In desert cultures across the Near East, they have a term for a dust storm so large and unpredictable it can stifle production for days called a “haboob” (هبوب). And that’s how I feel about school– that it is my academic equivalent to a haboob.
Since the first week, school has pretty much beat me into submission, and a lot of time-consuming work (not necessarily difficult) is required. Some of the time it’s difficult to keep up. In my Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class, I often find myself struggling with the most rudimentary tasks because of a little glitch in my query entry. It’s very frustrating, and I am not a computer scientist.
Professor Dodd’s class this semester feels almost graduate-level, though the end product will be pretty satisfying. Currently (literally in another window), I’m working on assembling a bibliography for our term research project on a specific site of our choosing in the Near East. I chose Alalakh, or Tell Atchana as it’s known in modern terms, which is a palatial Turkish site located on the Amuq plain. Avid readers will recognize the name as the place where Ashley, Sarah, Lexy and Lee spent their summers excavating. I’ve spent the morning reading excavation reports and ILL-ing whatever has “Alalakh”, “Atchana” and “Middle Bronze Age Turkey” in its search terms. I must say, I initially had a mental block against Turkey (it’s a sibling thing– my sister Kristin (Archaeology ’09) excavated in Turkey… And I have general passion more for Central/South/East Asian cultures), but I’ve actually grown quite fond of the site as I’ve dug around Sir Leonard Woolley’s and Aslihan Yener’s excavation reports. The site was originally excavated in the ’30s with U. Chicago’s School of Oriental Studies by Woolley, and lay dormant for almost half a century before Dr. Yener resuscitated the survey/excavations in 1995.
This project is multi-component. Professor Dodd is not satisfied with a ten-page paper analyzing the archaeological methods and considering unanswered questions about the site. No. Each of us must do a 3D mockup of the site inside Google SketchUp, a free (and easy) program used by engineers and architects for visualization of planning and development. By doing this, we import groundplans of the site, trace, and build. Some people chose sites that are not in the ground… Like Djoser’s pyramid… But Alalakh is still being excavated (obviously). I have the benefit of getting to play a little bit with the aesthetics of the place based on further research on Middle Bronze Age sites in the area (keep in mind that the political map has changed dramatically since the 2nd millenium BCE– indeed, even since the WWs, when Alalakh was actually in Syria). In the end, with a source-laden bibliography, a term paper, and a mock up of a site all in hand, we will each plan a lesson plan to bring our presentations in to a local LAUSD school and teach 6th graders about the site that we did. And then a final exam on paper. And that’s the semester.
I decided to take the project a step further. Since Professor Dodd works with Dr. Yener and Murat Akar, senior field supervisor, I took the opportunity to gather the raw data they have collected on the field and use it for my term project in my GIS class. There is so much data it’s overwhelming… I just hope I can handle it.
In other news, STARC had its first meeting at Jenny and Sarah’s house with our new mascot Weasley, a ginger no-tailed kitten.
Presenting Weasley! He has no tail.
Currently, STARC is planning on a camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park, a semester full of interesting speakers, our annual event What I Did Last Summer in which members share their field experiences, and College Night at the Getty Villa. Stay tuned.
So yesterday I learned that my paper, “The Iconography of Empire: Figurines from Tell al-Judaidah,” has been accepted for presentation at the AIA annual meeting. I’m simultaneously excited and intimidated. I’ve never presented my research in an environment like that, and my project still needs a lot of work. But hopefully I will have a wonderfully polished research paper completed by the end of the semester, something I can present in front of archaeologists and academics with pride.
I’m also working on getting STARC (the Society of Trojan Archaeologists) up and running for this year. I’ve designed a basic website, which will be available soon, detailing who we are and what we do. For those reading this (is anyone?), we are always welcoming new members, and we would be so pleased if more students (both undergraduate and graduate) would join. Our first event this semester will be “What I Did Last Summer,” an afternoon of brief presentations about what USC archaeology students did over the summer. This is a great way to learn about the various travel and research opportunities available and how to get involved. More details to come!
A few pictures of STARC, so you can see how awesome we are:
This is going to be a fantastic year, full of presentations, guest lectures, social events, and even a camping trip. We’re going to have a lot of fun. So GET INVOLVED!!
