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Andrea Carandini

2017 La forza del contesto,
Bari: Laterza.
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      After a preface, the author presents some reflections about some topic concerning the archaeological work and the deontology of an archaeologist both as a specialist and as a human being, likewise.
      The first part of the book deals with the definition of three basic concepts: the 'context', the 'landscape' and the 'value' of both. The author firstly provides the reader with a definition of 'context' intended in the etymological way of 'cum+textus, i.e. a network of things embedded (like in a cobweb) in a 'stratigraphic diagram or matrix' (the author further describes context as a brain, with many synapses 'working' together): the innovative supply of the author is to consider not only the archaeological structures and artefacts but also the landscape as components of this archaeological frame, the landscape being perceived as a 'widespread museum' (available for each human being) and the all archaeological issues and items as parts of a whole organism.
      The antiquarian approach typical of the 18th–19th centuries needs to be overcome, in the purpose of reaching a all–comprehensive understanding of the archaeological context, avoiding focusing on the single artefact (perceived as a masterpiece), only: here, history of arts and archaeology deserves to be considered as two unique, interrelated disciplines. The materiality has to speak as a witness of ancient people and not only as an archaeological datum. The cultural heritage does not belong only to the specialists of the discipline but is a 'social heritage' for the whole mankind (this approach, of course, needs a legal and social tutela).
      Current archaeology, far from forgetting the documental sources, cannot avoid benefitting of the current archaeological and scientific technologies (like GIS and CAD) to achieve a better understanding of the archaeological datum, always in a holistic approach, studying the objects according to their contexts and trying to unify the disiecta membra kept in different museums or institution, worldwide.
      Another risk to be avoided is indeed that of a hyper–specialisation of the archaeologist, who sometimes forgets the whole framework which he is asked to work in (and with): this phaenomenon is described by the author as that involving 'specializzazioni spezzatino' [stewed specialisations], which avoid considering the holistic sight required by any archaeologist.
      A further topic treated in the book is that of the 'emergency archaeology', which sometimes obliges the archaeologists to become something like 'gravediggers' of ancient remains, instead of their re–vitalizers. The author also wishes for a renovation of our museological system, which has to be perceived as a musical partiture, able to play the whole symphony written by the authors (i.e. ancient people and civilisations): but unfortunately, sometimes (the author particularly refers to the Italian situation), museums stink of mold.
      On another hand, landscapes are frequently abandoned and understated (the author compares them to the evangelic figure of Lazarus), needing for a resurrection: the motto is here “Love people as much as you love places” (p. 208, quoting the National Trust; cf. F. Reynolds 2016, The Fight for Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future, Oneworld Publications, London). The author also addresses questions and reflections about the concepts of 'liberty', 'democracy', and 'culture', which cannot be regarded as disconnected ideas but only as intercommunicating values.
      The second part of the volume describes the efforts and the result gained by the FAI ('Fondo Ambiente Italiano' [Italian Landscape Trust]) towards the valorisation of the Italian landscape and archaeological sites. In the end of the book, the author also recalls how landscape and environmental issues (a so actual topic) have been also dealt with by different personalities, such as Pope Francis in 2015 with his encyclical Laudato si'. On Care of Our Common Home [English text, on The Holy See's website]. The conclusion sketched by the author about the importance of the safeguard of landscapes and environments is as follows: “Alla predazione irresponsabile, sempre insoddisfatta, il Sapiens √® ormai costretto a porre fine. Oppure si estinguer√†, come i Neanderthal; ma questa volta soltanto per colpa sua. Non siamo forti come le tartarughe, che ci precedono di moltissimo e che esisteranno anche dopo di noi, che siamo esseri prepotenti e fragilissimi ['to the irresponsible predation, always unsatisfied, the Sapiens is now forced to put an end. Or he will die out, like the Neanderthals; but this time only because of him. We are not as strong as the turtles that precede us very much and that will exist even beyond us, who are overbearing and fragile beings'; English translation by mDP]” (p. 566).

[M. De Pietri – November 2019]