Living Archaeology at the Archaeodrome

Archeostorie. Journal of Public Archaeology

A second lot of the Poggibonsi Archaeodrome was inaugurated on Saturday, January 16, 2016. For those unfamiliar, the term ‘archaeodrome’ indicates a place where archaeology becomes alive and narrates itself, allowing people to interact with a past scientifically re-created according to the methods of experimental archaeology.

Here two solemn funerary ceremonies take place, a few minutes apart from each other. A Lombard first, then a Frank: two different stories developing under the eyes of the same clump of silent, attentive people. The deceased are kindly laid in their final resting place, the objects that accompany them in the afterlife carefully arranged on their sides, the last rites celebrated. When the ceremonies are over, we got back to the present: the two celebrants are Gabriele Zorzi, President of La Fara Association, and Vittorio Fronza, Research Fellow in Medieval Archaeology at the University of Siena. The audience is on their side, yet it is not easy for them to discuss the scene that had just ended using simple but engaging words, nor to convey what difference made the about 150 years separating the two funerals or to further inform on the respective objects. But a glance to the near village is all it takes to dive again and further into the past.

Supported by an Arcus grant of 39.000 euros (Arcus is a joint-stock company entirely owned by the Italian Ministry of Finance), the archaeologists of the University of Siena, in partnership with the Municipality and Archeotipo Ltd, are recreating in Poggibonsi a full-scale 9th century village. The 9th century is the Carolingian Age and the village is a replica of the early Medieval settlement that was unearthed by archaeologists between the 1990s and the early 2000s. The campaign, aimed at bringing to light the later settlement of Podium Bonitii, also revealed that the site was occupied much earlier.

So far, the reconstruction has concerned two of the seventeen structures that were identified during the excavation: the so-called longhouse, which represents the large (140 sq.m.) dwelling of the village’s dominus, or landlord, open since October 2014; and a second hut housing a peasant family. A hen-house, a fence, olive and fruit trees (coming from the plant genome bank of the Siena Province) are also included in the second lot, whose reconstruction required a team of four people, all archaeologists, to work for a month.

The people of the Carolingian village are re-enacted by archaeologists, too. Anyone can become familiar with them by visiting the Archaeodrome’s website: each of them has a name, a job (attested by the material remains of the village) and specific skills. Razo is the village’s dominus, Teupala is the saddler, Johannes is the carpenter, and so on. They are not all present at the same time in the village, but rotate according to the events scheduled and the days on which the structure is open to the public. The characters travel ideally in Medieval places, and when they ‘get back’ to the longhouse they sit around a fire for a moment of storytelling. The stories they tell are supposed to engage and inform the visitors about events that, although they never truly happened, are very plausible.