The bubble has truly burst


Photo from my first time on site last summer at Sardis, with the Bath-Gymnasium Complex in the distance, center.

I was heading home from work on Friday and chatting with a friend via text when he just said, “Check the news.” And my heart dropped right into the floor. It was late at night in Turkey, and there was a coup, in the middle of the archaeological season for numerous projects. I cannot even count how many friends and colleagues are there, not to mention all of their friends and families, from the big cities to the rural sites.

Now what?

That’s the big question to which no one has any answers. Or at least, there is no consensus.

There have been a number of coups and coup attempts since the Sardis expedition began work in 1958, though from what I can see, none that began during the summer months. And now, I have never been so thankful for regular internet access and social media. I wrote last week about the “bubble” of being at an archaeological site for a summer and somewhat disconnected from the outside world. This summer, that bubble has truly burst.

Within minutes of learning about the coup, I had messages from a friend and from my boss that everyone was safe, and no one was going through the airports. I’ve been glued to my work email all weekend, combing Twitter after utter frustration with the uselessness of the big media outlets, and checking the State Department’s websites and feeds.

Now what?

Well, we work. We have a job to do, it is safe to continue on, so we do it.

I’m a new member of the team, but I have never felt so instantly welcome and appreciated among a group of people (who I’d never met in person before) as I did last summer. Camaraderie among archaeologists is a truly international phenomenon. These are my people, I love them, and I will continue to support them as best I can from here at Mission Control.




Sometimes you just need a puppy (photo courtesy of Evren Bruce)

When working at an archaeological site during the summer, you live in a bubble. You aren’t on your phone all the time. Your internet may be spotty or non-existent. You don’t watch TV. It’s pretty refreshing to disconnect for a bit and to focus on something other than the gloom and doom of the 24 hour news cycle.

But you have moments where the bubble bursts. I remember being on site at Poggio Civitate in the summer of 2005 when we all heard about the subway bombing in London. For hours our head conservator was trying desperately to get a hold of his partner back home who, based on the timing, would have probably been in the tube at that moment. We did not have internet in town, so the few cell phones and TV at the hotel was the best we could do. And we all waited nervously until he was able to get a hold of Bob. And he did. And we went back into our bubble.

This was 11 years ago. Now at Poggio Civitate most, if not all people have cell phones, everyone can get online at the hotel, and while it’s still a bubble, it is more plugged in than it used to be. Working in Italy, though, we never had reason to be nervous about bombings or violent political upheaval. I have archaeologist friends and colleagues who worked in Syria, Israel, Egypt…the list goes on…who cannot work in the field because it is simply not safe, security cannot be guaranteed, or due to their nationality, they are no longer welcome to work in that country.

Now I work for a project in Turkey where multiple times this year alone, we’ve had to play the waiting game after a bombing to find out if everyone from the team, their families, friends, and colleagues, are ok. Because of internet access on site, almost immediately after the story broke, I was able to hear from a team member that all Sardis folks were accounted for and no one was flying through Ataturk that day. My boss was in touch with the US Embassy and by the time I came in to work the next morning, he’d already emailed us to let us know the Embassy said everything was fine in their area.

Friends and colleagues have been getting in touch with me to ask if I am in Turkey this summer and whether the team was going to leave now. The answer to both is no, and that’s usually met with, “Wow, aren’t you happy you aren’t there right now?” My answer to that, in all honesty, is no. That team is like part of my extended family, and I miss them and want to help support them.

We are fortunate that Sardis is located near Izmir in a very safe part of Turkey. Could something happen there? Of course. But it could happen anywhere. Just a couple years ago I had to wait to hear from friends in Boston after the marathon bombings. Over the years I’ve had to wait after multiple campus shootings.

Over the course of my 15 years of archaeological fieldwork, I’ve lived in many bubbles and both enjoyed it and have been scared by it. Now, though, the bubbles are increasingly more connected to what’s going on the world, and unfortunately, it’s a big relief. We don’t have to go nearly as long with the stress of not knowing.




The most FOMO thing possible: not meeting these puppies at Sardis (photo courtesy of Evren Bruce, who is indulging my need for puppy photodocumentation)

Having a permanent job with a field project is a dream. Someone, however, has to be in Mission Control, and this can mean not being able to go to the field. This summer, that’s me. And the FOMO (fear of missing out) is intense, both for this project and my previous project, Poggio Civitate.

