Seeing Diversity in a Dig: Olynthos 2017

I know that my post on my time at Olynthos is nearly a month late now, but I had been struggling to decide what to write about. Sure, I could talk about my experience excavating (with little to no detail) or my experience working with special finds, but I think that what with the state of the world today I felt that this might be a little more pertinent.

Ever since I wrote my first post on being a PoC in classics, I have been more aware of the ways in which I have stood out – in the classroom, in my PhD program, in the field. I actually got the idea of writing about this when I got curious about one of our other projects, and whether or not they had any PoC this year (or ever). It turned out that, at least not at the time of their group photo, there wasn’t a single PoC in sight.

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The 2017 team at the Gabii Project

Now I should make some things clear here: first, this post is not about being mistreated or discriminated against in any way. I loved working on the Olynthos Project this year and 100% plan to return in the coming years. Second, as you look at the photo above, you may think that some of these people could be classified as PoC – and maybe they are. I don’t know for sure, because I did not excavate in Italy or at that particular site. But even if there are, the point is that there are not a lot of PoC on excavations in general.

Ethnically, the situation is very different, of course. At Olynthos alone, there were (at least) 16 different countries represented on the project – United States, Greece, United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, and Cyprus. Being run by the University of Michigan, the British School at Athens, and the Greek Archaeological Service, it is no surprise that the word about the project gets out and it gets out widely.

So how come there aren’t more PoC working on it?

I don’t have an answer to this myself, but it is something that I have been thinking a lot about recently. Why aren’t there more PoC in archaeology?

The ‘obvious’ answer – interest

It’s probably not a good idea to assume that PoC are so few in Mediterranean archaeology because of a lack of interest in the subject, and more interest in other types of archaeology, but it’s also probably true. In the list of countries represented on the Olynthos Project, how many of those are European countries? How many of those countries represent other continents in the world? The answer is one – the United States.

There aren’t any African countries, South American countries, or Asian countries – not because people from those countries aren’t interested in archaeology, but because they are probably more interested in the archaeology of their regions. I can imagine that there are far more PoC on projects in Egypt and the Sudan, in Latin American countries, and in China and the Pacific Islands than you might ever see in the Mediterranean. This is because it’s expensive to travel and even more expensive when you have to pay for field schools and room and board on projects you have no affiliation to – so why not work on the archaeology in your own backyard (so to speak)?

The United States is weird and different because, while we have our own archaeology, there are a lot of people who pay the money to go and work in Europe (or in Latin America, Africa, or Asia) because the opportunities for these things are more abundant. PhD students tend to join projects that are associated with their program, and the costs are usually covered. But there are still many anthropological archaeologists at many schools (Michigan included) who continue to work in America because that’s where their interests lie.

On the other hand, sometimes PhD students join the projects associated with their program because the opportunities to work in other places aren’t advertised widely enough. I knew many people at Olynthos who were graduate students in Europe and that either didn’t know how to apply to the Athenian Agora excavations (run by the American School at Athens) or had never heard of it. I have friends now who work on Keros and at Lefkandi but these are both British School excavations and thus I had never heard of them (and they cut into my school year quite a bit).

The numbers

Another crucial factor in why there may not be so many PoC in (Mediterranean) archaeology might be the numbers of PoC in the field. I haven’t been able to locate a survey of archaeologists, but this survey by the Society for Classical Studies speaks volumes about the disparity on all levels.

In 2014, while there were 9% minorities in undergraduate Classics majors in the United States, there were just 7% minorities in PhD programs and 3% in terminal MA programs. (For comparison, the number of minorities in tenure track faculty positions was 5%, with only 2% minority tenured professors!) This is staggering because, with so little PoC in Classics graduate programs to begin with, it’s no wonder that the opportunities for archaeological fieldwork fall on deaf ears.

I can only hope that there are perhaps more PoC in archaeology programs, or even anthropology (or anthropological archaeology) programs, due to the wider range of topics and places covered. If anyone knows of a survey with the numbers, please share!

With all of this in mind as I embark on my second year of my PhD program and look more and more towards the future, I am more determined than ever to work hard and succeed and spread the word about this disparity. As I’ve said in the past, I think that it’s crucial for PoC to have more representation in Classics and in Archaeology programs, and the fact that the numbers for students and professors alike are so low is concerning – but it confirms my suspicions.

We need to show everyone that times are changing, that Classics is for everyone, and the only way to do that is by getting out there and being visible – not just throwing up some slides about slavery or PoC in ancient frescoes.

I hope that as I go into my first year of teaching I will inspire someone – really anyone – to get involved in archaeology or classics. But if they’re a PoC, then that would certainly be a bonus!

 

My Solo Trip to Sounion

It might not seem obvious to anyone (I hope), but I am a very anxious person. I overthink everything down to the last detail, take photos of Google maps just in case (even though I can still use the GPS without wifi), show up too early in fear of being late, and generally avoid eye contact with anyone who might accost me on the street in a foreign city that I actually know pretty well (even if I’m still learning the language).

