archaeology

  • Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia: Chapter Two

    Chapter Two of this special ArchaeoVenturers series begins in Siem Reap, with my friends and I joining up with our tour guide Mr. Raty (highly recommended services!), who was born in the province. Along the way to the temple complex, Mr. Raty told us that while being a local tour guide is one of the more profitable professions in the area, they must take many expensive tests in order to become certified and to stay licensed, year after year. He is the only one in his family to be a tour guide and was very proud of how hard his family, in particular his mother, works in the agricultural realm of area. He also had one of the most infectious smiles I have ever seen- this was apparent anytime he mentioned a fact or tidbit about Angkor or Cambodian culture, which clearly made him happy to speak about. Also, I am not sure if every guide is this way, but Mr. Raty had a memory for specifics and dates that rivaled any academic I’ve ever met- all while speaking 5 languages!

    You’ll hear some of the more interesting facts about Angkor Wat in the video, but since this is a syncing of hours of film footage and it has to be attention grabbing (thank you Tony Capelli!), I thought I wouldn’t make the video too audio heavy- the visuals of the temples tend to speak volumes more than I ever could. The interview with Mr. Raty however was important, and while I am still honing my interviewer skills, he was very eloquent while speaking about the affects of tourism and globalization on his community near Angkor. From his answers, we see that it’s a push-pull type relationship between the locals and foreigners- which I suppose is to be expected. The benefits of places with an abundance of tourist opportunities, like Angkor, means that the economy will grow from a natural resource (in this case, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the locals will see immediate benefit from a growth in labor, infrastructure, investments, resources etc because the presence of foreigners demand those things. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, as Mr. Raty pointed out, foreign influences come with baggage, like religious holidays (in this case it was Christmas) or out-of-place foods like Mexican taquerias, and even more serious is the pollution, a divide between those able to benefit from direct contact with tourists and those who are less monetarily affected, deforestation, wear and tear and safety of the tourist site for posterity, amongst other issues. In 2013, Angkor Wat experienced an excess of 2 million visitors (not Cambodia as a whole, just this site) with a steady nearly 20% yearly increase. I am certainly no economist, but there is an obvious constant struggle between maintaining massive historical sites like this temple complex for future generations of visitors, archaeologists, and other knowledge seekers, while still being able to reap the benefits of open access in the present day for millions of current visitors.

    As interesting as visiting this site was for me, it was more interesting hearing the perspectives of the local people that we encountered. Our tuk-tuk driver moonlighted as a tourist driver even though he has a full time job as a police officer. But they only get paid 90$ a month(!) for that, which isn’t enough to support his new wife and baby, he said that he gets 20$ a day to be a tuk-tuk driver around the site to supplement his income. Mr. Raty said he dreamed of traveling outside of Cambodia for the first time. Some people near the reflection pool (classic photo-op spot in Angkor Wat) who were visiting from another Cambodian province where there are no tourists, asked my friends to pose with them in photos in order to show their friends/family back home that they met ‘tourists’. Our guide said they wanted to pose with Hannah and Paul specifically because most visitors from other provinces were equating being fair skinned with being foreign, and those photos would prove they had the means to travel to places where tourists frequented.

    Just briefly, for Southeast Asia and Cambodia, the temple complex at Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1992. Cambodia is in fact the only country to have a building on their national flag- and it is an image of Angkor Wat. The temple complex stretches over some 400 square km, throughout northwest Cambodia and contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th century to the 15th century. Places that we were able to visit included the famous Temple of Angkor Wat (which translates to Temple City or City of Temples), and Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple (which will be featured in Chapter Three of the series). Words do not describe how magnificent these ruins of a long-lost Empire reveal themselves to visitors- calling it ‘stepping into the past’ could not be more literal. The imagination truly has the chance to run wild there, where tales of kings and gods of old become more real with each step up the stairway to heaven….

     

    Please stay tuned for Chapter 3 in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia” where the story at Angkor Wat continues.

    Please see Chapter Two on Youtube

     

    Further Reading:

    – UNESCO: World Heritage Site

    Tourism Cambodia

    – BBC News: Are there too many tourists at Angkor’s temples?

