Undergraduate Projects

For the last two years I have been working on researching a Roman-Egyptian terracotta figurine owned by USC and housed in the USC Archaeology Research Center.

Over the last two years this project has produced some interesting results. This piece originally presented some interesting questions. I wanted to know what   this was representing, who the figures were meant to represent, what it was used for.  Through the research I have been able to determine that this object is a translation of a classic Egyptian motif called the Smiting King image type. It traditionally shows an Egyptian pharaoh smiting a group or a single barbarian enemy. It has a real world implication meant to depict the pharaoh’s dominance over his enemies, but it also has some religious significance. The image type also depicts the pharaoh’s duty and ability to defeat the supernatural forces of Chaos and maintain the natural order of the world.

In the case of this particular object the pharaoh/king figure is not an Egyptian pharaoh in the traditional sense but is actually a Roman emperor. The armor the king is wearing and the bird of prey on his shoulder identify the figure as a Roman emperor. The facial features are not detailed enough to identify the specific emperor based solely on distinguishable features. But the beard the emperor is wearing narrows the window of possible identifications. From here other elements are needed to identify the characters in question. The image type shows a king defeating an enemy who threatens the borders of Egypt, so to narrow the possibilities I looked for bearded emperors who fought wars against enemies who were located near, but outside, the Egyptian boarders and studied the different emperors and their military campaigns. I came to the hypothesis that the most likely identification for the emperor was the emperor Hadrian and that the figurine depicts Hadrian defeating the Second Jewish Revolt which occurred in 132-135 CE.

This was only a preliminary identification because I wanted to solidify the identification of the barbarian figure as a participant in the Second Jewish Revolt. So I started looking at the dress of the figure and his hair and facial hair. This did not produce adequate results because those features were not distinct enough to extrapolate a solid identification, so I shifted to the one distinct feature of the barbarian, the sword. This has actually produced some interesting results. I have learned that the sword is called a sica and that it is a weapon commonly used in the near east. I also discovered that the Romans called the Jewish people the Sicarii, which derives from the word sica. The Jewish people earned this name because they were thought to be assassins or hitmen for hire by the Romans and their weapon of choice was the sica. While some more foundational evidence is needed to completely solidify the barbarian as a Sicarii, I believe that this is the correct identification of the figure. If this holds true, then the identification of the emperor as Hadrian is confirmed and the identification of the piece is complete. This piece is very interesting, and if you would like some further information please go to http://dornsife.usc.edu/what-is-a-king-to-do/ to learn more about USC’s Smiting King.


Grant Dixon

Attempting to make fire was fascinating.  As a child, when first watching cartoon cavemen whip up flames from thin sticks on lazy Saturday mornings, I recall thinking, “That’s impossible!”  The Southern survivalists on Youtube made it look easy, but I was suspicious because their videos involved cut scenes between embers and actual fire.  Trying it myself proved to me how truly difficult it is.

Our class was supplied with cedar planks, some simple cutting tools, sticks, dried brush, and faux leather.  My group carved holes for the stick in two planks: one plank was the base with a groove to channel hot sawdust toward a pile of kindling, the other plank fit onto the stick from above to help create friction and stability.  We were elated by our quick ability to create smoke, but apparently where there’s smoke, there’s not always fire.  We took turns rubbing our dowel until we blistered our hands without producing a single ember.  We briefly tried to make a bow with the faux leather, but it kept falling apart and didn’t work well.

Now, I like camping and bonfires, so I have made a few fires before, but modern technology definitely makes the process much easier.  Usually my friends and I can get a fire going in about 15 minutes, depending on how windy it is and whether we have lighter fluid.  The hardest fire I’ve actually succeeded in making was a campfire using only kindling collected from the rocky hills of Catalina and a fire starter that shot magnesium sparks.  This took half an hour or so.  An hour and a half was insufficient time to succeed using the ancient method.

The great, single-minded determination and persistence it must have required from ancient humans to invent and succeed with this method is amazing.  I think we might have more success using a bow, which would reduce hand trauma and increase the rotation speed and consistency of applied friction.  For now though, I’m going to continue keeping waterproof matches and a lighter in my first aid kit.


~Sam Cadwell

It’s time for a new school year! Classes started this week, and we’re really excited about all the archaeology offerings this fall.

Our newest professor, Maya expert Dr. Thomas Garrison, will be teaching two courses:

ANTH-202: Introduction to Archaeology

ANTH-202 is a great opportunity to learn about the theory, methods, and practice of archaeology. You will learn how archaeological research is conceived, planned, and carried out, from survey and excavation to analysis of finds and final reconstruction of ancient cultural systems. The class will be held on T/Th from 9:30-10:50 AM.

