GQB 2015, day 7: Gortyna in the 8th century through a ceramic lens

On 16th July we’re headed to Rethymno for a workshop on Byzantine cities in Crete. Our participation was a last minute deal but I thought it would be useful to provide an overview on the entire city of Gortys, not limited to the GQB area, from the point of view of a ceramic specialist. What follows is a short summary of my talk. Tomorrow I will post a summary of the workshop and some conclusions about my own talk.

At Gortys, there is a recognisable occupation phase in the 8th century: we have evidence in the Pretorio, the Byzantine Houses and the Byzantine Quarter, the Pythion, the Mitropolis basilica, the Agora, possibly the Acropolis and even some rural sites such as the small farm of Orthipetra in the Mitropolianos valley and Chalara near Festos. In short, almost everywhere we’ve been excavating in the past 20 years we found evidence later than the 7th century, even without accounting for the prolonged use of some ceramic items.

Therefore our research question should not be whether the city is still alive in the 8th century but how we understand the life in Gortys by means of archaeological indicators such as ceramic finds.

In the past few years, we have collectively published ceramic and numismatic evidence that contradicts the traditional date of 670 AD for an earthquake – pushing some 50-60 years later a possible catastrophic event (some publications are shy about this, though). When we speak of the 8th century in Gortys it is useful to distinguish into a “long 7th century” that lasts until this event and the remaining decades of the 8th century, according to both the ceramic and numismatic evidence. The period after this event is usually mentioned as “VIII e IX secolo” mainly because we have to accomodate for the 826-829 AD date from the written sources about the “Arab” conquest of Crete. I’ll leave a discussion of the 9th century for a next occasion, but the same approach can be used.

Part of our issues with the 8th century derive from the impact that earlier works like Gortina II or Gortina V had on the following studies, with their typological approach. It is only recently that we have collectively started focusing on contexts as atomic units of study, at least in some cases.

The main ceramic indicators we have are:

  • Globular amphorae
  • Sovradipinta bizantina
  • Late Mediterranean fine wares
  • Cooking wares
  • Glazed wares
  • Chafing dishes
  • Oil lamps

Urban areas

The Pretorio, Byzantine Houses, Byzantine Quarter and Pythion are best considered as a single area, that had its main focus on the “Strada Nord” which crossed the urban area. Lots of excavations here!

The Mitropolis basilica is the most important religious area of the city. Recent excavations on the outer part of the absidal area have given important evidence.

The Agora was excavated in the 1990s but only recently published. Apart from a significant amount of Medieval material, including Byzantine amphorae, there is a deposit (“C”) dated from this period, possibly from the same destructive event seen elsewhere in Gortys.

The Acropolis was excavated in the 1960s and saw only a small intervention in 2003. It took a few decades to realise that some of the decorated pottery identified as Minoan was in fact Byzantine. Without a reevaluation of the material, we are left with a weak basis to analyse the place that must have been the seat of the civil/military power from the late 7th to the 9th century, and only the occupation is certain, with architectural remains and at least one coin.

Main ceramic indicators

Globular amphorae are well known but on their own they provide little chronological detail. However, their recurring association with other indicators that have a more tight chronology is very interesting. Their source is commonly indicated as either Cretan or Aegean: we still lack a precise indication in this regard. Their abundance in this period all around Gortys, unparalleled by other amphora types, indicates that they were used primarily as a storage container, to stockpile liquids (wine?) in huge quantities – as much as 750 liters just in one building. Other amphorae that are quite numerous in this period are LRA 5/6 from Palestine and the Nile Delta region, and the LRA7 in some areas of the city.

The Sovradipinta bizantina is of limited interest as a general indicator for Crete, because it only circulates in the immediate vicinity of Gortys and only rarely found outside the Mesara. Its production starts at the end of the 6th century and goes on into the 7th and 8th century, apparently without any significant distinction in typology or decoration. Again, it is difficult to use this indicator alone to point to an 8th century date, even though ceramic evidence from the Praetorium points to a different chronology, mostly in the late 7th and 8th century. One thing is sure: the Sovradipinta bizantina was never meant to be a replacement for missing imports, since most of it is on closed forms like drinking cups, jugs, etc. that do not occur in the imported fine wares. Rather, we see decoration occurring on the formal repertoire of the local plain wares.