     

    Map of Angkor Temples (Credit: Tourism Cambodia)

    Ticket into Angkor Wat

    Ticket into Angkor Wat

    Obligatory entrance photo

    Obligatory entrance photo

    Reflecting Pool

    Reflecting Pool

    Part of the Temple

    Part of the Temple

    A rare moment captured without other tourists in background

    A rare moment captured without other tourists in background

    Heartbreaking graffiti on stone pillars

    Heartbreaking graffiti on stone pillars

    A view of one of the inner temple towers

    A view of one of the inner temple towers

    One of the libraries at Angkor Wat

    One of the libraries at Angkor Wat

  • Exploring the Past: Salima Ikram and Justine Benanty on BBC World Service

    Justine Benanty is a qualified pilot but as a maritime archaeologist her time is spent underwater rather than in the sky. At her first dig in Israel she realised that she hated wheelbarrows and got sunburnt too easily to work in the desert, so investigating shipwrecks became her focus. Her project for the last five years has been to tell the stories of the slaves, who were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, through archaeology. It is a science which needs an image overhaul because, she says “there’s nothing cooler than finding […] a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea that no-one has seen for hundreds of years”. She is a co-founder of the ArchaeoVenturers project, a collection of videos and blogs about issues in history and science, which also celebrates women’s work in these fields.

    Salima Ikram was born in Pakistan and got hooked on ancient Egyptian artefacts through the pictures in a childhood book. Her fate as an Egyptologist was sealed when she came face-to-face, aged nine, with mesmerising statues in the Cairo museum; she decided then that finding out more about them would be her life’s work. “Archaeologists are people who never grew up” she says. When not lecturing at the American University in Cairo, Salima will be somewhere dry, dusty, and dirty, recording ancient inscriptions or X-raying mummies – human and animal. Her role models in archaeology were women who had been working since the 1940s, but, she says sexism is still a problem and more so in the west than the east. The important thing, she says, “is to do what you want to do and do it very well.”

    (Photo: Salima Ikram and Justine Benanty. Credit: Salima Ikram – J. Rowland)

    Check out the link for downloading the podcast or listen directly on your computer HERE!

  • Monumental Destruction: Condemnation vs. Celebration

    Monuments are a curious concept in modern society – just as the victors often write history, those in power are also responsible for determining what is valuable – what is worth memorializing and what should be forgotten. What defines “good” destruction from “bad?”

    Although upon first hearing that question one would likely wonder what destruction of a monument could ever be “good?”

    Pieces of Berlin wall for sale. Credit: NBC

    Pieces of Berlin wall for sale. Credit: NBC

    November 9, 2014 was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event many would argue as a major turning point toward a more unified Germany, more unified Europe, and a more prosperous West – its destruction overall. Few today would argue that the Berlin wall should have remained intact. Yet, will archaeologists hundreds of years from now consider the destruction of the wall a loss of important tangible heritage? Only time will tell. But today, as nations the world over work to have pieces of cultural heritage repatriated to their homeland, it may seem contradictory that we laud the sale or loss of some of these items yet celebrate the sale of others, in particular pieces of the Berlin wall.

    On the one hand, the argument can be made for the sale of such a (literally) dividing piece of history in the sense that it empowers a people to reclaim their society and take back their freedoms. However, once this history becomes antiquity will future minds have changed about the sale of this major portion of history? Even decades later, past tourists are returning pieces of monuments such as those at Pompeii – yet at the same time a piece of the Berlin wall can be found on eBay.

    On the left: A man uses a sledgehammer to smash a statue of Lenin during a rally organized by supporters of EU integration in Kiev, Ukraine, on December 8, 2014. Credit: The Atlantic. On the right: Members of ISIS purportedly destroy a 3,000 year old Assyrian statue - a widely condemned move. Credit: Aina

    On the left: A man uses a sledgehammer to smash a statue of Lenin during a rally organized by supporters of EU integration in Kiev, Ukraine, on December 8, 2014. Credit: The Atlantic. On the right: Members of ISIS purportedly destroy a 3,000 year old Assyrian statue – a widely condemned move. Credit: Aina

    But admittedly, Europe is not my forte – so let’s look at an example that may have more resonance with the current era: the toppling of Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq.

    You’ve seen this scene before – from the invaders of ancient history conquering their enemies, to the demonstrators of Ukraine protesting communism today, to the destruction of ancient societies by modern ones – such as the recent campaign of ISIL today. Why is it that we lament the losses from destruction of the ancient world, while lauding the same types of destruction for monuments today?

    Perhaps it is the fact that some believe that time can make something valuable.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 5.31.03 PM

    Yet, if an object’s worth appreciates with time – are we then undermining the value of our future by not lamenting the destruction of modern history in the same way that we condemn the destruction of our past?

