Tag Archives: Research Laboratories of Archaeology

A monumental dig

A large-scale archaeological project on Crete has created an enduring collaboration, an experiential global learning opportunity for UNC students and a future heritage tourism site for the region.

For 16 years, UNC researchers and students have led a large international archaeological team at Azoria, on the island of Crete. In this photo, you see an overhead view of people digging on the Azoria site.

For 16 years, UNC researchers and students have led a large international archaeological team at Azoria, on the island of Crete. (photo by Donald Haggis)

Morning begins early, well before 6 a.m., in the small Greek village of Kavousi, on the island of Crete. Pickup trucks rumble up a winding road in the western Siteia mountains, passing by olive trees — one at least 1,500 years old — and wild flora to transport faculty and students to the top of a steep hill with a breathtaking view of Mirabello Bay below.

Their destination: Azoria, an archaeological site where UNC researchers and students have led a large international, interdisciplinary team for 16 years. Their goal has been to excavate and study the sociopolitical and economic structure of an emerging city in its transition from the Early Iron Age to the Archaic periods (7th to 5th centuries B.C.). It is the first example of an early Greek urban center recovered from Crete — and perhaps the best documented in the Aegean.

Professors Margaret Scarry and Donald Haggis take a break in an archaic (6th c. B.C.) storeroom of the West Building at Azoria.

Professors Margaret Scarry and Donald Haggis take a break in an archaic (6th c. B.C.) storeroom of the West Building at Azoria. (Photo by J. Martini)

It’s hot, dirty, messy and important work, and it’s been the long-term passion of Donald Haggis, the Nicholas A. Cassas Term Professor of Greek Studies in UNC’s department of classics. He established the Azoria Project in 2001 under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Early on, he brought in UNC archaeobotanist Margaret Scarry to the project. She’s an expert in plant remains and the current chair of the curriculum in archaeology and director of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology (RLA). That move would prove to be fortuitous, given what they would find over the years about the importance of food and communal dining to the city’s civic life. Another key partner is Margaret Mook of Iowa State University, Azoria’s pottery specialist.

Summer 2017 marked the last season of excavation for Azoria, which will be followed by five years of study and analysis. It’s also a time for reflection on the monumental scale of the project — which has raised over $1.8 million in competitive grants (including funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation), trained over 300 undergraduate and graduate students, and resulted in the publication of 35 articles and book chapters and 80 papers.

UNC classical archaeology Ph.D. student Cicek Beeby (center) works with trench assistants Zachary Lingle (chemistry, minor in archaeology ’15) and Mallory Melton (anthropology, archaeology ’14.

UNC classical archaeology Ph.D. student Cicek Beeby (center) works with trench assistants Zachary Lingle (chemistry, minor in archaeology ’15) and Mallory Melton (anthropology, archaeology ’14). (photo by Donald Haggis)

Students have come from universities in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, France, Australia and New Zealand.

“This multidisciplinary approach has resulted in a dynamic, intellectual cross-fertilization of fields — bridging departmental divides that sometimes separate the humanities, social and natural sciences,” Haggis said.

Many of the UNC students who have worked at Azoria say it has been among the most formative experiences of their academic careers.

Azoria quite frankly changed his life, said Tucker Watkins King, who spent three seasons on Crete and also worked with the RLA. He graduated in 2017 with majors in archaeology and anthropology and a minor in classical humanities. He plans to apply to graduate school.

“What I love about archaeology is that a little bit of curiosity can take you to amazing places,” he

said. “My participation in the Azoria Project has inspired me to do what I love and seek a career in archaeology. I would never have realized how much ‘playing in the dirt’ brings my life fulfillment.”

Food as the center of civic life

UNC student Anna Dallara (classics ’17) excavates in the Protoarchaic Building (7th c. B.C.)

UNC student Anna Dallara (classics ’17) excavates in the Protoarchaic Building (7th c. B.C.) (photo by L. Thompson)

Archaeological work at Azoria has revealed buildings used for public functions and evidence of communal dining and large-scale feasting.

Archaeologists call the most prominent structure they have unearthed the Monumental Civic Building, a large hall lined with benches that could accommodate about 150 people. It would have been used for communal dining and public meetings, possibly functioning as an early council house. Connected to that building is a small shrine. Archaeologists have also uncovered what they call the Communal Dining Building, composed of suites of interconnected kitchens, storerooms and dining rooms, and — discovered this past summer — a large warehouse for storing food.  An exciting find is a beam olive press, which uses a lever and weights system and is the earliest known example in Greece.

