August 2009

The school year’s starting.  Last Wednesday, the summer ghost town campus succumbed to clumping freshmen and swerving bicycles, and this past week was move-in week.  As I tried to fall asleep under an unfamiliar popcorn ceiling the first few nights, it still seemed strangely limiting to sleep a few layers of insulation removed from open sky.  Alaska was on my mind, instead of sheep.

I had a number of random thoughts.  First, what were my comrades doing at that very moment?  Quite a few had stayed on for CRM projects, some lasting into September, so probably they were huddling in tents somewhere along the Tenana River and using the last rays of 16-hour sun to write up their pits.  Later when it was totally dark, they might take “smoke baths” to keep the skeeters at bay – it’s when you stand over the campfire and flap your shirt and underwear to fill it with smoke.  This is actually very legit!  I will never forget the looks on the other customers’ faces when we strode into the grocery store pre-shower, post-smoke bath and began mass ordering steak fries.


Too light winning makes the prize light

Lest too light winning make the prize light, this only happened on Saturdays

Some people stayed in Alaska because they live there.  “I live in Alaska” is in fact a loaded sentence.  Debate rages over whether one, two, or more years of residency constitute valid Alaskanship because the mental sheet foil one initially brandishes against the long, hard winters may turn out to be a specious banner of bravado, flown only to advertise one’s own machismo.  Then one gets SAD and must seek tanning beds, and then one surreptitiously slithers across the border to Washington.  Of the indisputable Alaskans, one friend signed onto a helicopter survey, so I hoped she had not gotten airsick while dangling equipment over the Tangle Lakes mountain ranges.  The lakes provided our TA’s gambit for his powerpoint to recruit people for a weekend camping trip: “As you can see, archaeology is a thankless job, I mean, can you believe I have to hike across all this endless terrain and take pictures of all these boring landscapes?”


"Archaeology is a thankless job"

"Archaeology is a thankless job"

If the survey had already ended, she was probably helping her dad make reindeer sausage or hunting for moose.  You can hunt as much moose as you want in Alaska, but what you can’t finish, you have to give away.  It is illegal to sell moose meat.

Regarding family life, the dogs of Alaska rated a thought there.  Almost everybody had their own lovely mutts at home, and eventually we had all talked to each other’s dogs on the phone.  We also had a camp dog, Bella, who belonged to one of the TAs and hung out under the equipment tarps while the rest of us sweated in the hot sun.  Well, no, I don’t want to be misleading – it was around 80 degrees – but eventually I came around to the Alaskan way of thinking and marveled at my own ability to wear long sleeves in weather hotter than room temperature.  Other than Bella, there was a muddy stray who clambered up our bluff one morning, and whose collar tag bore an address from 20 miles away!  Reasonably, she collapsed on top of my neighbor’s quad – crumbling the corner he had just spent the last hour straightening.

I wondered what had become of our dig site.  Right before we left we worked on drawing the soil profile, but a sudden hail storm halted work for that day.  As we left it, if it were to be discovered by archaeologists thousands of years in the future it would have looked like the dwellings of a rigidly controlled and psychologically anal society, based on the straightness of our walls.  Volunteers were supposed to keep digging after we left, however.  An unexpected benefit of going to this field school was meeting many nontraditional students, people who had started college in their twenties and thirties or gone on personal adventures in the middle of their undergrad years, and for whom “archaeological technician” would just be the crowning title on a resume listing ranch hand, concertmistress, U.S. geological surveyor, and work-study painter.  I miss being around such an academically diverse student group and the learning environment that forced us into close quarters, smelly or not, day in and day out.

I also miss our camp chef’s Southern cooking.  She was a smoker and made dishes too salty and spicy, which counteracted the taste of silt in our mouths.

Overall, I learned a lot.  Sometimes by completing the reading about Paleoindians, other times (when I had not completed the reading) by looking out the door of my tent.

Room with a view

Room with a view

~Tiffany Tsai

Hi all! So I only have ten more days to be out here at Atchana! It will be a bittersweet paring–but I am definitely ready to return home to my own bed after being abroad for 2.5 months!!!

On one of our well-earned days off we went to Harbiye (a waterfall village outside of Antakya) and had a great day. We ate lunch with our feet in a running stream and bought all sorts of overpriced knick-knacks. It really reminded me of Hasankeyf!

Anyway, here is a photo of us hanging out…and I already miss some of these guys who went home already!!!