    Should we only be condemning the demolition of our past and not our future? Who should determine what is ok to destroy and what is not? These are questions with many answers, and we are looking to you to send us your thoughts!

     

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    Here’s some further reading to help you inform your thoughts on the argument:

    Tomb Destruction and Scholarship: Medieval Monuments in Early Modern England

    Targeting the Symbolic Dimension of Baathist Iraq: Cultural Destruction, Historical Memory and National Identity

    Monuments and Memory in Early Modern England

    Your piece of the Berlin Wall is not special

    Demonizing the tyrant: Saddam Hussein’s image in Spanish news programs during the Second Persian Gulf War

  • Archaeology in Pop Culture: Helping or Hindering the Discipline?

    When most people hear “archaeology” one of the first things that comes to mind is Indiana Jones.  How is it that a pop culture icon became the mascot of a scientific discipline?

    Archaeology – and all of the romanticized tales of ancient mummies and temples that come with it – has been entwined in pop culture since people first began literally digging into our history.

    In the late nineteenth century, common fads for elites involved “mummy unwrapping parties.” Although today many would see this as a desecration of a deceased person, most elite Victorians didn’t see anything wrong with damaging pre-Christian bodies.

    Mummies were simply a curiosity of the orient. But as the study of the ancient Near East became a common place academic discipline – particularly after the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 by Jean François Champollion – archaeology found its way into the imaginations of the West and the increasingly developing world of popular culture.

    Ancient Egypt was used to sell everything from cigarettes to soap.  And it carved out its own niche in Hollywood well before the days of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.

    Elizabeth Taylor’s famous role as Cleopatra is still well known in popular culture today as one of the iconic images of Cleopatra – never mind that many historians believe that it was not physical beauty, but wit, wisdom, and womanly cunning that made the real Cleopatra a legend of history. In reality, she is an example of what women should be valued for in society – their intellect and strength of character – but this was not the idealized beauty that Western culture wanted to portray.

    Politics of women in history and Hollywood aside – one question remains: do the common misconceptions created by archaeology in popular culture hinder or help the overall discipline?

    Some may think that if the public is going to learn about archaeology or history is should be with accuracy from the beginning.

    However, here’s my person opinion: As someone who began studying the discipline just at the cusp of the recession and finished grad school with the effects of an economic crisis in full swing, I must say that anything that gets the public interested enough in a discipline to patronize a museum or donate to an archaeological excavation is something worth containing.  Most people get into a science one way or another based on a romanticized view of what it is.  Unfortunately, cut backs in government funding for research and an economic crisis that has made many funding sources at foundations and universities tighten their belts means that other routes of funding must be sought.

    But this is a debate that can go on forever – so what are your thoughts on archaeology in pop culture?  Does it damage the mind of the public or expand it?Crowd funding has become a new means of revenue for archaeologists to seek in gathering funding for their research.  But with a source of funding that relies on the public, archaeologists must be able to appeal to the internet world’s non-scholars to get their attention – and of course dollars. This kind of appeal would not be nearly as effective if it weren’t for all of the fantasized, glorified, and heroic archaeology adventures that Hollywood and western culture portray – regardless of how inaccurate it is.  Those inaccuracies provide an opportunity to grasp the imagination of the wider public and engage them in a way where those misinformed interests can be put to rest in the name of science.

     

    For further info on crowdfunding your archaeo-project  and archaeology in pop culture, check these out:

    Crowdfunding Archaeology: Exploring the Potential of Crowdfunding in Archaeological Research

    Crowdfunding Archaeology some Data, Finally!

    Using Social Networks to Fundraise: Crowdfunding for the Archaeologist

    Archaeology is a brand: The meaning of archaeology in contemporary pop culture

  • Forgotten Legacy of WWII Wrecks- Environmental Hazard or Underwater Cultural Heritage?

