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Take Care of Me! Protection, conservation and presentation of archaeological sites to the public in the Autonomous Province of Trento, northern Italy

Franco Nicolis

Cite this as: Nicolis, F. 2020 Take Care of Me! Protection, conservation and presentation of archaeological sites to the public in the Autonomous Province of Trento, northern Italy, Internet Archaeology 54.

1. The Activities of the Archaeological Heritage Office

The Archaeological Heritage Office of the Autonomous Province of Trento, northern Italy, carries out institutional activities for the research, protection, conservation and promotion of the Trentino region archaeological heritage. Its range of activities includes a conservation laboratory, the archaeological library 'Pia Laviosa Zambotti' and an education department. In addition, the office manages two museums and several archaeological sites that are open to the public, and edits scientific, informative and popular publications

2. Conservation and Restoration Laboratory

The Archaeological Conservation and Restoration Laboratory is responsible for the restoration of sites, monuments, finds and structures of archaeological interest owned by the Province as well as those owned by other institutions or private bodies. The laboratory has the skills, instruments and capacity to restore all classes of materials: pottery, glass, metals, mosaics, and osteological remains. Moreover, it specialises in the restoration of organic material from wetland habitats, such as the wooden objects from the Bronze Age pile-dwelling site situated in the peat bog at Fiavé.

3. Library 'Pia Laviosa Zambotti'

The library specialises in the archaeology of the Alpine region and contains more than 29,000 publications. It includes books, journals, monographs, abstracts and newspapers. It has links with about 300 national and international institutions (museums, heritage offices, universities, institutes). The library's collection can be viewed online on the Catalogo Bibliografico Trentino website. The library is named after Pia Laviosa Zambotti (1898-1965), a locally born palaeontologist and scholar, whose library forms the core of the collection. In 2011, the library also acquired a fund from Prof. Lawrence H. Barfield, an archaeologist and professor at the University of Birmingham and scholar of prehistory of northern Italy. In 2016 and 2017 it developed a project aimed at rediscovering Pia Laviosa Zambotti's life and her legacy.

4. Museums and Archaeological Sites

The Trentino Archaeological Museum and Site network comprises two main museums (Museo Retico and Museo delle Palafitte di Fiavé) and many different sites; the most relevant are the SASS Underground Archaeological Space, the archaeological area of Palazzo Lodron, the archaeological area of Porta Veronensis in Trento, the Acqua Fredda archaeometallurgical site of Passo del Redebus, the pile-dwelling site of Fiavé (part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the Bronze Age site of Fai della Paganella, among others. They are not just museums and archaeological areas, but also host meetings, conferences, educational activities, exhibitions and performances. In 2018, the three main sites (Museo Retico, Museo delle Palafitte di Fiavé and S.A.S.S.) were visited by almost 39,000 people.

Underneath the historic centre of Trento is the ancient Roman city of Tridentum, the splendidum municipium, as it was called by the Emperor Claudius in 46 AD. Symbolic of Tridentum is the SASS Underground Archaeological Space: two thousand years of history and 1700m² of Roman city in a fascinating setting, the result of archaeological excavations carried out during the restoration and extension of the Teatro Sociale. The extensive area is made up of public and private spaces and buildings, including a long stretch of the eastern city walls, a lengthy section of paved road, as well as fragments of houses with the remains of mosaics, courtyards and artisan workshops. Visitors can also view the 3D reconstruction of the archaeological site showing what Tridentum was like in Roman times.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Tridentum, SASS archaeological site, Trento. Image: L. Moser

The displays in the Museo Retico, centre for the archaeology and ancient history of the Val di Non, follow an evocative itinerary that takes the visitor on an imaginary journey through time, from prehistory to the Early Middle Ages. With the aid of technological and multimedia resources, the museum presents a succession of evidence relating to Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, the first Neolithic farmers, the metal-workers of the Copper Age and cult places dating back to the Bronze Age. An important role is reserved for evidence regarding the Rhaetic people, documented in Roman sources, presenting a wide range of material related to the culture, such as magnificent artistic items, objects linked to the field of worship, working tools and simple everyday objects. The various stages of Romanisation in the valley are followed, marked by the presence of statues, rich funeral objects, epigraphic documentation and signs of the new cults coming from the east. Finally, the tragic episode that saw the death of the Anaunia martyrs, which preceded the definitive establishment of Christianity, is recalled.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Museo Retico. Image: O. Michelon

The Fiavé Pile Dwelling Museum is a compelling journey into the past and the era of pile dwellings. It provides a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the atmosphere of a pile-dwelling village along the banks of the ancient Lake Carera some 3500 years ago. Video footage, installations, accurately-reconstructed replicas and an extraordinary collection of more than 300 wooden objects allow us to get to know and better understand the life of our Bronze Age ancestors. The pile-dwelling settlement of Fiavé is included within the UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps'. One section of the museum is dedicated to the unique Fiavé-Carera biotope, a provincial nature reserve and site of European interest, where the remains of the prehistoric pile dwellings can still be seen. A new archaeological park is under construction in the peat-bog close to the pile-dwelling remains, and will open later in 2020.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Fiavé pile-dwelling archaeological site

5. Education Department

The Archaeological Heritage Office places great importance on education and lifelong learning. The Education Department offers a variety of educational programmes, workshops, and guided visits for schoolchildren, teachers, families with kids, seniors and individuals with special needs and disabilities.