Summer of 2014 was the first year I had not traveled to Europe at all since 2000. I started work with Poggio Civitate (near Siena, Italy) in 2001 and returned every summer for two months (2006 and 2008 were exceptions due to things like taking German and having a real job), but I was able to cobble together other trips. Summer 2014 was the first year I’d relinquished control over cataloguing, documentation, and managing the lab at PC, and I had not trained a replacement. I did not anticipate how emotional this would be, and I cried. A lot. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. As difficult, frustrating, and demoralizing as field work can be, it is a part of who I am, and sitting in an office knowing my friends and colleagues were digging away without me was brutal. And of course, they made some major new discoveries after the previous two years of slogging through what seemed like it might have been a bridge to nowhere full of amorphous terracottas and slag.

Similarly, I had Sardis FOMO with which to contend. I’d never been to Turkey before, and because I began my job in March of 2014, I was too late to get on the excavation permit. I spent that summer, often alone, in an office in Somerville, MA, looking at photos and plans of things I’d never seen in person, all while fielding data questions and requests from the team in Turkey.

Last year I had the privilege of visiting both Poggio Civitate and Sardis for two weeks, and I was so, so happy. I didn’t care that I wasn’t there for the full season on either end. The opportunity to check in with all my colleagues and see the new discoveries in Italy, then to finally see Sardis, its storerooms, its monuments, and its dirt put me over the moon. I was connected again to what I love, and it made all the difference.

This summer, due to heavy publication loads, a retiring co-worker, and flat-out too many folks on the compound in Turkey (that’s what happens when Ankara sends 800 skeletons excavated in the 1960s back and you have to get a forensic anthropology team to process them), I’m in Somerville for the duration. And now that I’ve been to Sardis and met more of the people, the FOMO is renewed. And then some. The silver lining, however, is that I will be traveling to Italy in August for Poggio Civitate’s 50th excavation year anniversary celebrations. My favorite people, both ancient and modern, as well as my favorite dirt are only two months away.

So it’s wrangling data, FTP-ing site plans, getting all the info I can out of my retiring colleague, and requesting puppy photos for the time being. I know I’ll be in the field again soon enough.

Etruria-Anatolia Conference Redux: A Wonderful Opportunity with some Difficult Reminders


Winner of most gorgeous venue for a paper I’ve given

Last week I attended the Etruria-Anatolia conference mentioned in my previous post, held at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco Villa Giulia in Rome. And it was wonderful. In terms of conference content, networking opportunities, positive attitudes, supportive comments, and challenging, yet respectful questions, this conference wins for me. The co-organizers, Lisa Pieraccini and Elizabeth Baughan, did an outstanding job with a logistically-difficult task (made no less difficult by a transit strike in Rome the first day of the meeting!).

It was at this conference that I finally came to full realization as to how important a site Sardis is, and how internationally-revered the late director of Sardis, Crawford H. Greenewalt, Jr. is. The conference would not have taken place without him and his legacy, as the two organizers met for the first time at his memorial, and they included a wonderful dedication in the program. I shared it with the Sardis team, who was very touched, and I felt so proud to represent the excavation at this event in Rome.

We did not beat a dead horse at this conference. Papers focused on the historiography of these questions, on trade and interaction, influence moving both ways, and there were so many moments when an Anatolian scholar or an Etruscan scholar would show material in a slide, only to have someone from “the other side” say, “Wow, I didn’t know you had X over there! Can I get some more information on those objects/that museum collection?” THIS is why a conference of this type is such a wonderful opportunity.

While overwhelmingly positive as an event, there were a good number of times when I was reminded, quite bluntly, of the difficulties one encounters as a young female at an international conference. I will also state that there were zero people of color present at this event, which is a long-running, problematic issue in this subfield, and Classical archaeology in general.

I was thrilled to see more female speakers than male! This was a conference first for me. At the same time, though, only one panel discussant was female (the amazing Ingrid Edlund-Berry, who I want to be when I grow up). Questions were asked fairly evenly between male and female attendees. I was one of only two “early career” folks presenting. Everyone else there was well-established (and employed!) in their fields.  However, unlike other conferences I have attended where presenters of this status, especially female presenters, were treated entirely dismissively and disrespectfully, this did not occur here. Our contributions received as much attention and inquiry as all the others.

But it makes me sad that this event has been the exception to the rule. I was loaded for bear, ready to deal with people being flat out…mean, and hoping that if it happened, I wouldn’t cry, or at least I could make it to the restroom before I did.