    World War II was the bloodiest, deadliest and most destructive war in human history. The National WWII Museum puts battle deaths at 15 million, battle wounded at 25 million, and civilian deaths at 45 million- all unfathomable numbers to comprehend. Memories and reminders of that war are all around us, from politics to economies to cultural institutions and more. However, lying in wait on the bottom of the ocean floor are about 7800 wrecks that were involved in World War II, with 3800 of them in the Pacific Theater alone. Wrecks from WWII are significant because it was the first time where petroleum ships were specifically targeted for attack- some even say that America’s biggest contribution to winning the war was petroleum. Although oil pollution is the most noted risk from these vessels, it can also include threats from munitions, chemical wastes, radioactive materials and others. Damaging activities, both environmental and manmade, that can release these hazardous materials include dragging anchors over wrecks, dynamite fishing, shipwreck looting, more substantial/invasive archaeological methods, storms, earthquakes, and the list goes on. The amount of oil contained in these ships could be anywhere from 757 million to 6 billion gallons according to a 2005 assessment prepared by Environmental Research Consulting and others. (It should be noted that when the term ‘wreck’ is used here, it includes not only shipwrecks but also aircrafts and submarines.)

         The President of the Ocean Foundation, Mark Spalding, recently wrote a piece for National Geographic about the hazards of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) towards a healthy ocean environment. Many articles over the last two or three years have debated the issues around the potential for oil pollution from these UCH sites, as these are sites of cultural significance, and in many cases, grave sites. One of the more well known examples of oil pollution is the 1953 wreck SS Jacob Luckenbach, a supply freighter headed to Korea during the Korean War. Scientists were able to pinpoint the shipwreck after decades of questioning why sea life were being killed from oil spills with no apparent source. The cleanup from this wreck alone cost between $18-22 million. The USS Arizona, which has been leaking oil since it was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, is another prominent example where multidisciplinary teams are still working to solve the same catastrophic issue.
    A gun on the deck of the sunken U-166 German submarine
         There is much debate about how to go forward, despite the simplest solution being to pump out the oil before the tanks are destroyed. No one organization controls, let alone has the ability, to survey and intervene on every potentially threatening wreck in the Ocean- a feat that is nearly impossible at the present moment, even if every organization were to intervene. In 2013, NOAA, as part of their Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) project, released a report that narrowed down the estimated 20K vessels in US waters down to close to 600, of which they completed 87 individual assessments. This report contained several vessels from WWII, amongst others, and found that only 36 of those posed a significant oil pollution threat and 17 are recommended for further investigation. So if you look at the number 7800 wrecks vs 36 or even 600 wrecks, there is room for debate for how imminent the problem might actually be. Although, certainly no one is arguing that these threats shouldn’t be mitigated for the more hazardous wrecks. And yet, despite all the problems highlighted here, many of these vessels have become artificial reefs where sea life and algae thrive. Plans for solving this global crisis must include measures for minimal disturbance of the sea life and their habitats. Because these UCH sites are by definition ‘underwater’, interested parties must work even harder to keep the public and ruling agencies apprised of the problems, but also these wrecks’ importance to our humanity and history. Conservationists, environmentalists, archaeologists, and others must create mediation plans for the coming years when oil pollution and other, potentially worse issues, arise from these wrecks so that history doesn’t become catastrophe.
    USS Abraham Lincoln manning rails for USS Arizona

     

  • Hidden History: Slavery Struggle in the North & Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

    Sure, we get a day off from work today- but we must learn to remember to focus on the reason. My guess is the most Americans take the day off for granted without acknowledging what the significance is of this particular national holiday for freedom and human rights. Today is dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and by pure coincidence, this week’s episode of the “ArchaeoVenturers Project” is about Brooklyn Heights and the Underground Railroad. The Abolitionist Movement was a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement, headed by Dr. King and an inspiration and platform for millions in America.

    Untitled I wanted to have an episode about slavery in Brooklyn because just down the street from where I grew up in Brooklyn Heights, now known for its scenic and private views of Manhattan, is Plymouth Church, which is a National Historic Landmark on the National Register for Historic Places. According to the National Park Service, Plymouth Church, founded in 1847, was considered “one of the nation’s foremost centers of antislavery sentiment” in the late 19th century. I went there several times as a child on field trips, exploring the basement used in the Underground Railroad, seeing where Lincoln sat in the church pew, and I distinctly recall seeing a freedom ring that was given to a enslaved child (Plymouth’s website enlightens that the child’s name was ‘Pinky’ and the ring was given to her when her freedom was purchased by the congregation- Henry Ward Beecher declared “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom”). Also, as a result of visiting Plymouth church, I learned about Sojourner Truth, as she had been one of the famous abolitionist speakers featured. She was born into slavery, freed when New York State abolished slavery in 1827, and became an outspoken antislavery abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights. Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech (recounted below) brought tears to my eyes as a child and although I can’t remember what grade, I performed her monologue several times in one year and ended up writing several middle school papers on women’s rights as a result of her influence. (Side note- this is likely why I was so drawn to the Slave Wrecks Project, although a completely independent decision)