It certainly doesn’t help that I’ve spent a week alone in said foreign city with little knowledge of the language (I know some key phrases, and lots of words for fruits and animals) and zero company save for my Airbnb host. But I’ve made my peace with it all, and have somehow managed to do one thing I was most anxious about doing all week: leaving Athens on my own.

It was really my Airbnb host’s idea – to go to Sounion. I remember when she first suggested it I kind of laughed and thought to myself “that’ll never happen” and “I’ve got a whole month to go, maybe I’ll find someone to go with me” but as the days passed, I felt like this was something I needed to do. The best things happen outside of your comfort zone, no?

So, as I do, I planned it all out. Did the research: What time does the bus leave and where does it leave from? How long will it take on the metro to get to the bus station? How much will it cost? What is there to do at the site? But, of course, no matter how much research you do, there are always bound to be surprises.

The first surprise came when I arrived at the bus station, KTEL Attikis, located on a moderately busy street in Omonia (a 2-ish minute walk from the Victoria metro station, if you don’t get lost like I did). I asked the Greek men at the counter where the bus to Sounion left from, and he directed me to another counter about 50 meters down the road. So I went there and checked the timetables, only to find out that the information about the bus times I got both from my Airbnb host AND the internet were incorrect. I had arrived at 11:45am in the hopes of leaving by noon, but there were no buses leaving at 12:00pm. Only 11:05am and 1:05pm.

Of course, I could have just given up and gone home. That’s what the introvert in me would have done. But I figured I was already there and I’d brought my lunch, so I might as well stick around. So I walked to the National Archaeological Museum and sat outside eating my sandwich until about 12:30pm, then walked back over to the bus station and waited till the bus was about to leave.

The second surprise came when I was already on the bus and we had left the station. As the man who collected the fare came around, I was prepared to pay the 5 or so euros I had seen on the internet as being the fare for the trip, but found out that instead it was 6 euros and 90 cents! One of the reasons I convinced myself to go was that it would only cost me approximately 10 euros roundtrip, but despite my disappointment I was already on the bus and had to make due (good thing I brought a few extra euros just in case).

The trip from Omonia to Cape Sounion in all was about 2 hours long. We took a beautiful coastal road (though it was mostly cloudy all day) and switched buses in Anavyssos. The bus dropped us off right at the site, which consisted of a taverna, a gift shop, and the oh-so-commanding temple of Poseidon. There might have been a small museum as well, but I could be mistaken.

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I also saw some super cool settlement foundations that got the archaeology student gears in my head working, because – if you know anything about me at all – one of the reasons I chose the U of M and why I chose to work at Olynthos (in July) was so that I could learn more about ancient domestic space. However, I will leave my reactions to these particular archaeological ruins to a different post (I have a lot of feelings)!

I spent about an hour at the site, but of course you could spend anywhere from an afternoon to a whole day there if you wanted. I was trying to save money so I didn’t eat at the taverna, and couldn’t figure out how you got down to the beach from the site, but I’m sure I could convince people to visit the site with me again before I leave Attica in July…

tl;drHow do you get to Sounion? Take the metro to the KTEL Attikis station in Omonia, wait at the bus station until the time the bus leaves, pay 6,90 euros, after a two hour ride you’ll reach your destination! Can you do it in less than a day? Sure! I did it in an hour! There’s a nice taverna, a gift shop, and beaches down below the site. Was it worth the trip? As an archaeologist, I am biased, but I definitely think so! There are super cool ruins and a beautiful view! Plus, it’s nice a cool up there thanks to the cross winds from the sea (and some cloudy coverage).

In other news, my friends will be here this weekend and archaeological excavations start on Monday! Thanks for reading!

When in Doubt, Throw Some Pots

I’m hoping lots of people will be intrigued enough by the title of this post to read it… But alas, if you know anything about how pottery is made, you will know that I was not, in fact, throwing pots in the literal sense (although that may have been fun, too).

In January, I heard from a little birdie (aka one of my cohort-mates) that she was signed up for a six-week pottery throwing class and instantly became intrigued. I had always been interested in the iconography of pottery – especially those styles and themes typical of Archaic and Classical Greece – but it was not until this term that I started to think more about the forms, functions, and general make-up of pottery. She thought it would be a really good opportunity to go and learn how pottery was made, and I agreed. So I signed up. And I loved it.

For $190-ish for a six week, two-hour a week class, we learned so much and I wish that I had had the time to go in for some extra practice (since the course fee included an extra 12 hours of studio time outside of class). All of my pots came out looking pretty similar to one another – small, sort of round bowls – until I learned how to make larger vessels like plates and large bowls. I never quite got the hang of pulling (where you stretch the clay upwards to make taller shapes, which would in turn become more bulbous shapes, like jugs and honeypots), but I was content with what I had learned in such a short amount of time.

In addition to learning the basics, I felt that it was such a wonderful escape every week to go and put all of my energy into learning these pottery throwing techniques. It wasn’t anything like the work I had to do in the office – no reading, writing, or even really thinking required. You just grabbed your hunk of clay, sat down, and let the wheel and your hands work their magic (to the best of your ability). Even when your work totally sucked and didn’t turn out the way you wanted, it was still so much fun, and I hope to be able to do it again in the future.