Traditionally, the end of trade in Mediterranean fine wares is dated at the end of the 7th century, to coincide at the very last with the Arab conquest of Carthage in 698. However, several authors agree that some productions could continue to be exported for some time in the 8th century, such as:

  • the late African Red Slip D3 / D4, form 107 and 109 described by Bonifay;
  • Late Roman D / Cypriot Red Slip, form 9B described by Watson;
  • Egyptian Red Slip wares? We seem to have a consistent presence of Aswan ware, a production that is little known outside Egypt and is dated to to 7th century.

In general, cooking pots of this period are frequently bag-shaped, in coarser, more fragile fabrics. Cooking pots made on the slow-wheel appear sporadically, like a paradigmatic example of simplified ceramic production or even a comeback of domestic modes of production – at the same time they challenge our stereotyped view of pottery as typology and require a technological study that goes beyond traditional archaeometric provenance analysis. It is difficult to tell whether there were different cooking habits since most publications lack the level of detail that is needed, such as which parts of the cooking pot have traces of fire exposure, which have traces of dipper / κουτάλα, etc.

Glazed wares (the “Glazed White Ware” series 1) are the most recognisable finds of the period. While the coarser glazed cooking pots date already from the mid-7th in Constantinople, their fine counterparts seem slightly later according to the studies of Hayes. Some 9th century examples were already known since the 1980s in Gortys, but recently we have been finding more examples including the beautiful 8th century chafing dish decorated with fish and palm tree. Other known examples from Crete are from Pseira and Itanos. They could be interpreted as luxury items, but as with the imported wares we should be cautious to make an equation between archaeological rarity and actual social/economic value, since this production is very rare all over the Byzantine Empire.

Chafing dishes / σαλτσάρια come also in coarse fabrics, at least in two separate contexts from the BQ and the Agora. Since we have so few examples of this type, it is useful to see that the culinary habits linked to this new type of cooking vessel are not limited to glazed dishes (that could easily be gifts or decorative items). There’s room for discussing the fact that this habit appears in Gortys at the same time as other important centres of the Byzantine Empire, with simplistic explanations like the military or new civil authorities.

Finally, oil lamps. The “juglet” lamps are well known, especially type I. It seems that type II could be more widespread in the later period. Lamps in this period are less standardised, but in Gortys we don’t see hand-made lamps of the simpler open types. A separate discussion is needed to take into account the impact of glass on lighting of interior spaces, and we still don’t have collected the necessary data from our excavated material.


I’d like to leave my conclusions blank for tomorrow’s post.

The cover image is an African Red Slip sherd, form Hayes 109B, in D3 fabric, photographed through a magnifying lens (GQB CER 746.2).

GQB 2015, day 6: the 7th day milestone

14th July was again crucial for the Greek crisis, notwithstanding any historical recurrence of revolutionary events where the powerful elite was overthrown without mercy.

Here in Gortys, the good news is that the pump engine was repaired, boosting our morale, but the day was a mixed bag and my attention was split among tasks like the write-up of Attività 99 (the latest occupation phase in GQB), a further look at the GONA finds that need drawings and photographs, and some GIS maintenance for Elisa. Since I started counting from 0, day 6 means that I succeeded in blogging every day for one week: as any blogger knows, this takes a lot of effort, discipline and sometimes you have to accept that there is nothing truly exciting to write about and that’s OK. At the same time, this is different from a “log of activities”, despite the etymology.

