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Collaboration with Trinity’s arts and humanities brings new understanding to traditional archaeological approach

Dr Jacopo TabolliDr Jacopo Tabolli is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub, in collaboration with the School of Histories and Humanities. The Italian field archaeologist says he has benefited from collaborating with colleagues in Trinity and looking at how to apply archaeological data in new ways. The interdisciplinary environment has helped bring him ‘outside the borders of traditional archaeology’, something which he feels is necessary for the continued evolution of the discipline.

Dr Tabolli received his Ph.D. in Archaeology (specialising in Etruscan Studies) from Sapienza University of Rome in 2012 where he is currently a Research Associate in Etruscology and pre-Roman archaeology. Founder and editor of Officina Etruscologia, with more than twenty articles published in peer reviewed journals, his first book on the necropoleis of Narce during the Early Iron Age and the Early Orientalizing Period was published in 2013. In 2012 he founded the MAVNA museum in Mazzano Romano (Rome) and since then he has been the Scientific Director of the museum. He has been excavating for several years at Veii in central Italy and he is currently co-directing different excavation projects at Narce, a Faliscan site, north of Rome. During his fellowship at the Trinity Long Hub, Dr Tabolli is working with researchers involved in Trinity’s Identities in Transformation and Digital Humanities research themes to investigate the identity transformation of an ancient community who celebrated a peculiar votive ritual in the first half of the 3rd century BC at Narce. His project also looks at how to communicate this to a non-specialist audience and to develop an innovative digital display of his archaeological find.

Narce Discovery

Mazzano Romano is a picturesque medieval town situated approximately 35 kilometres north of Rome, in the centre of Italy. With a population of around 3,000 people, Dr Tabolli has become closely involved with the local community through this excavation work in a nearby site where the archaeologist uncovered a votive deposit of 300 terracotta masks. ‘We have found other masks in other deposits in Italy, but never before have this many have been found together in one place.’ The discovery at the Sanctuary of Monte Li Santi-Le Rote at Narce signifies a particular ritual celebrated by this ancient community in the first half of the 3rd century BC.

Dr Tabolli who described the excavation as a ‘treasure hunt’ said that he was particularly fortunate to have come across this new find; ‘This temple was already excavated between 1985 and 2004. However, this time as part of the project we had to create a modern roof to cover and protect the site - this involved enlarging the area of excavation. I was extremely lucky because part of this new structure was outside the area which had originally been excavated.’

'Masked Identities: From Votive Rituals to Political Transformations'

Dr Tabolli presented an overview of his research during a recent public lecture at the Trinity Long Room Hub on 25 November, entitled 'Masked Identities: From Votive Rituals to Political Transformations'. He framed his presentation on the votive deposits by integrating some of the key questions from Trinity’s Identities in Transformation theme, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why so many?’. These sat appropriately with Dr Tabolli’s most pressing questions relating to his own research– ‘What is the meaning of the mask?’ and ‘why were there so many masks placed together?’.  He asked whether these deposits signify a community under threat from expansion of Ancient Rome, seeking to preserve their identity through burial of these masks. This question tied carefully into his other research area in the Digital Humanities which asks how we can preserve identity and archaeological evidence by moving exhibitions to digital platforms.  


‘The two research themes supported by the Hub – ‘Digital Humanities’ and ‘Identities in Transformation’ - work very well because my research was not solely focused on studying the ritual evidence of masks in central Italy but it was also focused on presenting a digital exhibition as well as studying the emotional interaction between the local community and a digital platform. So having an institution which is devoted to Digital Humanities is probably one of the most beneficial experiences I’ve ever had’.

How the local community identified with these masks was also a pressing issue among his audience at the recent lecture in the Trinity Long Room Hub. Dr Tabolli highlighted the local community’s tendency to affiliate themselves with the pre-Roman Etruscan civilisation, rather than the Romans or the Faliscan people to which the votive deposit is attributed, signifying deeply entrenched cultural identities in the region.

Fellow in Focus

Dr Jacopo Tabolli Fellow in FocusIn the first of the Trinity Long Room Hub’s new ‘Fellow in Focus’ conversational sessions on 19 November last, Dr Tabolli was interviewed by Dr Christine Morris from the Department of Classics about his research background and interests. Dr Tabolli told an informal audience of colleagues and students how the local community at Narce interacted with the masks which were subsequently brought to exhibition in the local MAVNA museum.  He also spoke of some of the novel ways through which they have been furthering that link with the community and the challenges they now anticipate in attempting to bring this exhibition to a digital international platform, after fostering a sense of ownership by the community - something Dr Tabolli has been working closely on with colleagues in the Digital Humanities at Trinity College. 

Through his interaction with the Classics Department at Trinity, Dr Tabolli has had the chance to bring some of his experience to bear on the teaching of funerary archaeology while benefiting from the exchange of ideas on the use of different approaches to engaging students in the discipline, including the use of digital platforms. His experience as Scientific Director of the MAVNA Museum has allowed for a valuable discourse on public engagement in the archaeological field during his time at Trinity.

Platform for interdisciplinary research

Masked IdentitiesThe interdisciplinary research environment facilitated by the Trinity Long Room Hub is one of the key reasons Dr Tabolli chose Trinity for his fellowship.

He spoke of his weekly interactions at the Hub research coffee mornings; ‘although my research is very different from studies on Beckett or Chinese theatre, the interaction at different levels, not only with its scholars but also with postgraduate students and postdoctoral students, has proven to be fundamental in asking different questions about my research. The Hub is about bringing different people together, and it’s very important for me to be able to situate my research in a general network of research - looking at different methods and addressing questions which are common to all academic disciplines.’

Dr Tabolli’s fellowship will come to an end in December. Speaking of his experience at the Trinity Long Room Hub, he said: ‘The Hub is a place where you are reminded why you embark on a career in research in the first place. It is a centre for excellence which has at the same time, a very informal approach. These two things together create an environment which works.’

For information on upcoming Visiting Fellows please visit our website:

Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer |Trinity Long Room Hub | | 01 896 3895