Research Trips

Tonight as the 2011 AVRP survey team prepares for our first day in the field, the ezan echoes through the village and into our compound from the loudspeakers of a nearby mosque — a call to prayer in digital distortion. This happens five times a day, including every morning at around 4 AM which turns out to be very a convenient thing since we begin our day at 5. Tonight the Turkish skies also play host to ay tutulması, or lunar eclipse (peep the commemorative Google logo, exclusive to this side of the world), a good omen I’m sure as we set to make our way through the rich landscape of the northern Amuq valley. Over the next two months, I will be participating in my very first archaeological survey and excavation season. I could not be more thrilled to be here and to be working with the incredible Alalakh team, whose knowledge and enthusiasm inspire me daily. I am also thrilled to receive the support of AIA Los Angeles summer fieldwork scholarship (awarded to USC archaeology students for three years running) and hope that this summer is only the beginning of a long (unpredictable, strange) foray into our past (present, future).

In case you forgot – !

-Michelle L.

Hi all,

I just wanted to take a moment here and brag about the amazing students in the ARC Lab. I know they won’t write their own praise here, so I will go ahead and take a moment to do so for them:

*Sarah Butler is currently studying abroad in Australia and received the Weibel-Orlando Undergraduate Research Fund awarded by Dr. Weibel-Orlando herself from the Anthropology department. Sarah will be traveling this summer to Turkey in order to participate in survey and excavation under the supervision of our own Professor Lynn Swartz Dodd.

*Michelle Lim received a USC Summer Undergraduate Research Fund award. She will also be joining Professor Dodd for survey and excavation in Turkey.

*Jacob Bongers is a Senior and was awarded a $10,000 prize from the USC Global Scholars program to be used for graduate school. Jacob is also one of only two 2011 USC Phi Beta Kappa Undergraduate Award Winner. Jacob focuses his research in Andean Archaeology and has been an important part of the ARC Lab since he was a freshman. Congrats to Jacob and Good luck!

Jacob works on survey during summer 2010

We have had previous posts regarding our great success in the Humanities category at the USC Undergraduate Research Symposium, Danika Jensen receiving an undergraduate scholarship fund to excavate in Rome through AIA, as well as AIA recognizing our ARCSmart program with a Society Outreach Grant. And these all happened this Spring! Hopefully we will have even more honors and awards to share with you soon 🙂


I’ve been particularly bad at following up with this blog. It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything archaeologically related–indeed, I may in fact be slowly overdosing on the ARC Lab– but rather that I have been too busy to spend any time on writing anything meaningful (outside of my own schoolwork, though that may also be compromised by lack of time). I will take time out to do something that will hopefully help to restore my sanity, which has been waning and spiraling into nerdy conversations about the benefits of radiocarbon dating people over going out and dating real people.

It’s very difficult for me NOT to think about archaeology these days. My entire life revolves around it. 3/5 of my classes involve me reading, writing and discussing it. The other two (Japanese and Mandarin) are to further my academic career so I can have the language skills to flourish in the Far East.

I have included this pie chart of my time and thoughts:

Sarah's Thoughts, 11/17/2010

Sarah's Thoughts, 11/17/2010

Even outside of the classroom and my schoolwork I spend a lot of time indulging in archaeology. This past weekend I was double booked on conferences. One was for the Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, of which I am blessed to be a part of. It took place at CalTech in Pasadena (which was my middle school stomping ground, so it was like being at home more or less) and it brought all the Mellon fellows from the west coast together (Heritage, Whittier, Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, USC, CalTech) to share our research and foster a sense of camaraderie. I had a freakin blast meeting people who are exactly like me in that they are driven by passion for their field. I was part of the presentations, so that was also interesting for me (public speaking scares me still, even after all these times presenting). I walked away completely inspired by my fellow Fellows who are all so very bright, articulate, and passionate about what they study. I always feel like I may be lost in a sea of career-minded people here at USC (so many business majors…) who smile and nod when I tell them what I do, so it was truly refreshing to be surrounded by people who, to quote my roommate Ciku, “could never see themselves doing anything else”, who know it’s not about the PhD. or the rack of awards you get, but rather the fact that you could never stop learning about what it is you love learning about.

I also went to a conference on Kucha, which is an ancient kingdom located in present-day Western China (Xinjiang to be exact). Specifically the panels discussed the cave temples that are located there. It was an amazing conference with a lot of big names, and I absolutely love Buddhist archaeology, so it was pretty sweet. I’m so down for anything talking about Asian archaeology– it gets little attention here at USC, so I feel like I get overexcited. I also ran into one of the head archaeologists from my dig in China, as well as my TA from the same excavation! It was awesome to see them. I like going to conferences to learn how to engage an audience. I feel like I still don’t do it like a few of my professors can do, but I hope that one day I’ll be able to be as awesome as my project is. If anything, sometimes I learn what NOT to be like. I’ve also learned that it really sucks to sit through a lecture when the speaker is really good but the content just does not come alive.