“In the beginning, we envisioned quite a different character to the city,” Scarry said. “But over the course of the excavations, it became apparent that the site was focused around the use of food as the grease for the politics. I don’t know of any other place where we have quite this kind of configuration.”

UNC classical archaeology graduate students Sheri Pak (left) and Melissa Eaby (Ph.D. classical archaeology ’07) examine pottery at the INSTAP Study Center for East Crete.

UNC classical archaeology graduate students Sheri Pak (left) and Melissa Eaby (Ph.D. classical archaeology ’07) examine pottery at the INSTAP Study Center for East Crete. (photo by M.S. Mook)

The sheer scale and size of Azoria is atypical, she noted. “The amount of earth we’ve moved in 10 excavation seasons is uncommon these days. At the end of the summer, we took some drone pictures of the site; it’s pretty stunning.”

The city was destroyed in a catastrophic fire at the beginning of the 5th century B.C.

A meaningful experience for students and faculty

Long before “experiential learning” became a buzzword, Azoria was providing that opportunity to students. Undergraduates spend eight- to 12-hour days working alongside faculty, graduate students and Greek residents. They live in local villages and learn to navigate the customs and culture of daily life. They work at the dig site and the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete in nearby Pacheia Ammos. There, they process archaeological findings — plant remains, animal bones and pottery.

An aerial view shows the South Acropolis, Azoria.

An aerial view shows the South Acropolis, Azoria. (photo by D. Faulmann)

They must be adaptable and flexible, as each day unveils new surprises in the soil beneath their feet.

“Taking students into the field is perhaps the most gratifying teaching experience I have had in my 25 years as a university professor,” Haggis said. “It is essentially a sink-or-swim immersion in an intensive field situation.”

Here’s how some of the students characterize their experience:

“I have really flourished academically and socially here in Crete. Each day onsite is an amazing experience. It is exhilarating to be surrounded by centuries of history and people who contain such vast amounts of knowledge about this history,” said Andrianna Dallis (classical archaeology and psychology ’20, with a minor in neuroscience).

“My first season as a trench assistant with the project was a major turning point in my intellectual development. I was immediately captivated by the interpretative problems posed by field excavation and the satisfaction that came in the pursuit of greater understanding,” said Alex Griffin, (classical archaeology ’17), who will be entering the classics post-baccalaureate program at UNC this year.

Project chief conservator, Stephania Chlouveraki, teaching object conservation to students at INSTAP-Study Center for East Crete.

Project chief conservator, Stephania Chlouveraki, teaching object conservation to students at INSTAP-Study Center for East Crete. (Photo by L. Thompson)

“Azoria has shaped the way that I conduct my research. As an undergraduate I quickly became interested in urban problems — how cities work, how communities function and why some communities thrive while others dissolve. Azoria provides the cornerstone for a lot of my thinking on these issues,” said Drew Cabaniss (classical archaeology ’15, with minors in geology and ancient Greek). He is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan.

Public humanities and cultural tourism

Azoria is also a significant public humanities project for the University, said Haggis. From the project’s inception, he and others have been committed to side-by-side excavation and conservation as well as sustainable cultural tourism.

An aerial view of the storerooms of the West Building at Azoria shows deposits of storage vessels.

An aerial view of the storerooms of the West Building at Azoria shows deposits of storage vessels. (Photo by D. Faulmann)

In 2012, Azoria won a Best Practices in Site Preservation Award from the Archaeological Institute of America for its focus on working with local specialists in stewardship of the site.

A new grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation will support the final stages of site conservation and public programming, with the long-term goal of creating an archaeological park that will provide a positive economic impact for the region.

“Our work has reached diverse and international non-academic audiences,” Haggis said. “We consider public education — local and global — to be the most important outcome of our work.”

Learn more at azoria.org.

By Kim Weaver Spurr ’88

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helping students explore being Maya

Adonis Tello-Chavez (above) of Morganton’s Patton High School pores over records in Wilson Library. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

Adonis Tello-Chavez (above) of Morganton’s Patton High School pores over records in Wilson Library. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

Fourteen high school students listened attentively as UNC anthropologist Gabrielle Vail invited them to examine letters, drawings, photos, diaries, codices, newspapers and other Maya materials from the Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library.

“Start thinking about these materials in terms of ‘how can I tell the story of Maya migration?’” Vail said. “Explore them from a historical perspective, but also bring it into the present and think of a personal connection.”

