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R-MC Students and Faculty Dig into History in Greece

Aug 08, 2017


classics department in GreeceSince 2009, Professor John Camp II, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Classics at R-MC, has traveled with five of his students (known as the Niarchos Summer Fellows) to the Agora, which once served as the center of economic, social and intellectual life in Greece.

Camp and his students—along with undergraduate and graduate students from around the world—worked for eight weeks at the site as they honed their archaeological skills.

The 2017 Niarchos Summer Fellows
Ashley Snead '19 (archaeology, classics, and theatre major), Mathieu desRochers '19 (archaeology, Latin, and Greek major; classics minor); Molly Karaman '20 (classics and archaeology major; theatre minor); Neecole Gregory '18 (archaeology and classics major); and Grace McIntire '19 (Latin and Greek major; education and history minor) are the 2017 Niarchos Summer Fellows.

Camp and these students were joined by senior Agora supervisor Laura Gawlinski '98 (professor of classics and chair of the classics department at Loyola University Chicago); Agora supervisor Nick Seetin '06 (a Ph.D. candidate at Maryland and an adjunct professor of classics at R-MC); and volunteer Nadhira Hill '16 (R-MC classics and archaeology major; Ph.D. candidate in classics at University of Michigan).

Mathieu desRochers '19
"To be a Niarchos Fellow means to be included in the longstanding tradition of preserving Hellenic cultural heritage," says desRochers. "The Niarchos Foundation has always been on the front lines of promoting cultural education for both ancient and modern Hellenic culture."

The best part of being a Fellow is being able to travel the world while promoting cultural education, says desRochers, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in classical or maritime archaeology.

"Archaeology isn't just about finding cool things," she says. "We always have fun when we're digging and we know that what we're doing is helping educate visitors about Hellenic (and world) heritage. We're also very fortunate to live in a global city, the capital of Greece! Every day we learn new things about the ancient world and learn to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Also, we are able to challenge our perceptions of archaeological theory and experience firsthand the thrill of digging."

Grace McIntire '19
"This is my first dig, and I am incredibly honored to be chosen as a Niarchos Fellow," says McIntire. With a dustpan, broom, trowel, or pick in hand, she "soon learned how to make the cleanest dirt you’ve ever seen by weeding and sweeping up loose dirt and rocks."

The best part of being at the Agora, she says, is that "this fellowship has made the impossible possible, since, without financial support, I never thought I'd be able to go to Greece. This fellowship allows me to fully enjoy my time at the Agora."

McIntire, whose post-R-MC plans include graduate school, says that the Agora community is unique and close-knit.

"It's one of the closest I've found and I've enjoyed getting to know and learn from distinguished archeologists," she says. "This has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I don't want it to end." McIntire has also enjoyed the opportunity to travel and discover new things.

"I never thought I'd be able to visit so many museums and ancient sites and see in person the famous works that I've read about in textbooks," she says. "On the weekends I've traveled to Corinth, Delphi, Sounion, Aegina, Eleusis, Santorini, Mycenae, Nauplion, Epidaurus, and Piraeus. I would not have been able to do any of this without the Niarchos Fellowship."

Neecole Gregory '18
Archaeology has been Gregory's passion since she was a small child.

"Being a Niarchos Fellow means that I have someone who believes in my vision enough to invest in my enthusiasm for it," she says. "That level of faith is a wondrous feeling."

Excavators dig in passes—layers of soil that are removed systematically, whether it be from the ground or an ancient wall. Much of Gregory's work involves a hand broom and a dust pan.

"Keeping my area clean from foreign objects is very important because the context—my area's relation to history, other areas, and artifacts—has to stay pure," explains Gregory, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in archaeology. “This ensures that the dating of artifacts and areas, which are known as baskets, is accurate. To do this, I sweep and clean the area to almost pristine conditions. We use a special technique in which we take our handpicks and pick into dustpans. Once the dustpan is full, we thoroughly inspect the soil in our pans by hand before disposing of it. In large-scale projects where a lot of dirt is removed at once, we will sieve.”

Using a toothbrush, sponge, and a bucket of water, excavators wash everything they collect, from the smallest of shards and rocks to large pieces of tile and pottery. After the pieces are washed, they are sorted and photographed.

Molly Karaman '20
"The excavations provide an incredible learning opportunity in an area rich in history," says Karaman. "The Agora is the perfect place to grow as an archaeologist."

Mentorship and discovery are important parts of the Agora experience, says Karaman, whose post-R-MC plans may include graduate school.

"The supervisors and their assistants, along with returning diggers such as Nadhira, offer advice and help new diggers adjust to the excavation," she says. "In addition, there are other opportunities available, such as lectures and tours, that are available for those who want to learn more about various areas of archaeology."

Nadhira Hill '16
Hill, a Niarchos Summer Fellow in 2014 and 2015, served this year as a volunteer.

"It was wonderful to return to the Agora and work with Professor Camp, alumni, and current students," she says. "After one season, the Agora felt like home, and that is one of the reasons why I keep coming back."

Hill's tenure at the Agora this year was cut short by her interest in excavating with the Olynthos Project, an excavation connected to the University of Michigan, the University of Liverpool, and the Greek Archaeological Service.

"I worked in Athens in June and left for Olynthos in July," she says. "I currently work as an assistant trench supervisor and help process special finds for the site."

Hill, who in 2016 was the recipient of a Society for Classical Studies Minority Summer Fellowship, plans to teach classics at the university level.