    (As recounted by Frances Dana Gage, in 1863) Ain’t I a Woman?
    Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
    That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
    Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
    Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
    If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
    Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

    Everybody thinks that because the North was against slavery, that everyone in the North was by default against slavery, but that wasn’t the case at all. Although New York citizens were legally obligated to manumit their slaves in 1827, many people found ways around the law, even by sending them back to plantations in the South, as many Brooklyn businesses had dealings invested in them. Also, despite the abolished slavery law, it was still illegal to harbor fugitives, hence the prominence but secrecy of the Underground Railroad. Brooklyn’s own harbor was used on the Railroad, as runaway slaves hiding on cargo ships made their way into Brooklyn, often through Plymouth Church, which was called “the Grand Depot” on the Underground Railroad. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and founding preacher of Plymouth Church, was a tireless abolitionist, despite hate and featured such prominent speakers like Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass as part of his antislavery efforts at Plymouth. He was even outed as being a leader on the Brooklyn Underground Railroad by The Brooklyn Eagle in 1872, along with many others in his congregation. One of the most memorable actions of Beecher’s was that he would hold mock auctions at the churchyard, showcasing the horrifying aspects of slavery while he simultaneously urged parishioners to bid for the freedom of escaped slaves. President Lincoln himself worshipped at the church, just a day before his infamous speech declaring his antislavery ambitions that is said to have won him the nomination for the Republican presidential bid.

    It’s quite cliche to state the obvious, but we must make a concentrated effort to not only engage in topics that make us squeamish as a nation on days where it’s appropriate, like today for example. We need to make it part of the national everyday conversation because there can be no healing or catharsis from ignorance and secrecy. The new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture will ideally be a platform for these ongoing conversations, and be a safe place for reflection and interpretation. There is a new exhibition called “Brooklyn Abolitionists: In Pursuit of Freedom” at the Brooklyn Historical Society (running through winter 2018 so GO!) which explores a dark chapter in my home borough. There is so much to say about slavery in Brooklyn, and I hope to have more opportunities to highlight the courage and efforts of those involved in its abolition at future opportunities.
    Highly recommended for further reading
    - “Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era: A Ministry of Freedom” by Frank Decker.
    - Plymouth Church Website (http://bit.ly/15qOogg)
    - 10 Stops on the Underground Railroad in NYC (http://bit.ly/1CHAMIs)
    - Slavery in Brooklyn (http://bit.ly/14YoaB7)
    - The King Center (http://bit.ly/19AAcCv)
    - Donate or Become a Member of the New Smithsonian Institution African American History and Culture (http://bit.ly/1DUT8cQ)

  • The Greek Genocide 100 years later – Is history repeating itself?

    Greeks of Pontus: Maintaining Identity

    Growing up in America with any ethnic background allows many of us to relate across cultures – simply by the similar ways in which our families share and preserve the keynotes of each of our cultures. For ethnicities in America today – Greeks, Italians, Arabs etc. it’s the ethnicity that comes first when describing their background, and citizenship that comes second. Greek-American, Italian-American, and Arab-American – to say ‘American-Greek’ sounds strange to us. Perhaps that speaks to the immigrant nature of the United States and the people who left their homelands to be here – and continue to do so to this day. Coming to America meant having the freedom to have pride in your culture and ethnicity and being free to practice your religion, so it may seem only natural to boast that part of one’s identity first. Although in the past – like today – this was not always an easy journey.

    Growing up ethnic in America is one thing, growing up Greek-American is another, but growing up Pontian-Greek brings with it a different side of cultural pride – one that has been hard fought, and remains hard fought to keep the culture alive.

    The region of Asia Minor once known as Pontus is located on the South coast of the Black Sea in modern day Turkey. Pontian Greeks (like all Greeks) hail themselves as the ‘Greekest’ of the Greeks –language and land, traced back beyond Alexander. In fact, one of the unique aspects of Pontic Greek dialect is that it maintains archaic Greek elements of the Ionian dialect, which was first introduced during the Hellenic colonization of the Pontic region around 800 B.C. Not only that, but Pontic dialect includes many aspects of Turkish vocabulary.