The only real downside of this trip, and any international conference, really, as a young(ish) female is the problem of traveling alone. I was reminded of Tara Burton’s Salon article on the Dangers of Traveling While Female. Networking opportunities are missed when a woman like me is too worried about being able to make it back to her hotel safely. One evening last week while walking down the Via Flaminia to get dinner at around 8 pm, I was catcalled three times within five minutes and followed briefly by one man. I was wearing a calf-length skirt (not form-fitting in the least), a shirt with 3/4 length sleeves, no make up. This was at the exact same time as several women, dressed to the nines in heels and short, tight skirts, were walking on the same street. Then I realized…I was the only woman walking alone. With another man present, the catcalling didn’t happen.

This crap is exhausting, and it takes away from an otherwise spectacular trip and conference opportunity. I skipped going to dinner with colleagues because I was worried about getting back to my hotel alone (I’ve been harassed by a cab driver before, too), and I wonder how many other conference attendees did the exact same thing as I did…missed out on networking time, career building time, due to this pervasive, and entirely justified fear.

Etruria and Anatolia: Why this again?


Strangely enough, the first google image search hit for “Etruria Anatolia” is this lady, a Hellenistic cinerary urn from Chiusi, one of over 800 included in my dissertation

Next week I will be attending and presenting at a conference to be held at the Villa Giulia museum in Rome, Material Connections and Artistic Exchange: The Case of Etruria and Anatolia, and I am pretty darn excited. As an Etruscan specialist who now works for an Anatolian site, Sardis, this conference is the melding of my two worlds. I’ll finally be able to meet scholars from the Lydian side of things, as well as reconnect with all my Etruscan colleagues. Plus, hanging out in Rome in May ain’t a bad deal. And of course, I’m already envisioning myself prancing through the galleries at the Villa Giulia after hours like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

But Etruria and Anatolia…haven’t we beat this dead horse enough? Well, we really haven’t, because the amount of hits on the web one gets that insist that the MYSTERIOUS (shoot me) Etruscans sailed over from Lydia this one time far surpass those that say, “Hey guys, that’s not the situation here, as a ton of archaeology has demonstrated.” We have the surfacing and re-surfacing of that Guardian article from 2007 stating that genetic testing confirms the link, and not nearly enough circulation of the wonderful, rigorous, open-access article in PLOS that states the contrary.

We cannot deny, however, that at its most essential, there is a lot of stuff in Etruria that looks like a lot of stuff in Anatolia. I cannot count the number of times I’ve looked at an object in the Sardis databases and thought, “Man, the Etruscans would totally dig this.” Objects and ideas go back and forth, no one will deny, but it does not have to be the colonial model of Lydians sailing over and bringing culture wholesale into Etruria. Etruscan agency is, at the very least, an equal partner here.

You know what doesn’t happen enough, though? We don’t talk to each other. Etruscan scholars and Anatolian scholars do not chat on the regular. This conference is an ideal opportunity: a bit of historiography, a bit of iconography, a bit of trade and economics, etc.

And, as part of my journey through an alt-ac career, I had a major breakthrough. Without my asking, my boss came to me and said that Sardis wanted to offer financial support for my attendance at this conference and understands that it benefits my professional development, as well as raises the profile of the excavation. After having to take vacation days and spend my own money on academic conferences, I now have institutional support.

Now if I could just get them to take my term contract and make it permanent…

Off off-campus


Sometimes I feel like it should say “abandon all hope ye who enter here”. But there’s an awesome dog park to the left of this sign.

My office is off campus. Like, really  off campus. We jokingly call it Harvard West. Our building is in Somerville at the very end of Inner Belt Road, which I just learned has its own Wikipedia page.  We share a floor with the contractors responsible for the Green Line extension of the MBTA, and upstairs is a waste management company. And there we are, the off-site storage and offices for some of the departments of the Harvard Art Museums.

During the Art Museums’ major renovations, completed in fall of 2014, the entire staff worked at 200 IBR. As construction progressed, it became clear that not everyone could move back to 32 Quincy Street, across from Harvard Yard, because the new museum has even less office space than the old one. Museum Archives, Communications, a good portion of Collections Management, and we, the Sardis Expedition, did not return to Cambridge. Don’t get me wrong..I love the new Renzo Piano building, and the galleries are gorgeous. But I have to admit it is very difficult for those of us in IBR to feel like a real part of the museum.

