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Archaeologists Delve Beyond the Dig

Field school launches program on heritage management

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Click here to see images from BU’s archaeological field school on the Mediterranean island of Menorca. Photos courtesy of Amalia Pérez-Juez

For the past eight years, about half a dozen Boston University students have spent their summer on the tiny, sun-drenched Spanish island of Menorca, learning the basics of archaeological excavation. As students at BU’s Summer Mediterranean Archaeological Field School, they’ve learned how to survey and mark a site, how to dig, how to keep detailed records, and how to work in the lab. And they did it while uncovering the remains — pottery, coins, beads, nails — of a housing complex inhabited from the fourth century B.C. through Roman occupation and eventually by Muslims after their conquest of Spain in the eighth century.

But according to Ricardo Elia, a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor and archaeology department chair, the field school training has yet to address one critical component of excavation: what now? Specifically, says Elia, how should artifacts be managed, preserved, and assembled for museums? How should the sites themselves be maintained, made accessible, and explained to the public? How can archaeologists help combat looting? So this summer, he will join the field school as its codirector and leader of a new heritage management curriculum.

“There’s a responsibility we have as archaeologists that goes beyond pure research,” says Elia. “Sites are being destroyed, lost to development, and looted to fuel the antiquities trade. In recent decades, there’s been a growing awareness that archaeologists need to engage in policy-making and with the public to protect sites and plan for preservation, which has really transformed the field.”

In fact, as long ago as 1993, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the entire island of Menorca a “biosphere reserve” because of its unique flora and fauna and its archaeological sites. Amalia Pérez-Juez, the field school’s codirector and the associate director of BU’s Madrid program, says the students at the dig, whose studies range from archaeology to classics to art history, have been increasingly engaged in heritage conversation issues.

That’s certainly true of Marta Ostovich (UNI’03, GRS’10), an archaeology doctoral student who attended the Menorca field school as an undergraduate and now works there as a teaching assistant. Ostovich is writing a dissertation on heritage management methods employed to preserve both natural and cultural resources. Menorca, along with sites in Turkey, Austria, Montenegro, and Nova Scotia, is one of her case studies.

“The field school site is kind of a special location, because it’s on government land, and so it’s petty well protected,” says Ostovich. “But a lot of sites are on private land with much less control. Also, our site is open to the public and some of the sites are hard or impossible to access. Technically, people are supposed to open them up for visitation, but it’s not always the case.”

A few years ago, the field school took steps to educate the general public about the importance of preservation. They started having students explain the site to tourists who stopped by, and they created a brochure and a questionnaire for visitors.

"A lot of the students now want to work in UNESCO or go into museum studies,” says Pérez-Juez. “We’re seeing this increasing every year.”The new curriculum will build on those public outreach efforts with classroom work and lectures on topics such as international standards for preservation, the problem of looting, and the antiquities market. In the field, students will visit museums and other archaeological sites to learn about their conservation concerns and what kinds of outreach those sites are doing.

“It’s the first time, so we’ll be experimenting on how to convey this info to students,” says Elia, “but I’m really excited.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.

22 Comments

22 Comments on Archaeologists Delve Beyond the Dig

  • Archaeologist wanna be on 01.28.2009 at 2:08 pm

    Why hasn't this been done in the past?

    It seems like this should have been part of the curriculum a long time ago. Archaeology wasn’t my field of study so I can’t say that this was implemented at my university, but I just feel like the issues of what should be done with the sites and artifacts after they’ve been excavated should be central in any program. In any case, I’m glad this is getting some attention and I hope more archaeologists will get involved in policy making.

  • richard on 01.30.2009 at 4:46 am

    I didn’t go in to the social side of archaeology, which as you all know is crucial. In fact I am going to get coffee with my archaeology pals right now . . .

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  • Mike Crabe on 01.31.2009 at 12:20 pm

    But according to Ricardo Elia, a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor and archaeology department chair, the field school training has yet to address one critical component of excavation: what now? Specifically, says Elia, how should artifacts be managed, preserved, and assembled for museums? How should the sites themselves be maintained, made accessible, and explained to the public? How can archaeologists help combat looting? So this summer, he will join the field school as its codirector and leader of a new heritage management curriculum.

    And these are the main questions that we all should be asking right now.

    Mike from elliptical fitness equipment guide.

  • Anonymous on 02.07.2009 at 8:09 pm

    I’m Stanford university student. My major is archaeology and I’m proud of it as it is my life. It is very difficult to be a decent archaeologist. | Essay writing

  • Medona on 02.09.2009 at 12:00 am

    About View & Field

    Looks like part of curriculum a long time ago. Archaeology is my field of study and for this i can say that this was implemented in my university, but I just feel issues of what had been done with the sites and artifacts after they’ve been excavated should be middle in any program. In case, I am happy this is getting some attention and I hope archaeologists will get involved in policy creation decision. 