    Map of Pontus and Asia Minor - source pontian.info

    Map of Pontus and Asia Minor – source pontian.info

    Yet, by today’s national boundaries we (Pontians) are essentially ethnically Turkish and culturally Greek – though you would be hard pressed to find many Pontians today to admit to that Turkish part. The people descended from Pontus are dark haired, almond eyed and dark skinned Orthodox Christian Greeks. And like many of the Christians living in parts of the Arab world who face ISIS and its affiliates today, they were told to convert or die.

    In 1914 the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians of Asia Minor faced extermination or forced conversion by Kemal Ataturk’s troops. 100 years later, the world watches as the people of Iraq and Syria fight to survive against a similar fate. And much like a century ago – Turkey is playing a major role. A major world power, and a member of NATO – Turkey has turned a blind eye to the efforts of ISIS and has made little attempt to thwart the effects of their cause. And as Turkey’s President Erdogan tightens rights and restrictions on women, increasingly showing his Islamist tendencies, it appears that history is slated to repeat itself again. It has even been suggested that Erdogan is the new Ataturk.

    100 Years Later: Today’s tools

    My childhood and adulthood were sprinkled with the not so subtle reminders of who our people were. Where we originally come from. Greece and Turkey were rarely referred to as ‘Greece’ or ‘Turkey’ – it was simply “the old country” when referring to Pontus. Because the old country, wasn’t the country it is today.

     

    This photo was taken at an unknown date between 1914-1923.  The young girl to the left is Katie's Great - Grandmother,  to her left is her mother and younger  brother while they were in a refugee  camp after being forced from their h omes in Pontus during the Greek genocide.

    This photo was taken at an unknown date between 1914-1923.
    The young girl to the left is Katie’s Great – Grandmother,
    to her left is her mother and younger
    brother while they were in a refugee
    camp after being forced from their h
    omes in Pontus during the Greek genocide.

    The Greeks of Asia Minor faced the horrors of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during World War I. And though history has forgotten the millions of lives extinguished by these events – the community has not forgotten, and the war is not far from the memories of those still alive today. The imprint that ethnic cleansing can make on a culture is like a birthmark – it is passed from parents to children for generations.

    The past century has seen tens of millions lost to genocide. So often throughout history we have said ‘never again’ – and yet again comes, and we do nothing, or remain silent. One incredible asset that technology has afforded the global community is the ability to generate a collective voice to say ‘no more.’ It has also provided an opportunity for those members of cultures without a country to come together and form a collective community. Pages such as the Greek Genocide: 1914-1923 Facebook page use this technology and in doing so inform a new generation of what has happened in our past – the parts that the history books leave out.

    These technological tools also give us an opportunity to stand up to history repeating itself. The Facebook Page Operation Antioch continually shares the battles faced by Christians and other minorities in the Middle East today and how they are struggling to maintain identity while fighting terrorist groups seeking to eliminate them from history.

    Syrian Refugee family in Bekaa Valley. Credit: No Strings International

    Syrian Refugee family in Bekaa Valley.
    Credit: No Strings International

     

    These pages and others like them have allowed survivors and their descendants to develop a community to support the sufferers of genocide across the world. What is unique is that the very religious and ethnic boundaries that were the dividing platforms seem to be erased when one people can sympathize with the suffering of another.

    Today, all of those – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim alike – in the Middle East under the rule of ISIS and its affiliates who do not adhere to their extreme interpretation of Islam, are facing the same decimation that mine and so many others’ ancestors have faced.

    Today, we have the tools to speak out about these atrocities at the click of a button, or the swipe of a thumb. And though it may seem like the odds are insurmountable – we can help. Today, there are volunteer groups risking their lives to keep their people alive. The people of Syria have been facing waves of cleansing campaigns – whether political cleansing by Assad or ethnic cleansing by ISIS – yet there are still brave and selfless volunteers who stay behind, not fleeing the turmoil. And you can help.

     

     

    To read more about the Pontian Greeks of Asia Minor – check out my paper on Academia.edu: Tracing Transnationalism: Reconciling American Citizenship and Maintenance of Pontian Ethnic Identity Among First-Generation American Pontian Greeks in Northeast Ohio

    To help the White Helmets – Syria’s volunteer emergency medics – donate HERE.

    To help preserve the cultures of Asia Minor you can help the Asia Minor and Pontos Hellenic Research Center – donate HERE.

    You can also read more about the history of the Greek Genocide at greek-genocide.org

     

     

  • Kurdish Female Fighters: Symbols of strength in women’s rights and the war on ISIS

    Who are the Kurds?