…ashley sands

Salihe, Liz, Gokhan, Lexy, Aycan, Su, and I at Harbiye

Salihe, Liz, Gokhan, Lexy, Aycan, Su, and I at Harbiye

T-minus 4.5 days until I a.) finish with the Getty b.) have to start getting ready for school c.) have no summer left (classes start on the 24t). It might be too early to start reflecting on my experiences here, but I’ve really had an amazing time here. I have a bit of down time right now, so this will be a fairly long entry (but interesting! always interesting…)

The Getty Villa, a 1:1 recreation of the Villa of the Papyri, the most luxurious villa in Herculaneum

The Getty Villa, a 1:1 recreation of the Villa of the Papyri, the most luxurious villa in Herculaneum

Yesterday the interns made the arduous journey to the Getty Villa in Malibu. I’d only been there once before for College Night last October… I actually got the info about this internship from Angie Kim, the program director who was there promoting the graduate internship (and scared me with statistics about who actually gets the internal undergrad Getty internships– it’s basically a 13% chance). That night there were plenty of epicurean delights and tours of conservation labs, and I think I spent more time ogling the colored marble inlaid floors/peristyle architecture than looking at the antiquities, wondering how you would ever furnish such a large estate… Given that experience, it was pretty amazing to have the opportunity to have a tour given by Marie Svoboda and Allison Lewis of the Antiquities conservation department, a nice introduction to the Georgian site of Vani graves’ excavation exhibit by the curator David Saunders, and a grounds/architecture tour by Ken Lapatin (who curated the Pompeii exhibit).

Ken’s tour was really something because we got to head off the public campus, see the remnants of J. Paul Getty’s zoo (a bear pit!!), and pay our respects to the man who pays our stipends. Yes, that’s right, we visited THE J. Paul Getty II’s and two of his sons’ grave sites. For a man who insisted on precision, classical grandeur, and made outrageous, lavish requests, his grave was incredibly simple– three large pieces of granite placed over him and his kin, plain, with a terrace wall made of similar granite behind him with their names listed. No sentiments, just names. The grave is located behind a moderately elaborate, small iron gate in a secluded grassy knoll surrounded by eucalyptus trees. Before the trees grew so large, the site must have had had incredible views. Here Ken gave us a lot of background on the man and how he worked his way from the OK oil fields to a Ranch House in the Malibu hills. He was basically Bruce Wayne (Batman for you who know not of DC Comics)– a young billionaire playboy, industrialist, traveler, and philanthropist. Secret moonlighting profession is unconfirmed.

Click Here for a short movie on Bronze Lamp Conservation (Getty Villa)

I’d seen the conservation labs before (the organics, metals, stone and science), but the projects are always intriguing. Currently they are working on some Dresden Museum vases excavated from South Italy in the 19th century and analyzing prior restorations and original creation of the vases. The FTIR, X-Radiographies and UV photos are showing them amazing things about a 19th century restorer’s skills, and how he was making a genuine attempt to make blanks (to fill in holes in the vases) that were as close to the original pieces as possible. This makes me wonder about USC’s artifacts… The Getty’s current Vani exhibit brought them an Erotes lamp (lamp with a bunch of little Cupids) that was found in a cut rock pit. The Eros figures had corrosion all over them, to the point that the figures themselves looked like they were carved out of the rust. Some figures had spearpoints adhering to them because the corrosion had glued them together. The before and after cleaning is remarkable, and they left some corrosion on the lamp in the exhibit to show its history. They are also overseeing the objects for the upcoming exhibit on Aztec art and its connections with Greco-Roman art that is opening in March 2010., and monitoring this magnificent Roman eagle that suffers from “Bronze disease”, which is kind of like leprosy for bronzes. I met with Marie and Allison afterward for coffee to talk about antiquities conservation and their choices/career paths. It was great to learn about objects conservation in this context– now I have a pretty good picture about my options in this field… I should have popped in and picked up info about the UCLA/Getty Program.

The Vani exhibit is pretty. It’s like being at Tiffany’s but better, since it’s from Vani. Everything is extremely delicate gold with granulation. This made me reflect on the realities of archaeology and the difference between what is important and what goes in a museum. Not to say they are mutually exclusive, but animal bones and ancient poop would never be displayed in a high class joint like the Getty. There is a beautiful Romano-Egyptian mummy in the exhibit… Sigh. This trip made me excited to go back to school and learn more about Near Eastern Archaeology, of which I am woefully ignorant. But not too excited.

Other things that have gone on: My website is on a server so I am just inputting data. The Frenchies who have been building it are now on vacation
so I am putting whatever I have here online. Joanna, the Paintings Curatorial Department Intern, set us up with Peter Bjorn Kerber and Mary Morton, curators specializing in the pre- 18 c. and 18c.-present paintings respectively.

