history

  • 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.

  • “We Fight Our Country’s Battles In The Air, On Land and Sea”

    We fight our country’s battles

    In the air, on land and sea;

    First to fight for right and freedom

    And to keep our honor clean

    - US Marine’s Hymn

    Coming from a country like the United States, where one can easily make the argument that women have close to, if not the most rights in the world, watching countries in the Middle East, especially with what is going on now with ISIS/ISIL/IS, can be incredibly heartbreaking for many reasons. Despite our continuous political arguments over women’s issues, as a nation, the United States continues to be a champion for women’s rights globally. An article marking the eve of International Women’s Day back in March put it succinctly “From ‘honor killings’ to legal restrictions, women in the Arab world face challenges foreign to Westerners.” And yet, only in January 2013 did the USA revisit the effort to put women back into our combat forces, including special operations. Israel, Canada, France, amongst others, are just some of the few nations that already send women to combat.

    The reason we did this special episode series of ‘Women Warriors/Female Fighters” for #AVProject was because we wanted to highlight some inspirational women, both historical and contemporary. Clearly, in only 2-3 minute segments each, we can only chat about a very tiny select few heroines (and we encourage YOU to send in your favorites!) but there were a few certainly worth mentioning.

    This episode, “Eliminating ISIS/ISIL/IS Terror: By Air” focuses on the contribution of Major al-Mansouri- the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) first female pilot to fly an F-16 fighter jet and lead the UAE’s air strikes against the Islamic State* against Syria. Not only is she fighting against an active terrorist group, she was one of the first women to join the UAE Air Force academy after women were allowed to join, graduating in 2007. In the media, she has been referred to as ‘Lady Liberty’ and her attack as ‘Operation Desert Maiden’. This milestone was in part due to Major al-Mansouri’s passion as well as the fact that the UAE is known to have the most liberal views on women’s rights in the Middle East. In stark contrast, Saudi Arabia doesn’t even allow women to drive cars or vote, amongst other oppressive laws.

    When I first became aware of the Major’s achievements, I read that as a teenager, she too had dreamt of becoming a pilot in the armed forces. Unbeknownst to some (mentioned in this episode), I got my private pilot’s license while I was in high school at Republic Airport in Long Island. Although I never made it to the armed forces (the farthest I got was visiting the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs), because I was instead drawn to archaeology, I still always dreamed I would use my skills as a pilot for my career one way or the other. (Side note, in 2005 I did volunteer to build a life-size version of Wiley Post’s Lockheed Vega, the “Winnie Mae” for the National Park Service as part of Historic Aircraft Restoration Project). I rationalized in graduate school, once I went from air to sea with maritime archaeology, that eventually I could still fly planes for aerial remote-sensing surveys of underwater sites. Years later, it is still a goal of mine, however one that is as of yet, unfulfilled.

    What I hope that our audience takes away from this episode and mini-series, is that despite impossible barriers, the human spirit finds a way to persevere. In this case, women throughout history have been often unsung heroes and it’s high time that their achievements be publicly lauded.

    “A woman’s passion about something will lead her to achieving what she aspires, and that’s why she should pursue her interests.”- Major al-Mansouri

    *The modern activities of IS are hereafter referred to only as ISIS or ISIL, because ArchaeoVenturers refuses to acknowledge active terrorists/jihadist militant groups as a legitimate state/entity

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  • International Archaeology Day 2014

         International Archaeology Day is the perfect way for archaeological and cultural heritage academics to give back to their respective local communities. I have become a huge supporter over the last few years of archaeologists taking the time to become involved in public archaeology, community archaeology, local capacity building, and investing in young kids who love exploration and history/science. Education and public engagement are in most, if not all, professional archaeological societies’ ethical or standard professional codes (examples include AIA, SHA, SAA) and it is high time that professionals in the field, make more of a concerted effort to incorporate these principles into their fieldwork and research practices.     Started in 2011, International Archaeology Day is described by the Archaeological Institute of America as:”International Archaeology Day is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the AIA and archaeological organizations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. Whether it is a family-friendly archaeology fair, a guided tour of a local archaeological site, a simulated dig, a lecture or a classroom visit from an archaeologist, the interactive, hands-on International Archaeology Day programs provide the chance to indulge your inner Indiana Jones.”

         This year, ArchaeoVenturers and Youth Diving With a Purpose co-participated with Archaeology in the Community for their IAD event at the Georgetown Library. Run by Dr. Alexandra Jones, Archaeology in the Community organizes events and activities all year round in the DC/MD/VA region (for anyone reading who might be interested in participating or volunteering). We had several interested children from the neighborhood join us for the activities, such as reconstructing broken ceramics (courtesy of DC SHPO office, organized by Ruth Trucolli) or rolling clay pots with Sara Ayers-Rigsby (all the way up from CRM work in FL) to trying on scuba equipment (which is always a favorite as kids love playing dress up). The number one question, behind the inevitable shark questions, is ‘when can I learn to dive?’ which always makes me quite giddy knowing that, in a few years (you can technically start with PADI at only 10 years old!), we could have a new crop of intelligent and inquisitive young kids becoming divers and scientists one day!
       Also on IAD, I was fortunate enough to be extended an invitation to participate in “History, Heroes, and Treasures” organized by the National Archives and Records Administration- which is literally “Night at the Museum”- I wish I had these kinds of opportunities available when I was a kid! The #ArchivesSleepover is described by the Archives Foundation as:”Throughout the night, young explorers investigate – through music, chats with historical figures, games, and more – some of the greatest adventures of all time. Campers will discover mysterious shipwrecks, venture into outer space, explore the wild West, and trek through the rugged Arctic as they explore the National Archives Museum’s treasured records.”All the while, these lucky kids and their parents get to SLEEP NEXT TO THE ORIGINAL CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA- a truly once in a lifetime opportunity-they will hopefully be regaling tales of this night to their children and grandchildren!I worked with David Gadsby of NPS to teach the young explorers how to document artifacts on a shipwreck map (the sitemap of the shipwreck America)- to which they exceeded all expectations. Following that, I was asked to play the part of the Underwater Explorer/Archaeologist (modern day) alongside historical characters Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark exploration fame) and Matthew Hensen (1st African American polar explorer). I donned my full scuba kit for my costume- luckily, I wore a child’s size tank, since we were standing up there under those bright lights for an hour! We were set up on stage, in tv interview format, so that all 100 kids in the audience were allowed to ask us questions. I assume I can speak for my fellow explorers when I say that being on stage answering their queries and helping to educate them about archaeology (not Indiana Jones archaeology), was an inspirational moment for me, knowing how genuinely interested these students and parents were in science and history.Overall, it was an outstanding year for International Archaeology Day and for getting young kids interested in maritime archaeology – I cannot wait to be invited back next year!



