    Kurdistan is a territory in the south of the Caucuses in the mountainous regions that primarily intersect Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.  The Kurdish people have been fighting for independence for over a millennium, but their current efforts can reflect the most recent century of their history; fervently fighting neighboring entities for their chance at independence – but non of their efforts have proven successful.

    The current population of the Kurdish people stands between 10 and 15 million.  The group’s massive population and long-standing yet fruitless fight for statehood has led the region to be known as the“Invisible Nation”.  They are a group of non-Arab people who speak a language related to Persian and are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

    Map of Kurdistan region and intersecting nations. Source: Wars in the World

    Why does this matter right now?

    he terror group ISIS that has swept the Middle East is aligned with extremist Sunni Muslims – killing Christians, Shia Muslims, and any others who do not adhere to their means of extremism in their wake. The Invisible Nation of Kurds, although predominantly Sunni, have served as THE front line against ISIS since the group’s rise in 2014 – holding areas like Kobane lest they fall to the terror group.

    Centuries ago, the Kurds were fighting ethnic groups like the Yazidis (you may recognize the groups name from the headlines of Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar).  But today, Kurds are joining – and often leading the fight for the survival of this very ethnic group.

    However, some of the bravest fighters in the war on ISIS are the women of Kurdistan.  Women that have certainly caught the eye of the West.

    Female Fighters of Kurdistan

    In November 2014, Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar posted an article in Global Voices calling attention the Western ‘obsession’ with the Kurdish female fighters – noting that the women of Kurdistan have been fighters for centuries, and only recently have we chosen to acknowledge their existence.

    However, I think the obsession she notes – is more of a captivation.  Most notably due to the fact that the West – and America in particular – have been bombarded with images of what Muslim women look like, what their place in the Arab world is, and what their attire is meant to look like – through Western lenses, of course.  The Kurdish female fighters do not fit into any of these little boxes the Western perspective has designed for them – so naturally, like anything that doesn’t fit our predesigned molds, they have become a cultural fascination, as opposed to be recognized for the norm of this beautiful cultural diversity that has existed for centuries.

    And what else could lead to this obsessive fascination? The fact that the Kurds have units composed entirely of female fighters.  In the US, a nation that prides itself on striving for equality, women are not currently permitted in combat after being banned in 1994 – although Leon Panetta announced in 2013 that the Pentagon would lift the ban, it will not become effective until 2016.

    Kurdish Peshmerga Forces. Source: Flickr

    So why is it that a Muslim ethnic group has created entire units of female fighters, when the Western pillar of equality has not yet done it? Because the Kurdish forces are fighting a psychological and ideological war as they see to #PsychOutISIS.  ISIS terrorists allegedly believe that they will “go straight to hell” if they are killed by a woman, and these brave women make that a certainty when they fight.

    In an interview with Richard Engel, one of the leaders of the Kurdish female fighting forces in Kobani gave some background to their reasoning for joining their men on front lines and blazing their own path against ISIS.

    “We stand and fight, especially here in the Middle East, where women are treated as inferiors. We stand here as symbols of strength for all the women of the region.” 

    From here in Washington, DC – I can honestly say that they are symbols of strength for women far beyond the region – and though I cannot join their fight I can share their message.  They make it clear that #WomenCanChangeTheWorld

    All female Kurdish forces. Source: Right to speak

     

     

     

     

     

     

    SIDE NOTE: Why did we focus on the Kurds this week? 

    Taking a look at the women of Kurdistan may seem a bit out of our science and STEM-focused wheelhouse. Aside from our goal to promote strong and inspiring women, the people of Kurdistan were a group I had wanted to shed a light on in particular.  My own relatives are members of an ethnic group with a state that never was – Pontus. Pontus was a Greek region of Asia Minor on the south coast of the Black Sea – the Pontian Greek people were ethnically cleansed from modern-day Turkey at the beginning of World War I. I see so many of the struggles and cultural triumphs in the people of Kurdistan that the Pontian community shares, so next week we will be diving further into who the Pontian Greeks were – and are today.  Stay tuned to hear about this and other missing history that may not have made it into your old social studies textbooks.

  • Happy New Years from ArchaeoVenturers!

    The year 2014 has been a blessing in so many ways for Katie and Justine — We launched ArchaeoVenturers, #AVProject, traveled together for the first time, and have received so much support and advice, both personally and professionally, which has meant the world to us. 2015 seems like it is shaping up to be a year of success, education, exploration, and discovery. We have so many new plans for next year, that it is killing us to keep it secret!! Please join The Digger and The Diver in 2015 and get ready for an adventure!! Thanks for getting dirty with us in 2014!