Speaking of my project, my directed research is getting pretty crazy. We’re going back to Chicago on 11/28 to shoot more x-rays at projectiles. I’m SO EXCITED. I’ve been contextualizing and reading recently (well not this past week because I’ve been preparing for conferences). There’s not much to say about it other than that… Woo.

I have two other research projects for classes that are also consuming parts of my life. All this research is making me feel schizophrenic in terms of academics: reading about Near Eastern bronze production during the Iron Age and evidence for tin trade, then skipping over to the political ideology evident in the material culture at Longmen/Yungang during the 5th and 6th centuries CE, then a contrast of Qin and Han funerary rituals through their tomb architecture and archaeology.

Fun fact: burial chambers during the Han dynasty were lined with white clay and charcoal to protect the body from moisture. HOW COOL IS THAT.

I’ve decided that I want to do a fun mix of things with my body when I am dead. I want it mummified in a traditional Egyptian sense– canopic jars and ERRYTHING. I then want to be interred in an earthen pyramid with a massive subterranean complex housing hundreds of thousands of prestige items. I want lots of magic and rituals– import traditional shamans if you have to. I then want to have incense burned at my altar. Wooot.

Here’s a cool photo for you:

Skull showing syphilis

Skull showing syphilis

As a student of bioarchaeology, we talk a lot about paleopathology. The most basic of the diseases that mar the bones is syphilis. I am also a student a university, so if there has ever been compelling evidence to be safe in your extra-curriculars, it is this. See? Everyday applications of classroom learnin’.

~Sarah Butler

So I’m in a hostel in Amman, Jordan with my dear friend and fellow USC archaeology grad Ashley Sands! She just finished her Turkish excavation and I’m about to go to England for grad school, so we decided to meet in Jordan and spend a few weeks traveling around.

Our first day has been pretty eventful. Sort of. We overslept, thus missing the hostel’s free breakfast and the coolest hours of the day. Fun fact: Jordan is experiencing a heat wave right now. So around noon we took a walk around, trying to find food. Another fun fact: It’s currently Ramadan, which means all the restaurants are closed until sundown. So Ashley and I eventually settled for sharing a piece of bread.

Then we took a taxi up to the Citadel, which contained some beautiful ruins, particularly the Temple of Hercules. It was very hot up top, but luckily there was a bit of a breeze, so walking was fine. We also went through the archaeological museum, which housed artifacts from the Paleolithic to the Ottoman period. It was hotter inside the museum than outside.

Ashley at the Temple of Hercules

The whole citadel tour took less than an hour, so Ashley and I ended up back at the hostel, where we are now lying in bed with the air conditioning on and waiting for the sun to go down.

Tomorrow we head to Ramallah to work at the library at the Birzeit University Institute of Archaeology. We’ll be cataloging books, working with a database, and doing lots of alphabetizing–should be exciting!

More updates and pictures to follow!


We’ll be on Trousdale Parkway on the USC campus all (or most?) in the Humanities category. This is your chance to learn about ossuaries, stelae, figurines, ancient recycling, and all sort of other wonderful and exciting things!

11:00 AM to 2:00 PM

Be there or we’ll hunt you down… I mean, what?

It’s that time again. Provost Undergraduate Research Symposium time. In the upcoming weeks, the lab will be filled with hordes of unhappy undergraduates, pulling their hair out in hanks and squinting at websites under construction and poster drafts under review.

The ARC lab has a rather prolific history of victory at the Symposium. Every year, our tiny group of researchers submits ten to fifteen projects, one or more of which inevitably end up winning awards. Professor Dodd is probably driven even crazier than the rest of us, since she tends to mentor, advise, and oversee EVERY SINGLE ONE of these archaeology submissions. That’s more than any other professor at the Symposium.

Being the masochist that I am, I rather enjoy Symposium time, in a weird way. There’s something almost soothing about losing yourself in highly focused work, made spicier by a dose of panic. Also, I’m a bit of a website construction fiend (of the iWeb variety–no way am I writing my own code!). So all in all, I tend to enjoy it at least a little bit.

But right now I’m having a little difficulty psyching myself up for the work. Maybe it’s because I’m a second semester senior, worried about life after school and senioritis and getting through this last month alive and without permanent psychological damage. But I know that once I sit down and really spend some effort on updating my website, I’ll feel that old enthusiasm again, and things will go just fine.

And on Wednesday, April 14, I’ll be among the group of smiling, exhausted archaeology students, dressed in our nicest clothes next to posters and laptops displaying the research that many of us have been working on for years. From 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM we will spiel about a wide variety of topics to anyone who will listen, sharing our own crazed love for our projects with judges, professors, and random passersby. It’s an absolute nerdfest, and the variety and quality of research presented is always astounding.

So please come support the ARC lab researchers at the Symposium on April 14 between 10:00 and 2:00! We’ll be on Trousdale Parkway somewhere, mostly in the Humanities category, and we would love to see some friendly faces.


