Zofia Guertin (PhD Candidate at St. Andrews), Public Archaeology Co-ordinator and Project Manager at Aeclanum, reports on a project recently supported by one of the ICS’s small grants for public engagement.
With generous support from the ICS, the 2018 excavation season at Roman Aeclanum in Passo di Mirabella, Italy, had an exciting second year of innovative engagement with the local and regional community. Aeclanum is directed by the University of Edinburgh’s Dr. Ben Russell and Dr. Girolamo F. De Simone, director of the Apolline Project, with the support of the British School at Rome, the Comune di Mirabella Eclano, and the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le province di Salerno ed Avellino. This past season saw the creation of vibrant engagement materials for the local community and schools which our student volunteers and site specialists presented on for the Open Day. With increasing turnout each season, we are looking ahead to the culmination of a three-year public engagement programme for the upcoming 2019 season. This post will highlight some of the exciting things we are getting up to on the dark side of Vesuvius!
The ICS public engagement grant provided us with the opportunity to create new materials for the 2018 Open Day at Aeclanum which had dual aims to present recent research to the community and encourage visitors to engage through our broadcast interviews, community events and social media outreach via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and student blogs.
Due in part to the research interests of the directors and specialists on site, we wanted to explore trade networks and interconnectivity of the Roman world in at least one aspect of our outreach. We developed a matching tokens game for Roman marbles that linked characters to locations and then to materials, thereby illustrating the trade networks of the ancient world and contextualizing Aeclanum’s marble imports. Young visitors understood quickly, and to further illustrate the theoretical message, we provided tactile examples. Excavated marbles found on-site were available for the children to touch and clean, showing Aeclanum’s connection to distant locations.
Many of the public archaeology materials produced for 2018 were focused on a multi-phase bath complex. This included posters for adult audiences and young visitors to the site which would complement the areas being excavated. We presented a short story written by MA graduate of Durham University, Emily Johnston, and illustrated by myself about daily life at Aeclanum’s baths, and scientific panels based on our research articulating the findings so far, including 3D reconstructions projects for which the most significant of the archaeological structures were selected.
Combining comics and 3D reconstruction and field reports, these findings were included into the topography within a graphic novella, Vita Aeclano. An original graphic novella about daily life in Roman Aeclanum, developed and drawn by myself, it synthesizes elements of the short story, public outreach games and handouts and ongoing research within the archaeological site, linking all these elements together within the comic to create a cohesive project.
We focused on several themes which would tie into the longer-term projects that would be completed post-excavation season. The Open Day provided feedback from the young visitors which was used to inform the graphic novella that we are seeking to launch this 2019 season. We presented a panel that showed the different art styles used in archaeological representations of the site and small finds, which was used to introduce the stylistic approach of the graphic novella. Of the 350 adults and children who attended the 2018 Open Day, 40% of youth attendees responded.
The series of short stories and the Vita Aeclano graphic novellas I am planning and illustrating allow in-depth explorations into Roman daily life, linked to ongoing excavations in other locations. Finding elements that were particular to Aeclanum showed a community with its own identity among Roman cities across the empire. Collaboration with site directors, epigraphists, ceramicists, topographic specialists and GIS specialists were fundamental to details of daily life in the city of Aeclanum.
Following the 2018 excavation season, I delivered a paper, Creating comics for public engagement in Roman Aeclanum: illustrating Ancient History, at the Drawing on the Past: The Pre-Modern World in Comics conference, at the Institute of Classical Studies; I also presented a poster jointly with the writer of Vita Aeclano, Ambra Ghiringhelli (PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh), Creating comics for public engagement in Roman Aeclanum: visual conversations with Ancient History at the ‘Public Engagement with Research conference’, University of St Andrews. There are several forthcoming publications planned to explore current outcomes of the public engagement work and final outcomes once the graphic novella is launched in several languages with a website to facilitate free downloads with hardcopies forthcoming for purchase.
We are very grateful for the support from the Institute of Classical Studies on this project and look forward to presenting further findings and outcomes as this work concludes and other areas are developed.
by Zofia Guertin
(All images courtesy of Zofia Guertin)