    Sending You All a Happy and Healthy New Year!!!

    New Years Resolutions from the ArchaeoVenturers:

    The Digger:
    Like so many of us this year I will of course be making the obligatory “resolution” to get healthy, work out more, etc. But let’s be honest, we all just tell ourselves that to feel less guilty about the abundance of food we have eaten over the past few months. So, my resolution outside of the obligatory health quest, is to do something I must admit I’m not always good at — listen to the other side of an issue.

    As much as I seek to change things happening in the world, I have to learn to be able to change myself and grow first. I’ve always made it a point to view the world through the eyes of the people it concerns – embracing a non-ethnocentric perspective in any nation I go into. However, I have realized that i rarely apply that mentality to issues within my own country. I tend to take my political or social stances on an issue – and when I feel like I have taken what is deemed the “right” choice, I tend to ignore arguments to the contrary. For instance, I support same sex marriage, I believe that for true equality we all must have access to the same rights, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, color, or religion. As such, I tend to ignore the nay sayers, this day in age those still vehemently against same sex marriage are likely not to change their minds, so I have always assumed I shouldn’t bother. But right or wrong, ignoring the other side of any argument only stunts your ability to uphold your view even against the most ignorant of nay sayers. Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Therefore, good or bad, I will be making a much greater effort this year to entertain the other side of any issues I choose to take a stand on – social, political, or scientific.

    The Diver:
    For this new year of 2015, I would really like to appreciate and understand the fundamentals of life more… if that makes any sense. I feel like the last few years, I have put other obligations ahead enjoying the fruits of my labors, having a life outside of work, making time for my friends and family, not checking my email every five minutes as if the world will crash around me if I make someone wait for a response. There are so many little things that I seem to take for granted that I think I will have time to enjoy later on, but I hope that this year, I don’t allow that to happen. When I travel, generally there tends to not be this ‘grind’ that people live by, and it is truly admirable in a sense. I believe we should all work hard and push towards our goals for family, career, etc.. but I think in this new year, I would like to make an effort to ‘stop to smell the roses’.

  • HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ARCHAEOVENTURERS

    Greetings from the ArchaeoVenturers team! This holiday season, we wanted to share our own special holiday traditions from each of our families with you all! These past 3 months since launching #AVProject, we have gotten so much support and received all kinds of positive feedback from people trying to accomplish similar things in life, that we just wanted to say a resounding THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS! SEND IN YOUR holiday family traditions with us!

    The Digger:

    For so many of us, our most memorable Christmas traditions come as children. My sister and I would impatiently wait at the top of the stairs until mom and dad would get the camera ready to film our faces as we came down and saw what Santa had left. Waking up and waiting for what I am certain was forever, is one of those memories that stand out so clearly. But as I have gotten older and our traditions have evolved I find so much more solace in our recent memories. As kids it was all about the presents – but as adults it’s about the people. I am very fortunate that my family attendance at holidays has remained constant with all of my grandparents, all four of whom were born and raised in Canton just like my parents and myself. Waking up now means straight to the kitchen for a morning mimosa with mom and dad rather than making a mess opening presents. The activities change but the people have not, which is probably the best thing about Christmas. Even though I have broken the family chain of Canton-residency, returning home and having the same atmosphere and company to enjoy year after year is what has made the most important Christmas traditions for me – home is where the happiness is.

    The Diver:
    I wanted to share a small special tradition that went on for years when I was a young child. My parents, although divorced, lived across the street from one another and this is a very special set of memories that I recall them working together on to make it believable. Every year for weeks leading up to Christmas, my parents would ask us what we wanted Santa to bring us so that they could give the message to our family elves. Now, since we had two homes, my dad’s apartment and my mom’s apartment both had their own set of twin elves (usually with alliterated names like Peter and Penelope) that collaborated with one another. At night, after being tucked in, we would pretend to be asleep and listen at the door for them on the phone. We would hear them secretly on the phone with the elves, telling them how good we had been (or naughty in some cases I’m sure) and what presents we wanted. Then, on Christmas morning, the elves and Santa always delivered. It truly wasn’t until many years later that I realized the ruse that had been played on us as kids, and yet it’s one of my fondest memories. This is one holiday tradition that I plan on continuing one day…
    HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
    Katie & Justine