In the afternoon we had a frank debate about the sustainability of archaeology abroad, particularly of Italian archaeology, in the light of the archaic funding schemes that are available to Italian research institutions. The conundrum is with the role of archaeological research not merely as a pure academic activity, but as a first step that most local institutions rightfully believe should lead to a contextualised preservation of ancient remains. On the other hand, there is zero incentive on the academic side to pursue this kind of “extended” path: when your monograph or journal article gets published, it makes no difference whether the archaeological remains you based research on are rotting among the vegetation or are part of accessible heritage paths for the public. Does your university understand this problem? Does a coordinated effort at the country-level help? In Greece, all activity from foreign research bodies is supposed to go through the filter of archaeological schools, like the BSA, the EFA, the SAIA, the ASCSA, etc. These are venerable institutions more than 100 years old, they play the same role but have many differences in the size of their staff, the source of their funding, the amount of involvement in each project they coordinate. Crucially, and luckily I think, in the past 10 years the Greek ephorates made extremely clear demands for preservation efforts before further excavation could be undertaken – with the assumption that excavation must be the first step towards conservation and there cannot be conservation without excavation. In theory, this puts survey-based research project at an advantage, since the main cost associated with the post-research phase is storage of finds (which has its own problems but is less expensive than in situ conservation of building remains). In the end, we could only agree that the archaeological schools have a hard time keeping the pace of changes in both the funding of research and the needs of local society (as expressed through both political movements and civil society). The relationship with higher education seems even more problematic: after all I am here, a civil servant from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism, doing archaeology-related fieldwork thanks to a “historical” link between the Italian Soprintendenze at home and the Italian School at Athens, but this link pre-dates by many decades the creation of doctorates in Italy (in the early 1980s) and now largely obsolete.

Late in the afternoon, I wanted to reenact one of the photographs that illustrate my piece in Archeostorie, the “unconventional manual of real life archaeology” that I dedicated to Archaeology without borders taking inspiration from my personal heroes like Bill Caraher and Colleen Morgan.

GQB 2015, day 5: substitute

I’m a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high

As I mentioned the other day, our team is in Gortys at the same time with the University of Padua team directed by Jacopo Bonetto. Since there is no ceramic specialist with them this year, they asked me to take a look at a few ceramic contexts from the Late Antique phase of the temple of Apollo (Ναός Απόλλωνος) where they excavated a few explorative trenches last year. This is what is normally called spot-dating: have a quick look at diagnostic finds from a context, identify whether there is enough material to provide a significant chronology and output a date range. Usually it is difficult to be very precise with less than 20-30 diagnostic finds, especially with local wares, and “first half of the sixth century AD” is good enough a starting point. Another recurring issue is with residual material, that is the norm in Mediterranean urban sites because small scraps of pottery as always found in the soil, sometimes centuries older than the date of formation. Residuality is an interesting phenomenon, too often overlooked or “analysed” in simplistic terms because it is rather difficult to model.

In detail, I’ve been looking at 5 contexts dated from the 3rd to the 6th century. The later ones are slightly larger and can be dated pretty reliably:

  • in the mid-6th century you get African Red Slip Hayes 104A and LRC/Phocaean Red Slip Hayes 10A together with Aegean cooking wares;
  • in the 5th century the most recognisable finds are local basins with a painted zig-zag decoration on the rim, a few sherds of Late Roman Amphora 3 and African Keay 25
  • the earlier contexts are smaller, and more difficult to pinpoint with 1-2 diagnostic finds, either African Red Slip from the 4th century or Eastern Sigillata A from the early 2nd century.

All these are floor assemblages, resulting from prolonged use on top of landfills: the difference, in theory, is that a landfill should be dated to a single moment in time and can contain earlier material, while the floor deposit will contain small pieces subject to trampling and walking, ideally from the period when the floor was in use. This distinction is useful in theory but in practice floor surfaces tend to be slightly over-excavated and the finds are all from top part of the lower fill layer.

Archaeological map of Gortys: the bright areas are recent excavations with 8th century material; blue spot is the Pythion, orange spot the Byzantine Quarter.
Archaeological map of Gortys: the bright areas are recent excavations with 8th century material; blue spot is the Pythion, orange spot the Byzantine Quarter.

To my surprise, there were some beautiful and much larger assemblages from the 7th and 8th century that didn’t interest much to our colleagues from Padua, but were rather sweet for us Byzantine archaeologists! Apart from a very good selection of type-finds (Late Roman D/Cypriot Red Slip Hayes 9, juglet-shaped oil lamps, globular amphorae and their sibling water jars with one handle, Egyptian Red Slip dishes, cooking pots made on the slow wheel, etc) the context as a whole was both tremendously familiar and interesting, so similar to what we found in the nearby Byzantine Quarter / Βυζαντινή Συνοικία. The difference is in the BQ we see traces of people dwelling well into the 8th century, while houses in the Pythion area seem abandoned slightly earlier, thus we might be looking at glorious rubbish dumps from “our” side. It is truly worth a further look.