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  • Revising Antiquities Laws- Does it Put a Stop to Illegal Looting?

    There are many outdated laws and regulations concerning heritage and site protection around the world. However, with their recent change in government, India has recognized the necessity of revisiting their cultural resources legislation. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided to push for an update to their 1972 Antiquities and Art Treasures Act (AAT). In their belief, this Act has encouraged illegal looting of Indian antiquities and has made it more difficult for legitimate persons/dealers to obtain licenses for private antiquities ownership. While there is no ban on private ownership of antiquities, one must still obtain a license/submit registration to own them. The ASI has argued that if the law is updated, the black market for illegal items will slow down, bringing more transparency to their legal domestic trade.

    The ASI has previously attempted to change the law to be more compliant with their view, but so far their efforts have been stonewalled. If the ASI were in fact able to pass a new Act or an updated version, does this actually indicate that illegal looting will subside? Or, will it merely make it easier for those persons who already want to abide by the AAT law to comply, and not in fact dissuade those looting for subsistence or other fraudulent reasons? It isn’t inconceivable that once registered, these items, because of their new transparency to the government and other dealers, will become targets for seizure by the state or museums. In that same vein, people may be persuaded by the availability of permits and amplify their search for archaeological sites and artifacts.
    To be clear, I am certainly not arguing that the ASI should not attempt to update these laws- this law created in 1972 must be revisited by Indian lawmakers and heritage managers. However, I play the devil’s advocate when I question whether or not this will in fact make a marked improvement on looting in the country. Perhaps an educational component about the economic incentive fueled by cultural tourism, in addition to the mere redrafting of legislation, would encourage those Indian citizens to become stewards of their own heritage, instead of incentivizing them to own/sell. 
  • An Opinion on Ocean Threats

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    image via transhmanian devil

    In the New York Times ‘Swimming Through Garbage‘, ocean advocate and maritime lawyer, Lewis Pugh, comments that no matter where he swims on our globe, he is swimming through piles of trash- plastic, tires, diapers, bottles- you name it. As a United Nations Patron for the Oceans, he clearly illustrates the idyllic picture of how abundant oceanic wildlife used to be at Columbus’ time (no coincidence that today is Columbus Day), where the sea was ‘thick’ with turtles. When compared to present day, we must reference the Endangered Species Act (1973), which lists approximately 2,195 species on the endangered list. He is rightfully worried that in the next half-life, as more nations become developed and non-renewable resources are in higher demand, we will lose what little this Earth has left. If “an estimated 100 million sharks are fished out of the world’s oceans every year,” and we examine from now until 2030 – approx. ~15 years from now- that is One Billion Five Hundred Million sharks! In his view, the only way we will be able to limit this expansion, and perhaps reverse this alarming process, is through the creation of more marine protected areas (like NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries or PERSGA areas in Red Sea and Gulf of Aden). His ‘Seven Seas Expedition’ is “urging policy makers to protect at least 10% of our seas in a network of well managed and well designed Marine Protected Areas that represent the full range of marine life in our oceans.” I couldn’t agree more…

    As a relatively young diver myself, I have never scuba dived on a healthy reef, either for work or for play. One of my greatest laments as a diver has been that I cannot share in the same experiences of yesteryear with my colleagues who have been diving for decades, who constantly regale me with stories of healthy ecosystems and picturesque reefs. Also, my greatest marine animal experience has been at the Georgia Aquarium, a completely artificial environment, where I dove amongst four whale sharks. This was a fantastic experience, but not compared to diving off the coast of Mozambique or Indonesia and encountering the gentle giants in their natural habitat!  I remember my aquarium dive buddy commenting, ‘thank god we’ve had this opportunity- imagine flying half way across the world to maybe see something this spectacular’. She made that comment because there is no more guarantee that divers or anyone else trying to admire submerged natural beauty, will actually encounter these marine treasures- with fewer chances as time goes on. In fact, we dedicate a whole program as part of Youth Diving With a Purpose, to the Coral Restoration Foundation which “leads the development of offshore nursery and restoration methods to preserve unique genetic lineages of staghorn and elkhorn coral for research and restoration purposes,” which are both endangered.

    It’s small outlets of hope like CRF or Ocean Conservancy, that foster innovation and strategic planning for the possibility that our generation can reverse this unstoppable process. I concur with Pugh’s conclusion, and urge the public to get behind initiatives like those mentioned here, and to help create more global MPAs.  If we want our children to experience the same jaw-dropping moments in the water that we have had the privileges to engage, then we must advocate for more marine protected environments.