Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Overlooked Archaeology

I am currently teaching a course, “Overlooked Archaeology, at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois (February-March 2021). The title “overlooked” means topics I have not addressed before, not ones that professional archaeologists ignore. It allows me to explore the odder byways of my profession while still incorporating recent advances and new information that I discover in magazines like Archaeology, The Biblical Archaeology Review, or from headlines in the New York Times or New Scientist.

Class Description:

Hollywood archaeology features spectacular discoveries of jewel-laden tombs and lost temples. In everyday archaeology, many discoveries are made far from the original site: in the laboratory, in a museum, or on a computer. Technological advances, especially in the biological sciences, make it possible to investigate everything from ancient medicine to the evolution of agriculture. New kinds of imaging and remote sensing help us read obscured texts and map roadways and underground structures. This class explores some of the odder byways of archaeology: domesticated dogs, beer-making, dental health, pleasure gardens, and locating new sites from space.

In lecture one, we talked about how the discipline of archaeology began with excavating large public buildings (tombs, temples, meeting halls) and collecting inorganic materials (metal, stone, and ceramic). Over time, the focus has shifted to domestic architecture and the artifacts of daily life: private homes, garbage pits, the graves of commoners, and even historic privies. I introduced the domestic architecture of three sites widely separated in space and time: Skara Brae (Scotland), Karanis (Egypt), and Ostia, Italy. We also began a section on ancient pets with the domestication of dogs.

          Video links:

Skara Brae

Roman Ostia 

Book recommendations:

Sarah Parcak, Archaeology from Space

Paul Bahn, The Bluffer’s Guide to Archaeology

Karanis: A Roman town in Egypt (Kelsey Museum Publication 1)

 Authors who write wonderful fiction about ancient Rome and Romans:

Lindsey Davis, Simon Scarrow, Steven Saylor (all use rich historical detail and archaeological records)

 *For more archaeological fiction, check out this review site: https://mvac.uwlax.edu/book-reviews/ (includes a few of my own novels)

Resources for Illinois and Midwestern archaeology:

Our own IllinoisState Archaeological Survey

East Central Illinois Archaeological Society (ECIAS), part of the Illinois Association for the Advancement of Archaeology: http://www.museum.state.il.us/iaaa/easthome.htm

Local lectures and some volunteer opportunities are available (and will return after COVID).

Midwestern cultures (focus on Wisconsin): https://mvac.uwlax.edu/PreEuropeanPeople/