GQB 2015, day 4: the people must have something good to read

The people must have something good to read on a Sunday

With only ten days of fieldwork, weekends are a social convention that is left for another time, and the alarm is only marginally generous at 8 o’clock.

As anticipated two days ago, my main task here is to finalise the study of ceramic contexts towards publication. Today I made a few steps in a good direction, with a convincing draft for a “layout” of each context, where various types of information are shown as an introductory summary:

  • a small stratigraphic diagram
  • an excavation plan with the position of the context under examination
  • a photograph of the context during excavation
  • a photograph of all ceramic finds from the context in a single view
  • three plots with the statistical distribution of:
    • sherd weight, that is not very useful without a reference value, but I still need to iterate on this
    • rim percentage as estimated vessel equivalent (eve)
    • chronology-weighted-by-eve, that is particularly useful for looking at residuality and depositional histories

I’d like to add another infobox with a summary view of all objects that I identified as part of the systemic context (cutting short on the topic, for now), not as they were found but as they could have been while in use.

Then an extended discussion follows, in a more “traditional” fashion, where the stratigraphic data and the contextual relationships are taken into account. My aim in this part is to bridge the information and the “hard data” from the stratigraphic analysis with a broader view on the life of the household, for example looking at various rooms and our interpretation of their function/use.

After the discussion, a catalogue of all finds follows, with drawings/pictures that I will try to keep within the text or very close to their descriptive entries, avoiding separate “plates”, that would betray the principle of primacy of context that I’m following.

There was some discussion about whether to include residual finds or not in this catalogue, with Enrico Zanini finally winning the argument thanks to a subtle distinction between residues and residuality. Only the latter should be discussed, leaving an extended description of residual finds to a separate section.

I’m quite satisfied with this draft, at least on a conceptual level, but it definitely needs more work on a visual level.

GQB 2015, day 3: a little relax

You’re expected to get some relax on weekends. This Saturday 11th July I woke up to the news of a huge explosion at the Italian embassy in Cairo, hit by a carbomb. Four foreign journalists were arrested almost immediately by the police, that’s how Egypt works at the moment, I am afraid.

Crete is not that far from Egypt, it never was, at least since the Minoan/Keftiu connections. We have countless examples of trade and cultural contacts between the two regions in the Roman and Byzantine period, and even after the Arab conquest of Egypt in 639-642 AD. Crete played a strategic role during WW2 as a link between various areas of the Mediterranean while the Allied forces were busy reorganising their counterattack strategy ‒ there were several Cretan fighters who went to Egypt for training with the British army, and then came back to their own island to continue the fight for liberation against the Nazi invaders. Today the Mediterranean is split in half, with thousands of people dying every year while they try to cross to our side.

It’s with such thoughts in mind that Saturday began, a relaxed day with only 3-4 hours at work in the morning and 2-3 hours in the afternoon. At noon on Saturday, our traditional habit is to go to the nearby town of Moires/Μοίρες where the weekly street market offers fresh fruit and vegetables from the Mesara countryside at ridiculous prices, together with crappy made in China products, kanelada sellers. We have been repeating this visit to the market for years. You may think that such a big market is there only in the summer, to take advantage of the many foreign tourists who stay in Southern Crete, but … you’d be wrong. I’ve been here in November a few years ago, and the market looks just the same, only a little less crowded. The Saturday market in Moires is not a postcard-like happening, rather the opposite, and it’s as good as a practical lesson in microeconomy as any other such street market. Lunch is a gyros and a cold beer.

In the afternoon, our colleagues from the University of Padua are gone for a weekend trip in Eastern Crete and there’s time for some work on our main task (described in some detail yesterday). We’re out to the village of Sivas for dinner, but not before another exhausting take at the pump engine and its unpredictable behaviour.

The featured image is by Elisa Triolo. I met her right here 10 years ago.

GQB 2015, day 2: publication, publication, publication

10th July and our work here is underway. This year we’re working in three main directions: publication, publication, publication. At the current stage of the GQB research project there is little else we need to do, really.