Come learn what it’s like to be a real-life Indiana Jones!

ANTH-310: Archaeology of the Americas

Do you like hidden palaces? What about human sacrifice?

If the answer is yes, then you need to sign up for ANTH-310: Archaeology of the Americas (T-Th 12:30-1:50), an exciting new course taught by Maya expert Tom Garrison! You’ll get an overview of anthropological archaeology and the great cultures of the Western Hemisphere in this fun and fascinating course.

Temples and palaces and human sacrifice, oh my!

In addition to these two exciting courses, we’ve added a new course, REL-402: Cultural Heritage, Religion & Politics in the Middle East, which is taught by Prof. Dodd and will be held on Wednesdays from 2-4:50 PM.

Are you curious why Jerusalem matters so much to Palestinians and Israelis? Or why Christianity isn’t the dominant faith in the land where it began? Or why the Taliban dynamited the massive, ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan and Egyptians looted national treasures? Anyone seeking greater insight into foreign policy, faith-based movements, and emerging political trends is invited to join this seminar. We investigate how the past matters in the Middle East today through film, field trips, and discussions. The course can be taken for credit in Religion, International Relations, History, Archaeology, and Middle East Studies. There are NO prerequisites for enrollment.

Unearth the politics of history in this fantastic new course

As if those weren’t enough, there’s also a new Freshman Seminar, FSEM-180 Human Survival: Learning from the Past. Professor Dodd will be teaching this, and students will get the chance  to learn ancient survival skills. We’ll be making stone tools and pottery, smelting, weaving cloth, and brewing beer, and I personally can’t wait.

And, of course, ARCSmart will be starting up again! Our introductory meeting is Friday, August 31st, at 2 pm in ACB-330. Stop by and get involved in this fun volunteer project.

Join us this Friday, August 31st at 2 PM in ACB-330!


More updates to come soon!
-Sarah H

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

There isn’t much more to say than that.

Sarah Hawley took first place in the Humanities category for her project on Judaidah figures. Let’s step back for a second and just congratulate her for all her hard and amazing work. This project was a long-time coming, and it was phenomenal (I’ve been stalking the web page). Now she is Miss Phi Beta Kappa, Miss Undergraduate Writer’s Conference, AND Miss Undergrad Research Symposium– a second-semester trifecta 🙂

Lexy Sinnott took a second place with her work on Roman glass recycling. I was too busy fending off judges to really take a look at her poster, but I know that her project was so so so cool and relevant.

Tiffany Tsai and me took home an honorable mention for our project on Argonne, imaging methodology and Iron Age projectile points. This is very exciting and encouraging for me, as our project is most definitely a work in progress and will only get better with the years! I was a little worried as I literally showed up, put my backpack down and BAM! a judge was right there without time for me to even pick up my registration packet… But it worked out! Tiffany is a great research partner and I thought we worked really well off of each other, filling each other in where we might have faltered, throwing in tidbits and fun facts about archaeological science (the judges were mostly English people), and trying to get the judges excited for our superawesome project. I reached my goal of being able to speak coherently in front of judges, and just so happened to pick up an award along the way. I can’t wait to get better at presenting research and speaking in front of people… And overall becoming more “professional”.

This is the 11th year that students working in the Archaeology Lab have won the Humanities Division, and the 11th year of Archaeology students dominating the symposium in general. It was unfortunate that Professor Dodd and Ashley were not in the country to see us kill it, but they will know that we held it down while they were away 🙂


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 occurred to me that readers of this blog (because we have such a cult following…) might enjoy seeing the undergraduate research projects that come out of the USC Interdisciplinary Archaeology major. We’ve been slaving away tirelessly, some of us for years, on some fantastic projects. Our final submissions to the Provost Undergraduate Research Symposium are due in 10 minutes, so once everyone scurries over to Doheny at the last second and then takes a moment to calm down, I hope everyone will post links to their online research pages. Not everyone submitted a website to the Symposium, so those you’ll just have to see on Wednesday 🙂

Jenny Crawford: She was last year’s Symposium winner and isn’t submitting this year, but here’s her website anyway! Bringing the Past to Life: Recreating an Ancient Egyptian Gilding Technique

Sarah Hawley: The Iconography of Empire: Political Transition as Demonstrated in the Terracotta Figurines of Tell al-Judaidah

STARCers, please add your websites to this post!