And now, I have to bring this post to a close. The football game comes on very soon, and I plan to be glued to the television.
Friday night at the museum? An easy decision for an archaeodork! I’m taking AHIS 420: Studies in Ancient Art this semester, a class on the art and archaeology of ancient Greece and Rome (a lot of our upper-division courses are superimposed with vaguely descriptive titles), and as perks we got free tickets to the Pompeii exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Arts. For two glorious hours we wandered around marble deities, frescoes, mosaics, bronze fountain animals and even a life-sized reconstructed triclinium as our professor kept up a running commentary. Our class prior had focused on the excavations at Herculaneum; with the aerial shots and fortresslike hillsides still fresh in our minds, it felt like we’d fallen through several layers of zoom to be gazing up at a fresco whose songbirds were bigger than our heads. Sometime in the past, the inhabitants of a wealthy villa in Oplontis had assumed the same stance of contemplation by this wall painting as they socialized in the garden. Behind them, perhaps, was a statue of Aphrodite much like the one that now loomed on our backs…thinking about statuary tends to inspire poetic waxings.
Dr. Pollini talked pretty much nonstop for the whole two hours, attracting a lot of hangers-on who had heard punctuating words like “Sex slave!” and “Penis!” through their audio headsets. It was usually when he was explaining how body types got increasingly feminized (a little boy bearing a lamp, for example) or de-sexualized (as in the Eros statuettes with noticeably undersized genitals), which has cross-currents with our class theme on Christian destruction of Greco-Roman artworks. Sometimes, though, the subject matter was inherently sexual – in one sculpture, a woman’s prominent breasts rising above her lover bely the fact that she is a hermaphrodite, which becomes evident only as the viewer circles to the other side.
A definite highlight was the triclinium, or dining room, with the three representative couches re-invented as blocks around the inner walls, and almost complete frescoes making the whole 10 x 10 room glow red. Just outside was another one of my favorite pieces, a black obsidian vessel from when Egyptomania hit Rome after Rome annexed Egypt. There is really too much to talk about here, so if you want to go the artifacts are on show until October 3–it’s not free like the rest of the museum, but you get in this case what you pay for.
Ok, so this is going to sound really dorky. But, I basically met an archaeology celebrity.
Senior year, a group of us took a year-long class where we studied cylinder seals and their relation to power in ancient society. We learned a lot of photography techniques with Professor Zuckerman and we wrote all of our personal-best term papers ever with Professor Dodd. Our textbook and about half of the articles we read were written by Dominique Collon…
Dr. Collon is essentially retired but still goes to a couple of sites each summer to analyze the seals they excavated that season. She came to Alalakh! We chatted a bunch and I got to show her how to do the portable PTM process on seal impressions. It sounds like someone had just shown her the dome about a month before, but she had never seen the portable version.
She even taught me that when there is dust on your seal impression, the best way to remove it without hurting the impression is to lick it off. She says that Edith Porada taught her that one…
Well, this summer’s wonderful archaeological experience is now officially over. I arrived back in the States on the 26th, and while it’s nice to have hot water and deliciously awful food again, I really miss Turkey.
This summer was long and full of hard work, but in the end we all learned so much about how to survey, excavate, and perform archaeological analysis. I ended up spending most of my time with the home team, drawing and inking pottery illustrations. I’m now quite proficient at inking despite a few days of horrific failure and periodic pen explosions. Some of my illustrations may be used in future publications, and I can’t wait to see them in print! I plan to return next year for the Alalakh study season to draw EVEN MORE pottery and help out Mara, the amazing local pottery specialist, with her work.
Now the fall season of fellowship applications, grad school apps, GRE preparation, and all the rest of senior year responsibilities has begun, and Turkey has changed from a fascinating and complicated reality to a wonderful memory. In fact, I am currently sitting in the ARC lab at 9:30 AM, thinking about the things I miss about Turkey and preparing to begin my draft for the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship (which all USC archaeology students should apply to!)
Soon it will be time for the first STARC meeting of the semester… get excited!!!
I’ll add some pictures later… right now it’s time to work.