"I am also interested in working with education and outreach at a museum," says Hill, who spent a semester at University of Michigan as a docent at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Nick Seetin '06
As a trench supervisor, Seetin, who majored in history and minored in classics at R-MC, helps manage the day-to-day operations of the excavation in the field.

"The headquarters of our dig are in a reconstructed ancient public building (the Stoa of Attalos), which also houses the Agora museum and the archives and storage facilities for our finds," he explains. "I am usually at work by 6 a.m. to prepare for the day, which begins promptly with the chiming of the 7 o'clock bell at St. Phillip's Church."

Seetin and his assistants record soil conditions; what they find; and their reasons for excavating in a particular area.

"Our recording method is a mix of old and new," he says. "We have an iPad app for use in the field, called iDig, that allows us to connect the pieces of data from the dig in an easy-to-understand manner. However, we also record everything by hand in cloth-backed notebooks, and we still emphasize doing drawings in the field by hand. We take both digital photos and 35 mm black-and-white photographs."

Seetin says it is a unique experience to work alongside students on an archaeological dig.

"Because we live, work, and socialize so closely with the team, there is a level of camaraderie that is different than the usual professor-student relationship," he explains. "I also love how the Agora connects many generations of R-MC students. The Agora dig itself has a long history, but for the past 20 years, R-MC has been woven into that history. There is no other program like the Agora, and with the Niarchos support, it has only become more special and appealing to participants."

Laura Gawlinski '98
Gawlinski, who majored in classics, Greek, and Latin and minored in religious studies at R-MC, earned her Ph.D. at Cornell University. As senior supervisor at the Agora dig, she manages the excavation and recording of a section of the site.

"John Camp likes to point out that archaeology is destruction; the only way to learn about something is through the act of digging it away," she says. "Proper recording through notes, drawings, and photographs is essential."

Gawlinski also arranges optional lectures for the students.

"The scholars working at the Agora are experts who make major contributions to the field, and I think it is important for the students to hear from them about their discoveries," she explains. "So far this summer, they toured the science lab of the American School, examined pottery alongside the scholar who literally wrote the book on Hellenistic ceramics, and learned what kind of information can come from looking closely at human bones."

Gawlinski loves talking with current R-MC students who come to the Agora.

"Some things at the college have changed since I graduated in 1998—for example, there are all kinds of great new programs, including the archaeology major—but I am excited that almost 20 years later, students can still go to Classics Tea," she says.
Gawlinski says her career trajectory is closely tied to her R-MC education and experiences.

"My very first publication began as a seminar paper in an R-MC course," she explains. "I chose to take a position at a university that allows me to work closely with undergraduates: I now get to bring my own students to the Agora. As a professor, I rely heavily on the excellent teaching I saw in the classrooms at Randolph-Macon."

R-MC Faculty Connections
R-MC Professors Eve Torrence (mathematics) and Bruce Torrence (mathematics) spent several days at the Agora.

"We had wanted to visit the Agora dig for over 20 years," says Eve Torrence. "We have always found archeology fascinating, and we were visiting our daughter, who is an art history major in Germany, so it was the perfect time to pop over to Athens with her for the weekend. John was so generous with his time. He showed us around Athens for three days. At the Agora dig we got to chat with the Niarchos Fellows. It was fun to run into a couple familiar faces: Grace McIntire took a calculus class with me last year, and Laura Gawlinski was in the Honors program when Bruce was the director. John gave us tours of the Acropolis, the Kerameikos, and several sites on the island of Aegina. It was an absolutely wonderful visit thanks to John, far exceeding our expectations."

Camp also shared with the Torrences an interesting artifact that the excavators had recently discovered—an unusually shaped dice.

"Since I am interested in the geometry of polyhedra, he was excited to show this to me, and I was excited to see it," says Eve Torrence. "I'm now doing some research into the rarity of this dice. This is a nice example of the exciting collaborations that can arise when teaching at a small liberal arts college."

John Camp II
Camp, who earned his B.A. from Harvard University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University, joined the Agora excavations in 1966, and in 1973 he was named assistant director of the Agora excavations. He served as the School's Mellon Professor of Archaeology (1985-1996) and became the director of excavations at the Athenian Agora in 1994.

Camp joined the faculty at Randolph-Macon College in 1996, and in 2009 he was named the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Classics. He was the 2015 recipient of the Aristeia Award for Distinguished Alumni/ae of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), which honors those who have done the most to support the School's mission in teaching, research, archaeological exploration, and/or publication.

In 2016, Camp was the recipient of the Athens Prize, which was presented at the Metropolitan Club in New York City by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens at its 135th anniversary gala.

The Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation
The Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation is an international philanthropic organization that supports charitable activities in four primary areas: arts and culture, education, health and medicine, and social welfare. Within each program category, the Foundation supports initiatives that feature strong leadership and sound management and can demonstrate a tangible impact over time.

The Foundation fosters the exchange and collaboration among recipient institutions by supporting a broad range of organizations across its target program areas in locations around the world. The project offers R-MC students the opportunity to participate in excavations in Athens, Greece.

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens
The ASCSA is a consortium of 193 North American colleges and universities, including Randolph-Macon College. Built on land deeded by the Greek government, the School was the first American overseas research center, and it is the largest of the 17 foreign institutes in Athens. Its mission is "to advance knowledge of Greece of all periods by training young scholars, sponsoring and promoting archaeology fieldwork, providing resources for scholarly work, and disseminating research."