece of paper and uses it and a common modern tool to produce something vaguely resembling something he or she may have seen somewhere and, with that, walk proudly to take part in a parade; the second, with mix of modern and reconstructed tools, tries to reproduce as faithfully as possible the finished item; the third uses historical techniques and instruments to recreate faithfully both item and production process. In our humble way we think we can collocate ourselves in the second group, strongly willing to evolve towards the third.

Phase 5: Exposition. Our hypothetical newbie, dressed in his new clothes and gear, is now examined by other reenactors and archaeologist friends. We take note of the comments, consider if we agree or not and possibly proceed making adjustments.

Let’s get on to a new phase, in which we test our reproductions on the field and get in touch with the public. Also here are a number of variables, so let’s have a description of the types of event we can take part in.

Event type 1: Generic Festival. Anyone has happened to go there, sometimes only to use the following payment to cover other expenses or because some old friend asked us. These may be the events in which the recreator-reenactor feels more uncomfortable: surrounded by nylon garments and elvish latex ears, the reenactor hopes in redemption whenever a bystander comes near the camp looking curious, just to discover the he or she only meant to ask if the campfire was real.

Event type 2: Specific Festival. These are huge occasions to share and compare, especially among reenactors. Different groups, different reenacting levels and different points of view gather in the same place for a few days, sharing space, weather and public and (friendly) competing with each other to explain to the public their reconstructions and the era they are trying to represent and spending long hours during the night discussing boringly specific topics with friends they just met.

Event type 3: School appearance. In this case the reenactor, varying tone and contents of the speech in relation to the age of the audience, pours out his or her desire of making history more fascinating. Using modern technologies as a support to show the kids what you can’t bring inside of an average modern school (historical everyday life, campfires, craftsmanship and other potentially dangerous activities) and racking his or her brain striving to touch at least some of those compulsive smartphone users’ mind.

Event type 4: Museum appearance[1]. At this point the poor reenactor is experiencing a mix of childish excitement and performance anxiety. Being among the display cases holding the items that inspired his or her work, with the responsibility of making the public understand the beauty lying in those corroded metal pieces is overwhelming and an extreme self control effort is requested to avoid to drown people in words.

Event type X: Direct management. The less caring of their own mental and physical health sooner or later find themselves flirting with the idea of creating their own event. A weird creature made out with pieces of the previously explained four categories.
An event , therefore, with a strong cooperation with a referential museum, with a coeval encampment based on a comparison among growing groups, without forgetting scheduled guided tours for school kids and which allows families to enjoy a weekend of fun and learning. Very few emerge from this pit once they fell in. Our attempt is called Anno Domini 568 and we let people who visited it to judge if we managed to bring this odd creature to life.

So ends the utopian day of a reenactor, who at this point loads back the 3-tons van with all the camp material and goes home to rest a few hours before going back to his or her XXI century job.

Gabriele Zorzi

Translation from Italian by Irene Barbina

[1] Besides the museums, this kind of event may generally refer to institutional environments, such as archaeological clubs and so on.