Each year, at the Awards Ceremony held during the Annual Meeting, the AIA celebrates the outstanding work of individuals and organizations in the field of archaeology. AIA President Laetitia La Follette sat down for virtual interviews with the 2021 recipients of our Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement and our Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology. You can get to know the winners of these awards better by watching their interviews below.
What led you to decide to work in archaeology?
I was born into an archaeological family; my parents met when they were both at the British School in Athens. I grew up with stories of their travels and excavations in Greece before the Second World War. My first direct encounter with archaeology came on a family holiday in Italy when I was eight; we went to Ischia, where Giorgio Buchner showed us his excavations at Pithecusae, where he had recently started work in the Archaic Necropolis. He showed my brother and myself how one could find sherds sticking out of a cliff face, and allowed us to remove and keep one each, something that would not be permitted nowadays, but he was the director. I found a small sherd with stripes which my father said was Protocorinthian. So it was no surprise when I decided to study archaeology, though my choice of the Roman Empire as a field of study was a departure from the parental tradition.
What aspects of your work have you found most fascinating?
When I have been working on a subject, it sometimes happens that everything suddenly starts to come together, different sorts of evidence fall into place, and a pattern emerges which gives one a new insight into some aspect of ancient life. For example, many years ago I was looking at a mosaic that had been excavated by Nancy Bookidis at Corinth, in the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. There was something missing in the middle of the mosaic panel, a slab of some sort, and I realised that it formed the outline of a pair of feet. I could connect that with various examples of the depiction of footprints in the Graeco-Roman world, in mosaic or carved in stone, and also with written accounts of worshippers adoring the footprints or the traces of a deity. The missing object must have been a slab, perhaps of stone or marble, but possibly of precious metal like silver, marking the footprints of the goddess, who was believe to appear at this spot in her epiphany. It made me realise more clearly the degree to which ancient worshippers envisaged their gods appearing in very substantial and visible form. That sort of perception, derived from a close study both of the material remains and of written or other sources, is something that has always given me the greatest satisfaction.
What would you consider your greatest contribution to archaeology?
When I started working on mosaics there was very little academic interest in the subject, at least in the English-speaking world, and not much in Roman art more generally. Over the course of my career I have seen this state of affairs change dramatically, and now the subject not only attracts many specialists but also appeals to a broader audience. Thus the media regularly report new archaeological finds from all over the Roman world: for example, an interesting mosaic in Britain or Turkey, or most recently a painted counter in a fast-food joint in Pompeii. Of course many scholars have helped to bring about this change, but I like to think that my work on mosaics has done a lot to arouse interest in them, among both professional scholars and those with a wider interest in archaeology.
What do you value most about membership of the AIA, and how has it contributed to your career?
The AIA offers a network of colleagues and an important source of professional collegiality. Contact with colleagues is essential to archaeologists, perhaps even more than in other disciplines; it is more than usually important to know what is going on in the field, not only within one’s own specialist area but more widely. My working life has been spent in Canada, and my training was in Britain, so without the AIA I might have had much less contact with archaeologists in the United States, except for such connections as I might make individually. Through the AIA, its programs such as the Annual Meeting, the National Lecture Program, and of course its journal, the AJA, I have had access to a very wide circle of those working in other branches of Classical Archaeology – something that has inevitably broadened my horizons and helped to make me a better scholar.
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
My work has provided me not only with an endless source of interest, but also with a lot of fun over many years.
How did you get your start?
After getting an MSc in Biophysics at Iowa State, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I taught physics at a community college for a while, then in 1977 I took a job as a technician in the Quaternary Isotope Lab at the University of Washington under the direction of Prof. Minze Stuiver. There I learned how to process samples for radiocarbon dating and program the computer that recorded the beta decays and did the age calculations. In a few years I was promoted to scientific programmer. Under Prof. Stuiver’s direction I developed radiocarbon calibration curves and wrote the CALIB program. I continued working part-time in the lab after my daughter was born and while doing a PhD in carbon cycling which I received in 1998.
What would you consider your greatest scientific achievement?
Initiating the IntCal Working Group (IWG) is probably my most important achievement. A Leverhulme Trust networking grant enabled me to bring together earth scientists, archaeologists and statisticians to update radiocarbon calibration curves in a robust and interdisciplinary way. The IWG will hopefully continue to improve radiocarbon calibration curves for a long time.
What has been your most fascinating discovery/work project to date?
Being able to work with top scientists in the IntCal Working Group has been fascinating and I’ve learned a lot from them.
What would you say has been your greatest professional challenge?
My greatest challenge has been setting up the 14CHRONO Centre AMS laboratory and directing it since 2004.
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
Radiocarbon dating has given me the opportunity to be involved on a number of fascinating projects and learn from earth scientists and archaeologists. For instance, I first became interested in the marine reservoir effect and use of isotopes in past diets in order to identify the contribution of marine protein to the radiocarbon ages of human skeletons for the Las Palmas project in Baja California. This led me to measure the reservoir effect in known age mollusk shells from other regions and build the global marine radiocarbon reservoir calibration database to inform radiocarbon calibration samples of marine and mixed samples.
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