Our building is at the very end of a long road through an industrial park, a solid 15 minute walk from the closest bus stop, with questionable sidewalks, a fairly sketchy tunnel underneath the commuter rail, and lots of large truck traffic. There is an hourly shuttle run by the museum for staff and visiting researchers that goes door to door, but if you miss one, you’ve got a full hour before the next. It’s hard to get student workers willing to come all the way out to us. They can’t work between classes…it just takes too long to go back and forth.

But for Sardis, an archaeological expedition that, historically, has been included with the Fogg Museum, is in an odd place. We’re really our own thing. We don’t have objects in the galleries, we rarely have academic programming at the museum, other than a biannual lecture by our director. In all honesty, most museum employees, especially new hires, have no idea we exist. We actually spend more time interacting with the Classics and History of Art departments. It is our office location, however, which presents a huge obstacle for us to raise our profile at the University. And I’m not sure how to fix it, other than moving back to campus. Networking is incredibly difficult, spontaneous run-ins with professors, students, or visitors cannot happen.

At the same time, we “outcasts” at IBR try to make the best of it. Normally we at Sardis wouldn’t have any reason to interact with Museum Archives, but now that our offices are next door we have ample opportunity to chat about the issues we face as archives. Likewise, having Communications next door has led to us learning more about branding and social media, something we need to seriously consider boosting if we’re going to raise our profile as a working excavation and data center.

Plus there are the silly moments like yesterday afternoon, where most of the IBR Museum staff gathered at the windows to watch the billowing brown clouds of smoke from a massive fire at a junk yard across Rte 128. I looked at my colleague in Archives and we both said at the same time, “Only in IBR.”

Behind the Scenes


Sardis Archival storage, with nearly 60 years of handwritten logs and reports

Nothing makes me nerd out harder than being in the storage spaces or archives of museums. I remember reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler about the two kids secretly living at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and being downright giddy at the idea of wandering through galleries when no one else is around. Even before reading this, the Sesame Street special “Don’t Eat the Pictures” was my favorite movie as a child. Again, the entire Sesame Street gang gets locked in the Met overnight and explores the galleries on their own.

It’s the same thing with museum storage…the idea of seeing things that others don’t normally get to see, looking at objects and documents that normally do not see the light of day. I suppose it’s the same rush I get from archaeological work…bringing something to light that’s been untouched for hundreds or thousands of years.

Today is the end of #MuseumWeek on Twitter and other social media platforms, and it’s my favorite. I love posting my own Sardis content (@Snarrkaeology), but I also love pouring over what other institutions post…ESPECIALLY the #secretsMW hashtag. The behind-the-scenes looks, most notably those posted by a number of Italian museums, were simply fascinating to me. And it reminds me how fortunate I’ve been in my own career and research.

As emotionally, physically, and intellectually exhausting as the dissertation process can be, some of my happiest moments from the last…however many years it took me to finish that thing…occurred during the process. My work required collections visits to institutions throughout the US and Europe, and at the end of the day…everyone was unbelievably welcoming and helpful, willing to drop what they were doing to get me what I needed. My best moments:

  1. Having a gallery closed off for me in the Vatican so that they could open the cases for my examination of the cremation urns there, joking with the three guards assigned to me, and drinking espressos with them right in the gallery.
  2. The Museo A. Salinas in Palermo letting me come in their building, during heavy construction, to examine object cards…while the entire staff was cramped into one room to do their own work.
  3. Coming to the Louvre on a Tuesday when they were closed to the public, having the cases opened for me, chatting with the head curator of Greek and Roman like he was a peer, and being left alone in storage for AN HOUR. I lost my mind.
  4. Days and days at the historic archives of the Florence archaeological superintendency hunched over hand-drawn plans and excavation reports from the 19th and 20th centuries, then spending break time with the staff drinking coffee and talking about our cats.
  5. Having the chance to examine urns at the Altes Museum in Berlin in storage, the galleries before opening, and in the brand new study center.
  6. Being locked in the Etruscan galleries of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek all by myself to examine the urns there…and to spend a good amount of time wandering around.

The list could go on, but I’ve been lucky to fulfill all my nerdy dreams.

And I want to pay it forward.

Archaeological archives are fascinating. We have so many wonderful documents here at the Sardis Archives at the Harvard Art Museums. If you’re interested, need something for your research, or just want to see something new, please let me know. Our doors are open if you need to nerd out.