Last week saw a foray into snow and rain, beams and bunker-like laboratories.  Professor Dodd received her second award of beam time in 6 months (the first application took years!) and as a result, Sarah Butler and I got to travel to the Argonne Advanced Photon Source with her to watch and participate in a project.  The project was comparing various copper alloy artifacts from three different places within the Persian Empire to see if manufacturing technology changed in some pattern with the advent of empire, and also the differing effects of imperialization on a central city and a formerly autonomous region.  Examining the crystalline structure of the artifacts through XRD would produce information about forging techniques and degree of fineness, while elemental XRF analysis would tell us what kinds of minerals were being alloyed with the copper.  At least that was my understanding.  Most everyone working on the project held advanced degrees and had a much more legit knowledge of what was going on, either on the physics side or the archaeology side.  Fully interpreting the data from XRD and XRF requires as much study as being well-versed in Persian history – but, as the title says, USC undergrads get to go wonderful places.  Sarah and I actually gained a lot of experience working camera controls and “driving,” or operating the software that controls the laser beam.

To recap: I arrived at the Argonne Guest House (no tents here) on Thursday and bounced over to the synchrotron facility, where the rest of the project members had already been for a day and a half.  The beam is housed in this storage ring of over a thousand meters, which nests in a Costco-sized circular experiment hall clad all over with postmodern white sheeting.  I walked down a flight of stairs to Sector 1, commonly lent out to “users” from the public since Argonne is funded by the Department of Energy and by extension our taxes.  As she put it, Prof. Dodd had gotten the equivalent of a quarter million dollars with her 72-hour beam grant.

People were patient, but patiently frustrated.  They had already spent a whole day fussing with hutch cameras and the setup of the lasering platform, and a very intense kind of pent-up expectancy translated into a sourceless hum.  Argonne’s beam scientists from last time were there again as were Prof. Dodd and Dr. Friedman, both Ancient Near East/Anatolian specialists, and new faces including two Toronto archaeologists and a conservator from the Oriental Institute.  Dr. Friedman took us up to the rooftop upon arrival so that we could see the entire beamline, which was cloaked in white this time of year.  From the balcony we looked in vain for the totally white deer, which may or may not have been collateral damage from a secret radiation incident.  Inside she showed us posters listing which organizations had collaborated with Argonne, and what some projects were across the disciplines.  If you go to the 2008 Argonne visitor’s book you can see her project involving metal bangles.

We went back down, hung around the hutch for a bit, and watched people make miniscule adjustments on a small rotating motor that moves the object to be X-rayed up and down.  After a while, one of the physicists rounded up the newcomers for a safety orientation.  I didn’t go with them, my training being valid from the summer, but this is the part where you get shown all the nasty, dangerous chemicals in pod-like lab spaces along the wall and great silvery tanks you don’t want to knock over.  A guide walks you through the steps for evacuating, for calling for help, and what to do in case there’s  a tornado (bathrooms are certified tornado shelters).  Then they give you the instructions for beam usage: you go into the open hutch and push a green button, then another green button on the other wall, and listen to a robot woman’s voice say “CLOSING STATION THREE – PLEASE EXIT IMMEDIATELY” over and over again.  Heavy pneumatic (?) blue doors slide closed, and then you can open the shutter that lets the beam out.  The first time I kind of panicked when this happened and fled out of the room; after a night or two, everyone in their sleep-deprived loopiness usually falls to imitating the voice.

The first night shift was mine and two archaeologists’, which shows you the incredible amount of license given to us there – nobody was the least worried that we’d screw up the delicate scientific equipment, at detriment to ourselves or the beamline.  One person sat in the driver’s seat, manning two keyboards under a panoply of 6 monitors and calling out numbers to the other two, who alternated between reading a K- and L-energy level graph (XRF), watching for faint rings on a black screen to appear (XRD), and capturing and renaming files (cameras).  Out of sheer generosity the conservator, Laura, had stayed well into the a.m. preparing artifact foam pads for us, so the changing process was very simple: take artifact out, lift up new foam server with a gloved hand, stabilizing top of artifact with your index finger, and slide between metal posts on the lasering platform. Progress was slow-going but steady, and at 8 a.m. I walked back to the Guest House excited to find out later what new information had been gleaned while I slept.

When I returned, I was told that while I slept, the beamline had been bumped into not working for a little while, which Sarah can tell you about.  But the second night went much more smoothly, and we found an interesting anomaly, higher concentrations of tin at the shaft and tip of Megiddo artifacts, as well as cleared up bizarre readings of strontium and some heavy atomic elements that had been worrying us earlier.  Some extra beam time was given to us at the end of the 72 hours, which eagerly sopped up put our total batch count at 40 artifacts.  Considering the data files (XRD and XRF) are huge, this will yield quite a lot of information!  Anyway, that’s an abbreviated version of USC at Argonne version 2.0.  It was a great experience, and though the Persian Empire is not my focus I am extremely eager to see what research comes of it.

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