The first publication we’re concerned with is a book about the water supply system of Gortys, that should go to press very soon and ideally provide a foundation for the understanding of how the city interacted with the chora (the rural hinterland, for the non-classicist) in Roman and Byzantine times. The work on this publication is one of final polishing, some ground-checking and especially production of illustrations – how good is a long monograph without illustrations that help readers in understanding the problems under examination, the hypothesis that is explored? Too often archaeological illustration ends up with highly descriptive and objective depictions of objects (either landscapes or single objects), like a repetition of what is written as text. As I write this post, I remember a short piece on this same topic from a few years ago.

The second publication is my direct concern and is filled with ceramic assemblages from the Early Byzantine contexts of Gortys. While the general outline of my PhD thesis is stable as it was defined years ago, it’s the details that always seem to escape being fixed on a digital page: what is the acceptable amount of detail about a single potsherd? How do we balance differences in archaeological value between ceramic finds from interesting versus uninteresting contexts? Much of the theoretical work I’ve been exploring is devoted to the definition of a “layered” approach to the study of ceramic finds, from the highly detailed analysis of potsherds as items inside stratified deposits (weight, proportions with respect to soil volume, sherd size, residuality etc.) to a more “anthro”-sized view of households as social consumption units. Again, it’s rather easy to fill a few hundred pages with academic nonsense on this topic (nonetheless, backed by extensive literature of both structuralist and post-structuralist tone), but I am looking for a clear, straightforward, “infographical” way to express those concepts, first of all to myself. So far I’ve been working with statistical plots for numerical variables at the stratigraphic layer. As I develop standardised views to be used in all data-driven chapters, I need to go back and look at the actual material, check if that clear-cut distinction between residual finds and in-phase finds is actually there to be seen. This publication is going to take some more time, but we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

The third publication, as of today, is the only one that is already available: GQBWiki. I presented it at CAA a few months ago with Alessandro Carabia, describing the steps we followed prior to opening it to the public under a CC-BY-SA license. If there is one thing I need to repeat from the presentation, it’s the 0-delay from creating content to making it globally available. On day 2, I took an opportunity to experiment at this with creating new content and linking a Zotero note about a traditional publication to a wiki page. The idea is that GQBWiki is the digital archive that acts as the foundation of the final GQB publication, but also works on its own as a continuously updated resource about the Early Byzantine city, or Early Byzantine Crete, or … as wide as old and new contributors will want.


From our rural location, political news from Athens sound as remote as a chronicle from Byzantine times, but at least there seems to be some hope. In the meantime, a law was approved giving Greek citizenship to migrants’ children: there is nothing like that in Italy.

We still have problems with the pump engine for water, but at least now we can shower. What a luxury!

GQB 2015: day 1, logistics

Day 1 is Logistics: go back to the airport and fetch the remaining team members, obtain Internet connection, fix the ritual problems with water supply, broken light bulbs.

Actually, the water problems seem pretty serious at the moment, not because there is no water (lest our readers think the Greek crisis has already reached into the realm of basic public infrastructure and natural resources) but quite simply one of the pump engines is broken, together with several pipes. This is a “good” chance to explain a bit more about the SAIA/ΙΑΣΑ house in Agioi Deka. First of all, until 1998 or 1999 Italian archaeologists were hosted in another building, the old episkopeio in the center of the village, and at some point in a school. The former director of SAIA Antonino Di Vita made a big invesment when he decided to build an entirely new headquarter, a few hundred meters above the village, with large room for both people and … archaeological finds. The SAIA house is made of two buildings, one of which is mainly devoted to storage of finds and a conservation laboratory. The two buildings are separate, so when water supply is broken on one side, we can queue outside bathrooms on the other side. How convenient. In fact, the accomodation in Agioi Deka is incredibly good compared to most other excavations I’ve been (tents, school classrooms, you name it), but it’s disappointing to see a new building that is already rotting away due to lack of maintenance and, perhaps, a mismatch between a grandiose project and a rather clumsy execution. There are many reasons for this, among them we could certainly count the continuous cuts to the SAIA – I can’t even recall how many petitions to “save” it I signed – and the future looks rather grim from here. After all, how can Italy afford to maintain a handful of such houses around Greece, plus a big headquarter and library in Athens, at a time when new taxes pop out every other month, and old privileges for foreign archaeological schools are erased by inflexible changes in the Greek administration?