Every year the publication 'A scuola con l'archeologia' (archaeology at school) offers more than 40 educational activities to schools, from kindergarten to primary and secondary school, which cover the time from prehistory to the Middle Ages. The importance of preserving cultural heritage and its impact on society are at the core of all activities. They are aimed at helping students understand the historic and cultural dynamics of the Trentino region, learn methods and approaches to historical research and develop analytical capacity, skills and abilities. In the school year 2018-2019 about 14,000 participants took part in the programmes.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Archaeometallurgy at Acqua Fredda archaeological site. Image: L. Moser

6. Public Engagement

The Archaeological Heritage Office is strongly committed to developing initiatives and activities aimed at promoting and increasing knowledge about the provincial archaeological heritage, museums and archaeological areas open to the public and ensuring the best conditions for their use and enjoyment by the public. Studies, scientific research and the related results are presented to the public in order to raise awareness about the importance of cultural heritage as an invaluable asset for everyone to enjoy. Cultural events, such as exhibitions, conferences, talks and workshops are also organised in co-operation with other institutions or private bodies. The involvement of local communities represents an important aspect for the preservation of archaeological heritage as a shared resource. In the case of archaeological excavations, talks and meetings are held in order to inform the local population about the excavations and their importance for the history of the territory. Experience has shown that citizens are willing to learn and to know more about the place where they live and that, if they are properly informed, they are more inclined to tolerate any consequent inconvenience.

In addition to the programmes aimed at schools, the Education Department offers a variety of year-round educational activities, workshops and guided site visits for families, seniors, individuals with special needs and those with disabilities. The initiatives are achieved in collaboration with municipalities, tourist boards and other associations that share the Office's commitment to promoting our cultural heritage.

Most of the activities for the public take place during the summer months, as the Trentino region is an important holiday destination that attracts millions of tourists annually. The cultural proposals integrate and enrich what is offered to tourists by providing an interesting insight into the ancient history of the locality. The interaction between culture and tourism also help highlight the uniqueness of the territory and reinforce its identity. The general public are invited to participate in the activities, both by interacting with the archaeologists who lead the initiatives and also by experiencing ancient techniques during the hands-on workshops. In 2018, about 3000 people participated in the summer activities organised by the educators from June through to September at the museums and archaeological areas.

7. Communication and Promotion

Communication and promotion of the activities of the Heritage Office are achieved in different ways. Press releases are sent to the media through the Press Office of the Autonomous Province of Trento. In some cases press conferences are organised in order to highlight events of particular importance. News, information and events are also promoted online, in the section dedicated to archaeology. A newsletter is sent to a mailing list of people who have showed interest in the activity of the Office and have requested to be regularly informed. The Office also has a profile on social media: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. A great deal of work and effort is required in order to communicate to potential visitors and to increase the public's engagement, above all among the younger generation.

8. Critical Aspects

Most critical aspects are related to bureaucracy, lack of planning and limited budgets, or budgets that are not assigned sufficiently in advance in order to guarantee efficient planning. Public funding, upon which the entire activity of the Office is based, has consistently been reduced in recent years. The Office experiences constant difficulties in employing auxiliary staff for extended periods. In particular, museum management and the organisation of activities for the public, requires more flexibility.

9. A Special Project for Special Needs: T-essere memoria – Weaving Memories project

As a commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities, since 2015 the Servizi Educativi (Education Department) of the Ufficio beni archeologici, Soprintendenza per i beni culturali of the Provincia autonoma di Trento have been collaborating with the Azienda Pubblica di Servizi alla Persona. This facility has been working for a long time with Alzheimer and dementia patients, and it is committed to find new, non-pharmacological therapeutic treatments. The collaborative project 'T-essere memoria - Weaving Memories' is an experimental one that has been carried out in several nursing homes in the Trentino region with groups of Alzheimer's patients, their families and caregivers.

The project consists of workshops in the nursing homes and guided tours of the Museo delle Palafitte di Fiavé – Pile Dwelling Museum. Guided discussions take place during the meetings (dedicated to weaving techniques, to work with clay and to make butter). Participants are invited to observe and handle copies of the ancient objects that were found during the excavations in the pile-dwelling site of Fiavé. This phase is particularly important to stimulate the cognitive abilities, in order to maintain and increase them. All patients show interest and are willing to take part in the activities and to get involved. They all participated emotionally and were able to reproduce ancient gestures easily and carefully, often to the surprise of their caregivers. They demonstrate that, if they are encouraged, they are able to keep their abilities and creativity despite their illness. Each project ends with a tour of the Museo delle Palafitte di Fiavé. This is an emotionally enriching experience for the patients, as it gives them the possibility to visit a new and stimulating place.