Students receive research instructions at Wilson Library from Maya from the Margins project coordinator Gabrielle Vail. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

Students receive research instructions at Wilson Library from Maya from the Margins project coordinator Gabrielle Vail. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

Maya from the Margins is a program that fosters cultural understanding among Maya youth on both sides of the border — Morganton, N.C., and Yucatán, Mexico. Together, the students are exploring their indigenous identity through workshops, online discussions, archival research and visits to their respective countries, where they will meet face-to-face. At the capstone event this spring, both sets of students will develop research projects in English and Spanish that will be on public display.

On April 13 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., visitors to UNC’s Wilson Library Pleasants Family Assembly Room can enjoy the exchange exhibition “Revitalizing Maya History and Heritage: My View from the Archives,” curated by students from Morganton and Mexico.

The program is funded by a Museums Connect grant, an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the American Alliance of Museums. Partners include the Southern Historical Collection, the UNC department of anthropology and Research Laboratories of Archaeology, and the State Archives of Yucatán. Vail is project coordinator of Maya from the Margins, which builds on longtime cultural heritage work by Kenan Eminent Professor of Anthropology Patricia McAnany.

Maya from the Margins builds on longtime cultural heritage work by Kenan Professor of Anthropology Patricia McAnany. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

Maya from the Margins builds on longtime cultural heritage work by Kenan Professor of Anthropology Patricia McAnany. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

“If you look at the changing texture of the South demographically … these students are grappling with all kinds of things, including ‘how can I embrace my past and where I find myself today?’” said Bryan Giemza, director of the SHC, which houses the papers and materials of George E. Stuart (Ph.D. anthropology ’75), a scholar of the ancient Maya whose archaeological career with the National Geographic Society spanned nearly four decades. “They are very insightful; their interpretations are really sophisticated.”

Patton High School senior Eduardo Mendoza’s parents traveled from Guatemala to Morganton, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in 1998 looking for better job opportunities. (2010 U.S. Census data indicates a Latino population of 16.4 percent in Morganton, about double the state average.)

Mendoza said he does a lot of online research in school, so he appreciates the exposure to these rare documents.

“You can tell the professors are very passionate about what they do, and I like that I have the opportunity to ask them questions,” he said.

Maya from the Margins students at Patton High School in Morganton, N.C.

Maya from the Margins students at Patton High School in Morganton, N.C.

It’s also been a great experience for two UNC undergraduate students who serve as mentors. Jacqueline López is a senior pursuing a double major in Latin American studies and public policy. She spent six weeks in Yucatán in 2015 and has been working with the students on learning Yucatec Maya. She will accompany them on their study abroad trip.

“I didn’t start developing the tools to explore my own culture until I arrived at UNC,” said López, a first-generation college student. “To help them do that earlier in their careers has been so rewarding.”

The program has spawned other collaborations that extend beyond the core partners and the campus, McAnany said. Other UNC faculty members have conducted workshops with the students at their high school in Morganton, such as associate professor of romance studies Emilio del Valle Escalante, who speaks K’iche’ Maya. The city of Asheville is interested because Valladolid, where the Yucatán students live, is a sister city. Connections have been made with a Maya archaeologist who teaches at UNC-Asheville. High school teachers, church groups and others have pledged their support.

“We are very happy to be working on a project that is building bridges with our neighbors to the south rather than walls,” McAnany said.

By Kim Weaver Spurr ’88

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Enjoy more photos from the culmination of the project and the connection between the student groups in Yucatan and Morganton!

Museums Connect mentor Raina Enrique (senior at UNC-Chapel Hill) with students from the Universidad de Oriente de Yucatan at the opening of their exhibit at the State Archives of Yucatan. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)

Museums Connect mentor Raina Enrique (senior at UNC-Chapel Hill) with students from the Universidad de Oriente de Yucatan at the opening of their exhibit at the State Archives of Yucatan. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)

From left, Gabrielle Vail, Bryan Giemza and Patricia McAnany at the State Archives of Yucatan. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)

From left, Gabrielle Vail, Bryan Giemza and Patricia McAnany at the State Archives of Yucatan. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)

The two groups of students (from Patton High School and the Universidad de Oriente de Yucatan) had their first opportunity to share their research with each other and the community at an exhibit in Morganton. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)

The two groups of students (from Patton High School and the Universidad de Oriente de Yucatan) had their first opportunity to share their research with each other and the community at an exhibit in Morganton. (photo courtesy of Gabrielle Vail)