From an archaeologist’s perspective, a building that is undergoing continued repair is a double-edged sword: these activities leave traces will be barely visible even in the near future (several layers of plaster and white paint on ceilings damaged by spilling water, plastic and metal pipes of different size and age and quality, …), but are we looking at vital inhabitants who took care of their roof, or scrappy squatters who did the minimum required to avoid moving somewhere else? Are the problems in furniture and services of the house in Agioi Deka caused by the big crisis of 2033 that we all know from written sources?

GQB 2015: day 0

This year, thanks to the combined availability of my employer (the Soprintendenza Archeologia della Liguria), the Italian School of Archaeology at Athens and the University of Siena I was able to take part again in the short field season at the Byzantine Quarter in Gortys (GQB). I promised my colleagues a daily report. Fasten your seatbelts.

Day 0 is, as usual, the day of traveling and spending more than your regular share of time at an airport gate waiting for the next flight. First we hit MXP, that looks more and more like a ghost town with its empty retail shops, alternated with impossibly expensive clothing on sale. I’ll leave further speculation on the grim image of the EXPO 2015 airport for another moment. This year, as ever, coming to Greece means confronting the big Greek crisis, the collective fears of Europe-the-former-EEC. We brought slightly more cash than in the past years, but that is not really necessary, as our monetary footprint became smaller and smaller with substantial lack of funding from the various Italian institutions already in the past years. It is not ironic to think that other research projects focused on Gortys secured more funding, and GQB is among the few ones that are explicitly looking into the big late antique crisis, the end of the ancient city – as if dealing with global failure was an undesirable endeavor even from a scholar’s perspective. But it could simply be our fault, unable to keep the pace of grant applications.

But there’s more, as we land in ATH just in time for the sunset. The air is fresh, the temperature mild and it’s nothing like Italy. It’s 10 years since I came to Crete for the first time as an undergrad and with the country shaken by years and years of social and economic crisis, I cannot help wondering if what we do makes any sense for this place, for the Greek people. Sure, there are colleagues who share the same research interests. There are plans to put a small part of what we found on display in a museum, like one page in a long book. A decent list of academic publications, with other in preparation. One plot of land where, in some years, the public will have a chance to walk among the excavated remains of 7th century houses and workshops. I know from experience that the sum total of direct and indirect economic impact of all that is small, too small to make a difference – and that it’s too little too late to leave a trace in public culture. The latter is especially problematic in Greece, where classical antiquities and byzantine antiquities are treated separately, and we are working “in between” (not that this is unique to Greece: just think about the absurd hiatus between the preservation of prehistoric landscapes and natural resources in many countries).

The flight to HER is so short you can barely notice the small lights from Melos and Thera in the dark, before landing. In Italy, in France, in Germany, most people are not given a chance to see the difference between the former Greek governments and the current Greek government, the Greek elite class and the Greek working class (including the unemployed), between finance and economy. Apathy or neutrality don’t seem like an acceptable option, not for an archaeologist. Even late at night, planning work for tomorrow and unpacking the small luggage I had, I can’t stop thinking about what happened on Sunday, the ΟΧΙ that still echoes in ripples around the globe.

Lo #Scriptorivm dei miracoli

Ecco, sono di nuovo arrivato ultimo anche su Medium. Giovedì scorso
ero arrivato per ultimo a Pompei, a notte ormai fonda, complice
ritardo epico del Frecciarossa 1000. Venerdì mattina, quando ho
incontrato Augusto e poi tutti gli altri compagni scriptores, ero
visibilmente assonnato, tanto da conferire un sapore onirico al
ritrovare previsto e imprevisto di vecchi amici, qualcuno in carne e
ossa, qualcuno materializzato per la prima volta a Pompei da una
istruzione PROJ4 benevola.

Se non avete ancora letto la versione dei fatti di Paola Romi (1, 2),
Paola Liliana Buttiglione, Marco Montanari, fatelo ora. Io posso solo
confermare che non ci eravamo quasi mai visti e abbiamo passato 48 ore
a “smanettare” gomito a gomito, tra ciliegie, taralli e tanto
caffé. Che il nostro obiettivo, un po’ scelto da noi e un po’
assegnato dagli organizzatori, era quello di dare a tutti (a tutti!)
la possibilità di vedere da vicino la sterminata mole di letteratura
accademica su Pompei, sui singoli edifici così come sulle
infrastrutture. A tutti vuol dire: agli studiosi, agli studenti, ai
visitatori, a chi tiene in piedi Pompei, a chi la ama, a chi ci vive.

