Students and professors "dig" into the past

Allison Busacca
Writer

The Gallery Theatre in the Elaine Langone Center was filled on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. with an audience eager to learn about the University’s Excavation in Thebes, Greece. Two University associate professors of classics, Kevin Daly and Stephanie Larson, gave the presentation on the University’s first two seasons of an archaeological dig (summers of 2011 and 2012) at the sanctuary of the Ismenian Apollo. Larson and Daly headed a select group of students along with several Penn State University students on a six-week long excavation. They spent hours each day digging in the Mediterranean sun at the Ismenion hill and an area to the northwest of the hill.

Daly began the presentation with “Thebes in Context,” a fascinating account of the mythology and history behind Thebes.

“[Thebes is] ground zero for much of Greek mythology,” Daly said.

He explained the importance of “how myth informs archaeology and vice versa.” Thebes is the birthplace of Hercules and Oedipus, where the alphabet originated and an ancient Greek power. With its historical and mythical presence, it is a natural site for excavation.

Larson continued the presentation with a discussion on some of the excavation team’s discoveries. One of her favorite discoveries was late sixth/early seventh century BCE Byzantine graves which revealed vessels and bones. Also of interest to the group was a red-figure askos, a vase depicting a scene of two humans fighting two sphinxes. The group also cleaned the southwestern side of a temple to restore it.

Jen Weber ’13, who went on the 2012 season, called the trip “one of the most unique summer experiences” she’s ever had. Even though the days were hot and required a lot of physical labor, she said the “anticipation that you might find something really awesome in a trench at any time during the day” kept her going. Digging the graves was “the most interesting and challenging part” of the excavation.

Larson and Daly explained how they get their digs started in Greece. First, they have to get the locals on board. They have to get approval to do these digs from the local Greeks through the Central Archaeological Council of the Greek Ministry of Culture. They must also agree that the knowledge of the material and what they find belongs to the Greek state. All the artifacts must stay in Greece to respect their community and history. Second, they need funding. Their largest funder is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Additional funding comes from the University and other contributions, including The Gladys Delmas Foundation and the Loeb Library Foundation.

The presentation was complete with pictures and maps of the area, detailing the work the excavation team did.

“Professors Larson and Daly gave a really wonderful presentation that explained why it’s important both to us and to current archaeological studies,” Weber said.

The third season will go from June 17 to July 26 in 2013. 

“[I am] looking forward to opening up a new area right above the ancient temple and continuing to explore the second millennium BCE tomb we found last year,” Larson said.

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