Massimo Brando

Massimo is the embodiment of the pottery knowledge behind the IMPERO Project—a crucial science in archaeology, particularly for dating, contextualizing, and distinguishing between different phases within excavation sites—but his compassionate and vibrant personality adds so much to our team that is beyond his profession. Massimo can always be found feeding our feline companion Sebastian every morning and spending his days with the cat as he labors. Even when I sat down to interview the fifty-three-year-old independent pottery specialist, he pointed out the marks on the table where Sebastian had laid among the pottery fragments just to be close to Massimo. This mutual affection is only one example of Massimo’s close relationships with animals, whom he often prefers to people—He lived for sixteen years with a dog whom he considered family and believes that animals are pure with no ulterior motives. Intersecting with his professional life, the cat dearest to Massimo’s heart, pictures of whom he has shown the IMPERO Team often, was adopted by the specialist from the excavations at Piazza Cavour. Although he largely keeps his work and other interests, relationships, and passions separate, this cat brought home from excavation and Massimo’s kindness shown towards Sebastian reveal the permeation of our team member’s wonderful qualities into every aspect of his life.

These qualities are thoroughly seen even in the purity of Massimo’s excitement over his craft. After so many years, he can often tell differences in pottery just by touch or slight curvatures, and he aches to share this knowledge with as many eager learners as possible. In the spirit of this interconnectivity, Massimo is a part of the Editorial Board of Multilingual Dictionaries about ancient technology called “Dicta.” He and his team aim to develop “a common vocabulary between…students” through this dictionary of ancient techniques. The work will be in English and French with the lemmas in five languages; Massimo is the Italian representative devoted to pottery. His passion and incredible skill have allowed him to work on projects like the dictionary and excavations such as ours without being an academic (in fact, he is the only non-academic working on the dictionary). It is extremely difficult to acquire this level of prestige without also being a professor or without the patronage of a larger institution, but Massimo tackles this uncertain life completely on his own—taking up “rescue archaeology” across Rome and collaborating with university and private projects. This lifestyle leads Massimo to many surprises, one of which was excavating a large hortus in Rome which no other buildings covered. The largest of this year, however, was his return to Podere Cannicci with the IMPERO Project Team—some of the team members of which he only just met this season—after working there in the original excavations. The most shocking part for this specialist was to go back and see his own handwriting on the original excavation boxes, where he stood as both a part of the past and of the future.

Massimo, however, did not begin this way. Born into an archaeological era that stressed the importance of pottery studies, he always respected the profession, but his passion did not truly develop until his days at university in Pisa, where he cleaned and contextualized pottery starting from his first year. Massimo was drawn to his field of study by the fact that pottery since it is a form of technology, tells the stories of different economies and societies. When he was young, however—growing up in the era of American New Horror in cinema and the hardcore punk of the 80s—he fulfilled other parts of himself by working on horror films and singing at the front of a metal-crossover band in his twenties (the music of which resonated around us, taking us back twenty-five years prior, as I interviewed him). In fact, for many years Massimo even worked for the important Gothic magazine Ver Sacrum. Although he no longer plays music, he still enjoys listening to different variations of metal and gothic music, and although he no longer finds himself on horror sets, his fascination with the dark, eerie, and fantastical still informs his love of the author Stephen King, who he believes is the greatest American writer. He respects King’s ability to reveal the true interiority of American people—a pursuit of understanding others from a removed vantage point that seems parallel with the aims of archaeology. While Massimo hopes for a tremendous waste of Sigilata pottery, like one that crossed his path before, to come from our project, he reminds us that all of these clues retain the end goal of reconstructing people, not just pottery, and in this pursuit his work speaks for itself towards pottery’s importance in the field of archaeology.

Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes

Photo by: Riley James