AIA News

April 10, 2023

2023 AIA Fellowships Spotlight: Olivia James Traveling Fellowship

Sarah HIlker

To celebrate our 2022-2023 Fellowship recipients, we will be spotlighting each of our winners on our website. We have reached out to our winners to learn about their projects and about their experiences in archaeology. We’re excited for you to meet Sarah Hilker, the Olivia James Traveling Fellowship winner for this year.   

Archaeology of Portugal Fellowship Winner: Sarah Hilker; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What is your fellowship project about? 

My project, “Zygouries: The ‘Potter’s Shop’ in Context,” examines unpublished material from Zygouries, a Bronze Age settlement excavated about 100 years ago. Much of what we know about Late Bronze Age Zygouries comes from one building with many repairable vessels, the so-called “Potter’s Shop.” This project turns attention to fragmentary pottery from the rest of the site. Combining ceramic, architectural, and archival (excavation notebooks) data, I seek to contextualize the “Potter’s Shop,” understand how the settlement developed over time, and better situate Zygouries’ settlement history within Mycenaean cultural and palatial dynamics in the northeast Peloponnese. The AIA Olivia James Traveling Fellowship will allow me to study material in Ancient Corinth, Greece as well as visit Bronze Age sites and museums displaying Mycenaean material. 

How did you get your start in archaeology? 

I actually kind of tripped and fell into archaeology! I started college as a chemistry major, but took some Classics classes, and then decided to try to combine the two. My first excavation, The Roman Peasant Project in Tuscany, completely sold me on fieldwork. I then pursued an MSc in The Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials at University College London. Although my research focuses on Mycenaean Greece rather than the Roman countryside, I remain predominately interested in less elite sectors of society, particularly at settlements away from the palace centers. 

Where in the world has archaeology brought you (fieldwork, research, conference travel, etc.)? 

I completed a masters in the UK and participated in a couple excavations in Italy (Tuscany & Sicily), but I have spent the most time in Greece. I have excavated in the Peloponnese, Attica, and on Crete; participated in the Academic Year Program at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where we traveled all over Greece; and lived in Athens while conducting dissertation research. The AIA Annual Meeting also brought me to San Diego and New Orleans for the first time. Hopefully, I will finally make it to Chicago next January.

What is one of the most memorable things that has happened to you in the field? 

I think the most unusual and exciting thing to happen on excavation was when the Greek President visited Iklaina in 2016. I did not personally talk to him, but it was still a one-of-kind day. We had stopped our main workday early so that we could all come back in the evening and excavate during the visit. More people were in the field than ever – not just the normal field staff, trench supervisors, students, and workmen, but the lab staff were even able to join us in the field! We worked, but it was very different from usual. On the one hand, it was certainly cooler than at midday, so we had more energy; on the other hand, I think everyone was a bit distracted and extra chatty. Having such high-profile visitors was exciting for both Greeks and foreigners. After the visitors left, I think pizza or ice cream was delivered to the field for us. It was dinner time after all. 

How has the AIA contributed to your success/professional goals? 

I am excited to start this project with the support of the AIA Olivia James Travelling fellowship. The project relates to my dissertation, but it is intended to help me carve a new path forward into postdoctoral research. I have also had the opportunity to present aspects of my dissertation research at the 2021 (virtual) and 2023 (New Orleans) Annual Meetings. For the latter, I am appreciative of an AIA travel grant to help make attendance affordable. 

Learn more about what Fellowship opportunities are available through the AIA or reach out to our Programs and Professional Services Coordinator, Kati Albert at 

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