As it relates to ancient ceramics, I feel as though I’ve learned so much about that inadvertently. Our pottery throwing instructor, Nancy, was not super familiar with ancient pottery – though she was super excited to hear about our experiences in the field and as PhD students venturing into an archaeological experiment with her class. I think that this class has given me a real understanding of the amount of effort, time, and technical knowledge required for throwing pottery on the wheel. Especially as I struggled with the (relatively simple?) technique of pulling and stretching my clay into a taller shape, I could only imagine the huge lebetes gamikoi of Greece and Italy, which must have required an immense amount of skill to produce.

It has given me such an appreciation for ancient ceramics, and makes me want to hone my pottery throwing skills a little more so that I can replicate something from the ancient world (I’d love to make a pyxis – with a lid!) in the future. The friend I took the class with made a Carthaginian lamp that turned out so nicely, especially after it had been fired.

I highly recommend taking a pottery throwing class if you ever get the chance and are even remotely interested in ancient ceramics – it can be so eye opening (and a really nice break from Real Work)! Has anyone done anything similar before? What were your thoughts? I’d love to know about other people’s experiences!

Being a PoC in Classics: Some Thoughts

Ever since reading another blog post written by someone who had attended the Archaeological Institute of America/Society for Classical Studies joint annual meeting in Toronto, Canada, and realized that there needs to be more representation in Classics (see: Classical Studies’ glass ceiling is white), I’ve been thinking a little bit more about being a person of color in Classics than usual.

Here’s my situation – I have been an avid fan of Classics since I sat down in the computer lab on my registration day the summer before my freshman year of college, almost five years ago. Then, of course, I didn’t think anything of the color of my skin in relation to my colleagues. However, the disparity was and has always been there: in most Classics-related classes I have taken since then, I have been one of maybe two PoCs (with the other one only being marginally interested in Classics or just taking the course to get a general education credit out of the way, cue eye roll), and those classes have always been taught by white men and women. The disconnect became more glaring when I went on my first excavation, at the Athenian Agora in Athens, Greece, a two month experience where I got to engage in Classical Archaeology first hand and which reinforced my absolute love for the field. Sure, I had noticed that there were less than a handful of PoCs on the excavation, including myself, but it was not until I started writing statements of purpose for graduate school, some two years later, that it really hit me.

The ratio of whites to non-whites in Classics is abysmal. But I don’t think that’s really anyone’s fault. The field was built up by rich white men who wanted to collect ‘cool old stuff’ (that’s a technical term) and show it off to their friends to make themselves appear more affluent and impressive.

A lot of people, including the person who wrote the above mentioned article, believe that the problem is the lack of discussions of representation and race in the classroom. But I don’t really think so. I don’t think that seeing PoC represented in ancient art, or reading about them in ancient literature, or discussing the differences between modern and ancient slavery are unimportant approaches to the issue of race, but I do think that it can be incredibly discouraging to not see many people who look like you working in your field.

This quote from a Ted Talk by Dena Simmons on imposter syndrome spoke volumes to me:

I have eternal imposter syndrome. Either I’ve been invited because I’m a token, which really isn’t about me, but rather, about a box someone needed to check off. Or, I am exceptional, which means I’ve had to leave the people I love behind. It’s the price that I and so many others pay for learning while black.

In fact, it made me realize the real reason why I was doing all of this – sure, I’m pretty deep into my field (I’m getting my PhD, aren’t I?) so I don’t feel the burning need or desire to be force-fed seminars on representation in the ancient world since I know it all well enough. However, my ultimate goal is to become a professor and conduct my own research, and I think that those things are important for students of color who are marginally interested in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences majors because I think that if they could only see people who look like them doing what they love, then maybe they would be inspired to pursue their interests as well. I know I would have.

I get it. Parents are often protective of their children, wanting the best for them or better-for-them-than-they-had and push them into jobs that will get them somewhere, like law or medicine. My own mother, when I was thinking about where to go for high school, since where I grew up had magnet schools, really wanted me to pursue an engineering magnet (I suspect because she’s an engineer herself). I think I’ve had an aversion to science since I came out of the womb, so I made a beeline for the arts magnet and never looked back.

I am grateful to have a mother who has supported me so much from day one, even when I have stumbled over myself trying to explain what I could possibly do with a Classics major (A Lot!).

I am very lucky to have not had to go through a terrible time in my youth or my college years, to not have been discriminated against, to have been supported every step of the way by my professors, and to have been accepted into my dream graduate program. But I know that not everyone has been so lucky, and that not everyone is so secure in their interests that they feel confident enough to truly pursue them.

I can only hope that more people will be inspired to do so, especially in Classics and in Classical Archaeology, whether it be on their own or be from seeing someone who looks like them doing what they want to do and being where they want to be.

Maybe then the ratio of whites to non-whites at annual meetings won’t be so striking.