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Curricular and Extracurricular Initiatives Promote Increased Interest in Archaeology

by Davidson College
Austin Raymond in Ostia Antica.
Austin Raymond '13, pictured here on a weekend visit to the ancient Italian city of Ostia Antica. Raymond will be one of two seniors graduating in May with an academic concentration in archaeology.

Davidson is digging archaeology more and more these days! The torch has been carried for many years by Professors Michael Toumazou in classics and Bill Ringle in anthropology, who conduct ongoing digs in Cyprus and Central America. Those professors have enlisted a number of students in their efforts on a non-credit basis. But in 2011 the college approved an academic concentration in the subject, which gives students an incentive for their participation.

The new concentration also led faculty members and friends to work in earnest toward organizing a local society of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). Davidsonians from both the college and surrounding community joined the effort to recruit the 50 members that AIA requires for a new society.

They contacted all 500 or so Charlotte-area subscribers to Archaeology magazine, and all seven Davidson professors who offer archaeology-related courses agreed to teach a session for a local "Archaeology 101" adult education short course. Everyone who enrolled in the course received automatic membership in the AIA. The professor involved were Toumazou and Ringle, Helen Cho in anthropology, Ruth Beeston in chemistry, Darian Totten and Peter Krentz in Classics, and Brad Johnson in environmental science.

The recruitment drive paid off! AIA membership locally increased to almost 80 members. W.R. Grey Professor of Classics Peter Krentz accepted the new Central Carolinas Society credentials at the annual meeting of the AIA in January as one of the 100 or so societies around the country.

Prof. Peter Krentz receives AIA award.
Grey Professor of Classics Peter Krentz (l) received the charter for the new local AIA chapter from AIA President Elizabeth Bartman and AIA Vice President for Societies Thomas Morton.

Status as an AIA society carries with it the primary benefit of three lecturers per year. The national organization covers a lecturer's travel and honorarium expenses, and the local society they visit pays only for accommodations and dining. The first lecturer to address the Central Carolina Society, Nic David, visited campus in mid-March to talk about his investigations of ceremonial "stages" for tribes in the African country of Cameroon.

Field experience is also required to qualify for the concentration. King joined an excavation at Jamestown, Va., and Worthington worked with Bill Ringle in Mexico, and Raymond dug at a site in Rome with Professor Becker. In the near future Professor Totten expects to have a site going in southern Italy.

Many disciplines contribute to archaeological research. Here at Davidson, faculty in the concentration come from the departments of anthropology, chemistry, classics, and environmental studies. They study human biology and ecology, chemistry of art and artifacts, ancient health and foodways, geology and political organization, ritual and religion, production and exchange, art and ideology.

Associate Professor of Anthropology Helen Cho was the first coordinator of the concentration. Professor of Chemistry Ruth Beeston will take over next year.

Tay King '12 was the first to graduate with a concentration in archaeology, and seniors Cakey Worthington and Austin Raymond will graduate with similar credentials this May.

Students may also do their field work with Professor Toumazou's long-standing dig in Athienou, Cyprus, which has been the college's premier archaeological initiative. Since its beginning in 1990, that dig has involved 400 students and other participants, many of whom have been from Davidson. The investigators have focused on how successive rural populations in the Malloura valley have adapted to local environmental changes and shifting political tides. Participants based their finding on artifacts and historical and ethnographic records recovered on site. Sophomore Kirsten Huffer will be there this summer.

Austin Raymond '13 said his six weeks working at the former Roman suburb of Gabii brought archaeology to life. He worked on the site for six weeks with professional archaeologist Hilary Becker, who spent a year at Davidson in 2010 as a visiting assistant professor of classics.

The heavy work of excavating graves buried in dense volcanic soil, and careful cleaning of pottery shards was all invigorating and enlightening. There were also special moments like finding a glass bead from a necklace, and small glass vases. "It crystalized history for me," he said. "You can read about the great rulers of Rome, but uncovering houses and graves at Gabii helped me see that all the great figures were supported by ordinary people living a day-to-day existence, like most people today."

Krentz is delighted to see local Davidson students and residents appreciate archaeology. "For a historian, archaeology is exciting because it provides new evidence," He explained. "It is certainly well worth reading and rereading the ancient texts, but you get new material from archaeology."

The initial AIA speaker, Nic David, closed his remarks about the possible origin of ceremonial structures in Cameroon with a statement about his passion for the field. "Anyway, that's my theory about them," he said.

He then concluded, "Of course I hope it's wrong because archaeology is always more fun when someone comes up with new theories to replace the old ones!"