From measuring fragments of monasteries in Paris to performing some of the first archaeological explorations of the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, professors in Brown's archaeology department have had a busy summer. Speaking to a packed audience in Rhode Island Hall Wednesday, six archaeologists presented the work they and their teams completed this season in an attempt to concisely answer the oft-asked question, "So what's the best thing you found?"
Answers to this question were numerous and highlighted the diversity of projects undertaken by the department.
A high point of the talk was a presentation by Stephen Houston - professor of archaeology, anthropology and social science - on his fieldwork at the Mayan Temple of the Night Sun.
Many of the projects continued work from past years. Professor of Archaeology, Anthropology and Classics John Cherry and his team completed year three of the Survey and Landscape Archaeology on Montserrat (SLAM) project this summer.
The people of the small island of Montserrat in the West Indies have shared a home with an active volcano since 1995, when the Soufriere Hills volcano came out of dormancy and began erupting, causing a mass evacuation of the southern half of the island and burying the capital city of Plymouth under 40 feet of ash. The volcanic activity and relocation of people and infrastructure to the north of the island have threatened the island's archaeological sites, many of which are undocumented.
The aim of the SLAM project is to find and catalogue these sites and decide how much risk is posed to each site by the mass relocation of people and the continually erupting volcano, Cherry said.
The team spent the summer trekking around the accessible half of the island cataloguing and exploring sites. Thus far, the team has found and explored about 45 sites and several hundred cultural landscape features, finding pieces like a 17th century Dutch pipe stem. An exciting discovery made by the team, Cherry said, included a site with artifacts dated from 2000-800 BC, making Montserrat one of only five islands in the Eastern Caribbean on which artifacts from this period have been found.
Prior to SLAM, the island had seen few archaeological projects and had no basic inventory of historical and prehistorical sites and cultural resources. To that end, the team also set up a temporary archaeological exhibit of artifacts in the island museum, taught archaeology in grade schools and represented archaeology at the island's career fair.
Another cross-section of artifacts and culture was embarked upon by Peter van Dommelen, professor of archaeology and anthropology, who spent the summer studying knowledge and culture exchange between the Phoenician and Nuragic cultures on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, aiming to answer the question, "How can we gauge transfer of knowledge between different cultural situations?"
The research centered on two different ways of attaching a handle to a piece of pottery. In the traditional Phoenician manner, the handle was attached directly to the outside of the piece, while Nuragic potters first made a hole in the pot, inserted the handle and attached it from the inside, he said.
Though this might seem like a mundane detail at first, van Dommelen said, it turns out to be important in that different traditions of attaching handles reflect cultural choices. For example, this summer Phoenician-style ceramics with handles attached in the Nuragic way were discovered on the central west coast of Sardinia. Van Dommelen concluded this indicated a high level of interaction between the two cultures, a reflection of "long-term working and living together," because pottery depends so much on apprenticeship and the sharing of knowledge.
"Ceramics traditions are about cultural traditions," he said.
A very different type of investigation took place in France, where Sheila Bonde, professor of archaeology and art and architecture, engaged in what she termed rescue archaeology, which includes studying sites that have been previously excavated, overlooked or built over. In particular, Bonde talked about three sites where she concentrated her work.
This included a site in Paris, where Bonde investigated fragments of the Grande Chapelle de la Vierge, a chapel built under Louis IX, remnants of which are now scattered in various locations. The measurements she made helped create a map of the chapel through what is now modern Paris. Bonde noted that while she had to get special permission to touch the fragments, several local children were using the site as an improvised playground.
"I am trying in my modest way to save all three (sites)," she said.
Assistant Professor of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World Omur Harmansah took on a third season of a survey project in the Konya province in Turkey. He and his team discovered a Neolithic cave, excavated an archaeological landscape with a Hellenistic and Hittite fortress and series of springs, and found Hittite pottery and Hellenistic material.
Alcock and her team continued work started by Martha Joukowsky, who was present in the audience, on the Petra Great Temple in Jordan. They conducted geophysical and excavation work on the upper market and did a survey of 600 hectares, which included shrines, tombs, quarries, walls and a dam.