  • Laurie on 02.09.2009 at 6:59 pm

    Definition of Looting?

    I always find it interesting that when an archaeologist digs up an ancient grave for their personal glory and that of the museum it is OK, but when a private individual does it, it is called “looting”. As far as I am concerned they should both be ashamed of themselves, let the bones of the past stay put. We have the technology, let’s focus on the future.

    Just my two cents ;-)
    Laurie

    • Liz on 07.07.2012 at 10:32 am

      It’s obvious that you have no appreciation for history if you think archaeologists should be ashamed of themselves. I can understand not respecting history because of the “there are more important things (cancer) for people to be researching, instead of 5000 year old bones” mindset. However, people are passionate about history, and you have to respect that.

  • Danny on 02.12.2009 at 1:49 am

    how should artifacts be managed, preserved, and assembled for museums? How should the sites themselves be maintained, made accessible, and explained to the public? | Buy Dissertation

  • R.C. on 02.18.2009 at 8:19 am

    Where to take them is also a matter

    I’m not in the archeological circle, but was intriged this summer when visiting London, and the museum specifically. It’s incredible the huge colection they have, and I was driven by my thoghts on why are this objects in London instead of the places they were found (in a general side). I feel is wrong.

    What’s the stand point of the archeology professional corpus? should items be remained as close as possible to the place where found? or can be taken to another place/country?

    Shouldn’t there be any returning programs for those items already moved?

    Would like to know… thanks!
    R.C.

  • Anonymous on 02.19.2009 at 5:32 am

    I didn’t go in to the social side of archaeology, which as you all know is crucial. In fact I am going to get coffee with my archaeology pals right now . Dissertation Help

  • Anonymous on 03.05.2009 at 10:36 pm

    I always find it interesting that when an archaeologist digs up an ancient grave for their personal glory and that of the museum it is OK, but when a private individual does it, it is called “looting”. As far as I am concerned they should both be ashamed of themselves, let the bones of the past stay put. We have the technology, let’s focus on the future. yahoo

  • Anonymous on 05.02.2009 at 2:15 pm

    I’m not in the archeological circle, but i find that archaeology is a very interesting subject.
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  • Joe on 05.03.2009 at 1:25 am

    I am Concered

    Yes, i am concerned with Elia’s statement “Sites are being destroyed, lost to development, and looted to fuel the antiquities trade” here. Small islands have to suffer a lot really.

  • Anonymous on 06.04.2009 at 10:02 am

    Research is very important, archeology can give a lot of answer in many subject of our history. University, public and private institute have to work on it ! betclic

  • mccy on 06.21.2009 at 3:33 pm

    But according to Ricardo Elia, a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor and archaeology department chair, the field school training has yet to address one critical component of excavation: what now? Specifically, says Elia, how should artifacts be managed, preserved, and assembled for museums? How should the sites themselves be maintained, made accessible, and explained to the public? How can archaeologists help combat looting? So this summer, he will join the field school as its codirector and leader of a new heritage management curriculum. And these are the main questions that we all should be asking right now. Mike from elliptical fitness equipment guide.

  • quick weight loss on 07.08.2009 at 1:45 am

    This is great

    This must be a great experience and what a number of great locations to visit!

  • danial on 07.16.2009 at 6:36 am

    education

    looks like a good experience

  • Anonymous on 07.23.2009 at 4:49 pm

    Beautiful images

    The pictures are fantastic, would be great to see some internal shots of the ruins as well if you have them.

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2009 at 10:20 pm

    This is typical from the BU archaeology department

    I went to this field school in 2008 and the weather, site, and fellow BU students were all terrible. All of the above is just propoganda, majoring in archaeology was the worst decision of my life. The field school isn’t great at Menorca, basically they’ve been picking at a pit the size of your dorm room for the past 10 years. Most archaeology excavations could have excavated sq km in that time period. They just run the Menorca field school as a cash cow to make money, there is no real reason aside from that. Elia is just blowing smoke on heritage management. The work was like an archaeology program for 6th graders, and all the fellow BU archaeology majors just made it look like that was too hard.

    BU CAS Archaeology Major 2010 (and regretting every minute of it)

  • Anonymous on 01.22.2011 at 2:49 pm

    how should artifacts be managed, preserved, and assembled for museums? How should the sites themselves be maintained, made accessible, and explained to the public?

  • Conrad on 02.09.2011 at 9:02 am

    Practice, practice and practice, that’s the main idea of every learning and educational process. Only after such field research and investigation they can deeply understand all the peculiarities of their specialty. After that they will be able to make more qualitative
    dissertation writing. I think technical students have to go through such employment.

  • Incredible on 05.11.2011 at 5:27 am

    Archaeologists

    I always dreamt about this when I was a young girl :)

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