The project helps to confirm that museums (archaeological museums too) can play an important social role if they are user-friendly and participatory. They can contribute to help control the course of the disease and to improve the quality not only of the patients' everyday life, but of their families and caregivers too.

The project evolved and was implemented within the last year, involving pupils from primary schools who met these 'special grandparents', and more nursery homes in Trentino. Moreover, project personnel took part in three meetings of the Alzheimer Fest, a national event held in a different venue each year to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease. Two photography exhibitions dedicated to the project were also hosted in Trento at the SASS archaeological area.

10. The Punta Linke Project: WWI history in the ice

Following the fieldwork carried out by the Heritage Office, a World War I archaeological site (1914-1918) and located in the Ortles Cevedale massif at an altitude of 3629m above sea level, has been open to the public since 2014, in co-operation with the local Great War Museum of Pejo. During each of the recent visiting seasons (around 55 days each summer) more than 2500 people have visited the site.

Climate change that is currently underway is progressively bringing to light evidence of the conflict at high altitude in the Alpine glacial areas during World War I. In view of these new cultural findings, the Archaeological Heritage Office initiated a research project to recover this evidence using scientific methods, with the objective of reconstructing the historical and human context of these events.

Since 2007, research, documentation and the recovery projects have been organised at sites high in the mountains in the Ortles area, western Trentino, on the front between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy during World War I. All the projects were carried out on peaks situated at an altitude of well over 3000m above sea level (Piz Giumela, 3593m; Punta Cadini, 3524m; Punta Linke, 3629m). All procedures necessary for scientific recovery of the most extensive data possible were adopted, including fact-finding surveys to determine the character of the sites prior to their abandonment, archaeological excavations and documentary research.

Of particular interest has been an important cableway system that was constructed in 1917, at an altitude of 1160m, to provide supplies from the Pejo valley to the western peak of the Vioz, Punta Linke (3629m). From here, it crossed the Forni glacier with a further span of 1300m, to arrive at the important military area on the south-eastern ridge of the Palòn de la Mare, today known as the 'Coston delle barache brusade'. Due to the particular environmental conditions, the excavations were carried out in the summer months and involved the use of minimally invasive equipment, such as heat diffusers, together with light tools suitable for excavations in ice.

At Punta Linke, the cableway transit station was constructed within a tunnel in the ice. Another tunnel was dug out of the rock and permafrost in order to allow the ridge of the mountain to be crossed under cover. The cableway traction motor and the mechanical workshop were housed inside the wooden hut. Other barracks were constructed outside and a mountain gun battery was stationed on the plateau to the north of the ridge. When hostilities ended the military outpost was abandoned, leaving a large quantity of material of every kind at the site.

The archaeological research work led to complete recovery of the hut, inside which the German-made diesel motor was repositioned, having been found dismantled in various parts in the tunnel. The tunnel was then exposed, bringing to light the original mining structures inside, in addition to many other materials, such as an abandoned cableway carriage. Most of the portable materials were found outside the structure: working tools, rolls of barbed wire, material for the cableway, shields, helmets, and even a wooden sauerkraut brining tub.

The discovery of around a hundred overshoes made from rye straw was of particular interest. These were made using a traditional technique and were worn by the soldiers during guard duties. The soles of the overshoes were sometimes made up of small blocks of wood; one of these carried the stamp of the Kriegsgefangenenlager (concentration camp for prisoners of war) in Kleinmünchen, near Linz, Austria. Other soles had names written on them (Antonio, Januk), probably indicating the soldiers who wore the boots.

The investigation and consolidation activities continued until summer 2014, and required a major organisational, logistical and professional effort. Alpine guides from Trentino also assisted with the restoration work and activities to ensure the safety of the structures. The highly perishable nature of the finds emerging from the ice, above all those made of organic materials, made rapid, initial conservation work at the site necessary, carried out by restorers from the Cultural Heritage Department's laboratories.

In order to reconstruct the geomorphological and palaeoenvironmental history and the glacial development of the site, a team of glaciologists from the Universities of Pisa, Rome, Milan Bicocca and Padua worked at the site, together with archaeologists from the Autonomous Province of Trento and SAP, Società Archeologica from Mantua.

Filming was carried out during the various phases of investigations at the site, leading to the production of the documentary film 'Punta Linke. La memoria', by the director Paolo Chiodarelli.

Today Punta Linke has become a memorial to World War I, probably the highest such site in Europe. At Punta Linke the ice has conserved much of the supply system and this, in turn, has made it possible to create a visitor itinerary of great emotional impact. The Punta Linke site was inaugurated in July 2014 and ever since has been open to the public in summer. The visit allows physical contact with environments that witnessed the course of those dramatic events so long ago, which nature has returned to us perfectly intact after almost a century.

11. Conclusions

All the projects carried out by the Archaeological Heritage Office take into account the important role played by the audience. Audience involvement and development are essential to raise people's awareness of cultural heritage. The Archaeological Heritage Office was among the first institutions in Italy to implement and carry out projects that involve people with disabilities such as Alzheimers, and has been a trailblazer in Italy as far as the archaeology of the contemporary past is concerned.

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