Come nei Simpson, per la maggior parte dello Scriptorivm le
proporzioni di genere nella track Archæologica Academia erano 3
a 2. Come nei Simpson, alcuni di noi pigiavano bottoni con effetti a
migliaia di km di distanza, e scrivevano in modo ripetitivo le stesse
frasi su una lavagna senza fine. Poi c’erano le archeologhe, di cui
due pompeianiste DOCG (Paola Romi e Luana Toniolo, che a Pompei ci
lavora) e una smanettona ritrovata archeologa. Il loro entusiasmo è
travolgente come un’auto guidata da una bambina, un assolo jazz, una
città che rinasce. Io, che mi faccio chiamare steko ma in realtà sono
nato a Genova, sono uno di quelli che trascorrono ore interminabili
davanti a uno schermo scuro, on my own, e a Pompei ho visto con i miei
occhi la conoscenza condivisa che si faceva codice eseguibile, dato
aperto. Beati quelli che, pur vedendo solo il risultato, ci

Nessuno si è alzato dal tavolo senza aver imparato qualcosa: Zotero,
le insulae, l’età post-sismica, il web scraping, le case editrici sono
antipatiche. Tutti abbiamo abbracciato il culto di san Eric Poehler da
Massacciuccoli, facendoci tatuare sui polpacci la chiave API della sua
utenza Zotero, da cui abbiamo attinto a piene mani per creare il
prototipo della mappa / linea del tempo. Lo Scriptorivm è quel posto
magico dove se sbagli e dici “due regio” invece che “due regiones”
nessuno si offende, e magari ti spiega anche perché dovresti dire
regiones, ché la lingua latina non è volgare. Dove davanti a una
operazione tecnicamente impegnativa, nessuno si tira indietro e ci si
impadronisce insieme della tecnica. Dove devono venire a tirarti via
dalla sedia per la pausa pranzo perché vuoi assolutamente finire
quello che stai facendo. Dove presentiamo agli altri partecipanti
scriptores quello che abbiamo fatto ma nel frattempo Marco Montanari,
da Bologna, continua a sviluppare l’applicazione web.

Lo Scriptorivm è contagioso: che nessuno venga a guarirci!

Archeostorie a Genova

Il 7 maggio 2015 la tournée di Archeostorie ha fatto tappa a Genova. Grazie a Fabio Negrino, ci siamo trovati in una gremita aula universitaria in via Balbi 2. Per via dell’incendio che era scoppiato a Fiumicino nella notte, Cinzia Dal Maso è rimasta bloccata a Roma, e a rappresentare Archeostorie c’erano Francesco “Cioschi” Ripanti, Marina Lo Blundo e il sottoscritto.

Anche se è passato qualche giorno ho ancora addosso l’entusiasmo per la bella giornata e serata di giovedì scorso. Entusiasmo anzitutto per tutte le persone che sono venute ad ascoltare, e soprattutto a dire la loro.

