Classical studies professor combines theory and practice with students in Turkey
October 3, 2012
During the fall and spring, you can find classical studies professor Elizabeth Baughan in a traditional classroom setting, teaching her students about archaic Greek art and poetry or Anatolian archeology. But when summer comes, Baughan ditches her desk for the dirt.
This summer will be Baughan’s fourth time taking students on a seven-week trip to Turkey to work on an excavation project. The project is a partnership with Turkey’s Bilkent University, which has been doing excavation and archeology work since 1993.
When Baughan came to Richmond, she heard the University had an exchange relationship with Bilkent through the Office of International Education. She was looking for an excavation project where she could involve students, and the partnership grew from there.
Baughan took six students with her the first year, but that proved to be too crowded in the excavation house, she said. The past two years she has taken three students, with some repeating the trip. To be eligible, students must have taken an archeology class—either Baughan’s introductory class or the new course she began offering this fall, “Archeology in the Middle East.”
“It takes a special kind of student,” she said. “Academic success doesn’t necessarily translate to success on a project. We work six days a week and we work long hours, starting at 6 a.m., to combat the heat. Breakfast is at 5. You have to be a certain kind of student to want to do that.”
While in Turkey, Baughan serves as the field supervisor, managing both Richmond and Bilkent students in the trenches. The project is a multi-period site known as a mound site, meaning it is an artificial mound that accumulated from remains of human settlement spanning thousands of years. The mound is 13 meters high and they have determined it was occupied from at least the early Bronze Age, circa 3000 B.C., through the late Byzantine period, circa 1200 A.D.
“That means it has layers and layers of history,” she said.
The excavations have been focusing on the Byzantine levels on the top and center of the mound, with several buildings—including a church complete with mosaics and inscriptions. On the slopes that have eroded over the years, Baughan has also been able to supervise the excavation of the early Bronze Age levels.
There they have uncovered a number of houses, some of which were burned, preserving the architecture in way that is not otherwise possible.
Because the architecture is unbaked mud, when it burns it becomes fired into a hard substance like brick, preserving the impressions of the wood, reed, and plant materials used inside the structure of the wall. All of those impressions teach Baughan and the students about the superstructure—the walls and roofing of the buildings.
“We’re focused on trying to understand what these buildings were like and what they were used for,” she said. “These burnt buildings also give us the chance to find intact pottery or broken pottery that can be put back together.”
On the floors, her team has found things that were in the room at the time of the fire—things that have to do with weaving, cooking, stone tools or objects. One of the interesting finds from last summer was a piece of carved bone or animal horn with “interestingly placed holes” that made them think it was a musical instrument of some kind, Baughan said.
The excavation work done in Turkey lends itself the most to Baughan’s archeology courses, in which she uses specific examples of finds at the site. The three students who traveled with her last summer drew upon their experiences in research projects exploring the significance of archeology in the Middle East today.
“In my new course, we were able to spend some time looking at our site in connection with the other developments in the Middle East in the early Bronze Age,” she said, “so that was a nice overlap.”
Teaching in the field is a different process from teaching in the classroom, however. Baughan said she is much less a professor and much more a work supervisor, equating the student experience to that of a research intern.
“They really will only learn to the extent that they are engaged,” she said. “It’s easy to show up and dig and not take anything from it, but the best results are when I have students who are really engaged.”
Originally printed in the spring 2012 issue of Artes Liberales.