Archaeologists Delve Beyond the Dig
Field school launches program on heritage management
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 email@example.com.