Silvia Pallecchi ci ha regalato una emozionata orazione, ci ha spiegato meglio di come avremmo saputo fare noi che Archeostorie parla di due mondi fatti di mestieri codificati e mestieri non codificati, che devono parlare, che i mestieri non (ancora) codificati sono difficili ma necessari carburanti per il rinnovamento. Eleonora Torre ci ha parlato senza filtro di cos’è l’archeologia fuori dagli uffici, dalle aule, con i piedi nella terra e la testa salda sul collo ‒ Eleonora ci ha anche strappato un applauso spontaneo e perentorio quando ha ricordato ai più giovani l’importanza di avere dei maestri, come è stato per tanti di noi Tiziano Mannoni. Marta Conventi ci ha raccontato che l’idea di una archeologia che cerca il suo pubblico ha già messo radici solide anche in Soprintendenza. Vincenzo Tiné non ha fatto sconti nel descrivere tutte le difficoltà che, anche con le migliori intenzioni e capacità, gli archeologi dovranno affrontare nell’immediato futuro se vorranno trasformare la parola in azione, proprio a partire dalle Soprindentenze amputate della valorizzazione. Andrea De Pascale, che tante delle storie del libro le ha già messe in pratica al Museo Archeologico del Finale, ci ha confortato, ci ha detto che sì, questa è la strada giusta e i musei devono essere luoghi in cui sono prima di tutto le persone a parlare con il pubblico. Fabio Negrino ci ha guidato lungo questa lunga chiacchierata, raccontando al pubblico come questi 34 autori si siano trovati dietro la stessa copertina (per chi se lo fosse perso, è stato il Day of Archaeology 2014 a far scoccare la scintilla), e anche di come aver accettato a scatola chiusa di organizzare questo incontro si sia rivelato un buon investimento. Tanti altri sono intervenuti, chi per raccontare la sua (archeo)storia, chi per ricordarci di non perdere di vista la ricerca archeologica che è “l’arrosto” della situazione, chi per fare domande o semplicemente condividere un pensiero in libertà. Archeostorie ne è uscito non più come un libro, ma un invito a discutere, a confrontarsi e costruire qualcosa di nuovo. Un manuale di idee, di sopravvivenza. Un manuale per il futuro, su cui forse nei prossimi anni qualcuno potrà studiare, non per trovare regole e prescrizioni, ma idee… asce di guerra come mi piace dire.

A distanza di qualche giorno, credo che non potessimo sperare di meglio, tanto più che abbiamo venduto anche tantissime copie del libro. A occhio credo ci fossero 80 persone, dagli studenti liceali ai padri fondatori dell’archeologia medievale, dagli archeologi del paleolitico a quelli dell’età contemporanea ‒ e questo secondo aspetto non è da poco visto che gli autori del libro, per quanto numerosi, non abbracciano certamente l’ampiezza di studi, tradizioni e passioni che c’è nell’archeologia italiana. Per chi ha la memoria lunga, questa presentazione è stata un ritorno su uno dei tanti possibili luoghi del delitto per la filogenesi di Archeostorie: a Genova, dal 2005, al grupporicerche, prima Matteo Sicios e qualche anno dopo Marina Lo Blundo iniziavano a parlare di “Comunicare l’archeologia”, di sdoganare l’archeologo-che-comunica come una figura legittima. Anche Matteo era lì nell’aula.

La registrazione video che ho fatto è finita su Youtube: anche se l’audio non è particolarmente buono mi sembrava importante che ci fosse una memoria di quello che ci siamo detti. Sono quasi tre ore ininterrotte di dialogo.

Mentre tornavamo in macchina a Torriglia con Francesco ho cercato di spiegargli quanto fosse particolare avere così tanti archeologi liguri, di tutte le età e formazioni, insieme per una volta non solo ad ascoltare ma a dialogare. Francesco mi ha detto che aveva capito che c’era stato qualcosa di speciale anche per noi genovesi nel ritrovarsi a parlare del futuro dell’archeologia. Sarà che nelle tappe precedenti non si erano visti gli studenti intervenire e dire la loro, sarà che alcune delle storie del libro hanno toccato delle corde importanti per tanti di noi. Per me era una giornata speciale, ho visto sedute nella stessa stanza tante persone con cui ho condiviso parti della mia vita e che mi hanno insegnato qualcosa, come archeologo e come persona, prima a Genova, dentro l’università e soprattutto fuori, poi a Siena e infine di nuovo a Genova. Alcuni di noi hanno proseguito l’incontro a cena, di nuovo senza distinzione di età né specialismi ‒ insomma, tira una bellissima aria a Genova e spero che non vada persa come a volte è successo in passato. Si è parlato molto di passione, e spero che il 7 maggio per qualcuno si sia (ri)accesa un po’ di passione per l’archeologia fatta non solo di esami, crediti formativi, riunioni di dipartimento, pubblicazioni specialistiche, atti amministrativi e bilanci striminziti.

Nel frattempo Archeostorie si è meritato uno spazio su Repubblica (e non so cosa dire sui quotidiani genovesi a cui ho mandato il comunicato stampa sulla presentazione, ma lasciamo perdere), e a breve inizierà a circolare la ristampa. Avanti così, che l’inse.