A Titian in Good Condition - Peter Kerber

"A Titian in Good Condition" - Peter Kerber

Peter’s talk was hilarious and informative. For those of us who have no curatorial experience, it was fascinating to learn about what sorts of decisions need to be made about purchase, quality, value, etc. His selection of works to illustrate his points were amusing, as he made sure to show us works by painters who are unknown and no one cares about but have amazing preservation, the value of a name (Titian), the importance of a piece to a collection rather than its value on its own, the importance of showing a school of painting, etc. When we came to the painter whose name is unrecognizable, Peter looked at us and asked, “Who do you think are the most requested painters by the public? As a large museum, which painters do you think they expect to see but aren’t here?” (The security guards were surveyed about the most asked questions that the public asks them). Everyone mentioned the Old Masters– Da Vinci, Raphael, Michaelangelo… Peter nodded yes, and added “Donatello”. To those of you who haven’t taken an art history course, Donatello is strictly a sculptor. Apparently, since he was part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they assume he was a painter. Too funny.

Peter took us around to a few other paintings, including a beautiful portrait of Jesus by Reni on copper. I’m not too interested in the symbolism (I was personally tired of seeing Jesus– no offense Big Guy, but you’ve got galleries here in the Getty) but the use of materials was amazing– the choice of copper to illustrate the symbolism, the physical properties that ensure sustainability, the glowy-ness of the painting and the richness of the color because of the medium. I like that, back in the day, artists were chemists and understood their media. In that respect, art has an understanding with science, and they work together to create something beautiful.

Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant, a painting shown by Mary Morton
Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant, a painting shown by Mary Morton

Mary Morton is leaving the Getty for the National Gallery to be Curator of French Paintings. She’s that good. I like her sass, and she gave great talks on the pieces that she’s recently acquired and further elaborated on value and the process of creating a comprehensive collection. I also like that she didn’t take us straight to the Irises, or the Waterlilies, but to a Degas that didn’t have to do with ballerinas. And then to a Gauguin that they chased around Europe for 8 years, and finally have it up… Only to be oddly received. It’s pretty morbid, the subject matter being a decapitated head on a silver platter in Tahiti. I liked the choices of work to present, mostly because I can read about the Irises until I’m cross eyed, and each painting, though it may have been banal subject matter, had a fascinating story behind it. Hooray.

Wow that was a lot of typing… Kristin and comes home today from Israel/Palestine. Maybe I can get her to blog about it. We’ll see.

I have so much to say about my experience here in Palestine. Unfortunatly I think I am still processing many of the experiences and will have difficulty putting them into words here. So for now, pictures can help tell the story.

1. The dehumanizing nature of the setup of the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank

The check point coming from Palestine to Jersualem in Israel

The check point coming from Palestine to Jersualem in Israel

2. The streets in the old city of Nablus are littered with posters. These posters show the faces of Palestinian men, women, and children all killed by Israelis in this last intifada (since 2000).

The faces of those martyred since 2000

The faces of those martyred since 2000

3. The Separation Wall. At some points in the wall, it is only a barbed-wire fence. But, some places are linked with sensors that automatically shoot if triggered.

The wall seperating Israelis and Palestinians

The wall separating Israelis and Palestinians

just some things to think about…


I’m officially halfway through my field school experience and am currently sitting around waiting to see if the rain decides to let us work today. We’ve finally collected enough information to start forming some ideas about how this site was used in the past. The size of the structures in combination with the amount of lithics present as well as the varying sizes of lithics being found are leading us to believe that this could possibly have been a lithics production site. This would be really interesting for Mayan archaeology because there is only one other known lithics production site. Over the years people have said a lot about the Mayan elites and lower class, but not so much has been said about a middle class. If this is indeed another production site, the professors think this could be the perfect site to learn more about this proposed middle class. The only problem is we’re running out of time to collect more data. Working on a new site has been exciting for its sheer unpredictability, but at the same time frustrating because everyone is so hesitant to make definite statements about what went on there. Bottom line, I want to know more!

happy thoughts and fun times,

Sara Pitts

Kristin and I presented our session at the World Archaeological Congress today in Palestine and it went very well! We started with a powerpoint presentation outlining our project. We then opened the floor up to questions and we steered the dialogue via specific conversation topics that we had prepared. In all, our session had a lot of participation and lasted over an hour!

I feel like the entire room (but especially us) learned a lot. We also met and had lunch with about a dozen Palestinian archaeology students, as well as creating connections with their professors. It was an amazingly beneficial day–and–Aaron had a day off from excavation and he came and watched our presentation!

Four Trojans in Ramallah!

Four Trojans in Ramallah!

Kristin and I deliver our session at the WAC Ramallah conference today! Wish Us Luck!

More updates to follow, but if you are interested in learning more about the project we are presenting today, check it out here:

The next generation: Students discuss archaeology in the 21st century

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