31/08 - 24/09/2023, CFZ - Venice

Shards of the Past 
Meanings of the Present: Embodying Social Ties from Roman Sardinia to the Present Day

Shards of the Past is a collaborative exhibition that springs from IDENTIS, a research project that employs archaeology to investigate how people used social relationships to shape their personal and group identities both in ancient and modern times.

Cranium from the necropolis of Sa Mitza Salida, Masullas, souwest Sardinia. Photo by giorgio Lai.

A collaborative journey

Museum of Broken Relationships

This exhibition brings together ancient archaeological exhibits from Roman-period Sardinia and contemporary exhibits from the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, as well as artifacts from the profession of archaeologists.

Through this juxtaposition of objects from different times and contexts, we aim to: giving relevance to everyday objects usually overlooked in traditional historical narratives; reconstruct the microhistories of lesser-known women and men who have been overshadowed by the dominant narratives that too frequently focus on masculine elites. Our focus lies on the subalterns and their social relationships, as well as their physical bodies, as sites of power, creative action, memory, and resistance. Join us in this journey through time to witness more collective, diverse, inclusive histories.

Landscape of Masullas during November 2022 IDENTIS archaeological survey. Photo by Mauro Puddu.
The Museum of Broken Relationships galleries, Zagreb, Gorni Grad. Photo byu Sanja Bristricic.

Antiquity and today

On display are photographs, drawings, and 3D reproductions of artifacts from Roman period Sardinia, including objects that reflect the daily lives of enslaved individuals and other subaltern groups such as peasants, alongside objects from the Museum of Broken Relationships that represent the impact of societal norms and power dynamics on intimate relationships, such as the this coin from Alta, Norway. We also showcase objects used daily by archaeologists, such as these muddy boots, highlighting both their contributions to the field, and the challenges they face in recovering the material signs of the past.

Coin from Alta, Norway, Museum of Broken Relationships collections: it tells a story of childood, education, and a brave Grandfather.
Muddy boots on fieldwork on a very rainy day in Sardinia, November 2022. Photo by Mauro Puddu.

What archaeology? Whose past?

Archaeology is the study of the material traces of the past. Traditionally, the past is based on official documents written by people in power (i.e. emperors) or by scholars close to them. This bias has oriented most of early archaeological research - and of public's taste - towards investigating villas, temples, luxurious objects affiliated to all-encompassing ethnic and chronological labels. But archaeology has much more to it. As we explore archaeological sites, it is tempting to seek quick answers, eager to assign a neat label to the inhabitants of ancient grounds. We yearn to know: "Who were they? Romans? Punic? Venetians? Sardinians? Locals?" Such questions are not necessarily wrong, but we argue that, taken on their own, they lead to answers that are partial, biased, and essentialist, being a byproduct of early 20th century political agendas centred on national identities. As we would not happily let someone identify us solely with our birthplace or nationality, our lives being much richer and more complex, all the same, the complexities of history, enriched by gender, age, aspirations, choices, defy simple categorizations. It's within this intricate web of stories that we uncover a tapestry of identities, intermingling and interweaving like threads of diverse cultures.

What differentiates people, at the same time making us all human notwithstanding time and place, is something simple, essential, and yet materially elusive. Connections: with our partners, our families, our friends, our neighbours , foreigners, our work, our pets, landscapes, with power, with money, with the past, our passions, our hopes, our future. It is a hard task, but archaeology masters the tools to access the fragments of those relationships. 

In our quest to understand the past, we need to seek details beyond the surface. The collaboration with the Museum of Broken Relationships helps to realise that instead of aspiring to rigid definitions, we shall embrace the vibrant mosaic of possibilities offered by human agency of each and every individual within the historical conditions. 

Handle from a Roman period amphora stamped with the name of the producer/atelier, found during the archaeological survey held in Masullas in November 2021 with the students of the University of Ca' Foscari. Photo: Mauro Puddu.
Concrete with initials. 7 years.Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, Museum of Broken Relationships collections: a symbol that tells a story of friendship , love, breakup, and the "concrete" material forms that all these phases can take at once.