Archaeologist Claudia Tommasino (c) MOLA

What archaeology and cultural diversity mean to me

Claudia Tommasino

In 2005, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression. In 2002, it declared 21st of May World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development with the main purpose of acknowledging and promoting the importance of culture and its diversity as an essential driving force of human development. In this blog, MOLA Archaeological Supervisor and Field Training Officer Claudia Tommasino reflects on what archaeology and cultural diversity mean to her…

Born and raised in Venezuela, diversity of cultural expression was all around me. I grew up in a multicultural household, with Italian relatives who were deeply rooted in post-war Italy but who embraced their new home, its food, its weather, its customs. This was just how things were. I never stopped to think about it until I started studying Anthropology.

Looking back, it makes sense that I chose the career I did: when I was 12, I went to Italy for the first time to visit relatives – seeing the ruins of past civilizations stunned me. As I grew up, I learnt about my Zambo heritage (a term used in Latin American countries to describe people of mixed African and Indigenous background) and wanted to feel closer to that side of me. 

In the American school of thought, Anthropology and Archaeology are intrinsically related; both disciplines study human culture, present or past. I guess I was looking to understand myself, my past and my present. Culture became the tool for me to understand not only how I fitted in as a Venezuelan with Italian and Zambo roots, but also as a citizen of the world. I was from many different places and what I did everyday was a product of centuries of interactions between nations, between ethnic groups, between traditions. 

After graduating in Venezuela, I started to work at the Cultural Heritage Institute and the Centre for Cultural Diversity. I was lucky enough to be able to learn more about the rich and beautiful cultural expressions that are the result of centuries of history, that just like me are European, African, and Indigenous, all at the same time.

My work took me all over the world, meeting great people that just like me were passionate about defending the right of each cultural expression to be free, to be shared, to have a place in the world. Working in this field and immersing myself in UNESCO’s 2005 Convention for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions showed me how important this diversity is. It allows everyone to feel like they belong, to successfully integrate into different worlds without losing sight of who they really are, which in my view is the only way to respect ourselves and others - the best road towards peace. 

However, the Venezuelan girl standing in front of Roman ruins in Italy was still there. I was still fascinated about the remnants of the past and I have been lucky enough to have an archaeological journey that took me from studying sites and burials from the area where my Venezuelan ancestors come from to digging in Europe, exploring those Roman ancestors that make up another important part of who I am. 

To some people, the diversity of cultural expressions and archaeology are two different worlds, but not for me. I see cultural diversity as an essential concept within archaeology. I study the human past, interpreting the cultural diversity reflected in the archaeological record. I am fascinated by how societies changed upon interactions with other groups, and the traces these interactions leave in the archaeological record. Like this chess piece: part of a game invented in the Arab world, made in Northampton, and adapted to suit the market in medieval England. Or this flagon made in Syria, found in the earliest Christian princely burial known in the UK. I want to understand changing fashions and practices and explore how those changes contributed to the development of our societies, our cultures.

But also, the characteristics of the environments I work in remind me every day about the true importance of cultural diversity: I work on sites with people from different countries, we talk about our backgrounds, the archaeology we have dug or our personal lives: we grow as we communicate and respect others by learning about the world’s cultural diversity. So, we not only study how millennia of cultural diversity made the archaeological record what it is, but we work in culturally diverse environments that make us better professionals and better human beings.

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