The Ties That Bind: using Archaeology to build relationships in Libarna

We’ve spoken before about the great relationship LULP has with the community surrounding Libarna. We are so grateful to have such amazing support when we are in Italy (and back at home, of course!), but is a good relationship with the community really that important? The simple answer is – ABSOLUTELY, YES! It’s the difference between a great season and a terrible one, and is instrumental to the long term success of a project.

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Meeting the Mayor of Arquata Scrivia and other members of the local council

When you are working on an archaeological site, often you reside within a neighbouring town or village – you eat there, sleep there, shop there. Any time you’re not at site, you are “at camp,” which in some locations can be an actual camp site, but for us is the town of Arquata Scrivia, about 2.5 miles from Libarna. The municipality of Arquata Scrivia is quite sizable – over 6,000 people, but they’re spread over 700 sq. miles of countryside, and the actual center of town is relatively small, only about 1 sq. mile. While there are enough people that the locals don’t know everyone individually, we certainly stand out like a sore thumb as foreigners, and it isn’t unusual to pass people who smile and simply say “archeologia!” or “Americano?”. “Si”, we reply, everybody smiles, waves, and goes on their merry way.

Even these small interactions are vitally important. We need to be part of the community for our the project to be a success! Much of the area is privately owned, and it is their land we are asking to survey, and although one of the benefits to survey is that it’s not as disruptive as excavation, we’re still tramping all over their fields, parking in their favorite spots, and buying up all their newspapers whenever we get mentioned! It would be incredibly easy for someone to deny us access to their fields, and they are perfectly entitled to do so, but fortunately this hasn’t happened yet!

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Buying up copies of La Stampa for every member of the team!

We make a huge effort to include the town in our work as archaeologists, and also to make our presence as beneficial as possible in other ways. We shop with independent businesses for everyday necessities rather than visiting the big chain superstores, we make daily visits to cafes for a morning cappuccino, the bakeries for our breakfast bread, and the gelaterias for a post dinner treat! In addition to this input into the local economy, we also invite the whole town to an open day where they can learn more about what we have achieved that summer, try out our equipment, and get to know us a bit better over food and drinks kindly provided by local businesses we have visited over the season.

In return, we are invited to a slew of local events – Arquata Scrivia is extremely fond of a summer party, with one almost every week, in addition to the regular Friday night aperativo! We have also had visitors to the site during the week who have brought us dishes of fresh foccacia, fruit and even cakes to enjoy for lunch! We are fortunate that the people of Arquata Scrivia are naturally very generous and kind, but undoubtedly without reciprocation, we would not have the same wonderful relationship that currently prevails.

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One of the fabulous summer parties!

Not only does being friends with locals support our work but it means that we always have people there to help if we have a problem – if the door breaks at our accommodation, we get a flat tire, or we can’t figure out how to work the machines in the laundromat – someone is always there and willing to lend a helping hand.

One of the reasons that Arquata Scrivia is so keen on us being there is that many of them come from families who have lived in the area for generations. They feel a connection with Libarna that is difficult to comprehend unless you have experienced something similar. The buildings we find, the paving stones, the pottery, these are things that their ancestors built and used. Arquata Scrivia is in their blood – they consider themselves descendants of the Romans that lived here 2,000 years ago, and that is why it’s so important to them, and they are so excited to have us here helping them.

This excitement that they have for the site transfers to us, we are enthusiastic as archaeologists, but we are captivated as individuals too – that we can help them understand and learn more about their heritage. It’s hard not to feel this way when you hear stories about how Libarna has shaped these people’s lives – there really is something truly special about Libarna, and the people of Arquata Scrivia.

This passion is exemplified by the work of the Libarna Arteventi Association, a “cultural association that aims to promote the territory, focusing on the archaeological area of Libarna.” Throughout the year they hold a variety of events in  collaboration with other organisations such as wineries, restaurants, and even sports teams, to assist with the creation of a “tourist-cultural network and increase knowledge of the archaeological site and surrounding area.” All the members of the Libarna Arteventi Association are volunteers, but they put a huge amount of effort into organizing fantastic events all year round. Without their support, our project would certainly not have received the attention and appreciation that it has so far.

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Audience members enjoying the talk being given at our open day

In addition to this local group, we also have a great deal of appreciation for the Soprintendenza archeologia belle arti e paessagio, which is the governmental department that deals with and regulates the archaeology, art, and history of Alessandria. It is they who have final say on what we can or cannot do, they provide us with permits, and allow us to use land owned by the government to conduct our work. When we begin excavation, we will be held accountable by them.

We cannot overstate just how much we appreciate everything that the local community, the Libarna Arteventi Association, and the Soprintendenza do for us, and it is one of the reasons we are counting down the days until we come back to Libarna- only 50 days to go!!

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