view of Nemea Valley  

FROM THE DIRT TO THE MUSEUM

a website sponsored by
the National Endowment for the Humanities
and Bryn Mawr College

 

 
  

 
 
 

 
 
MARY

 

Mary is a director of our excavation.  She also teaches and works in museums in Pennsylvania.

What got you interested in archaeology? When did you know you wanted to be an archaeologist?

I started to get interested in ancient Greece when I read a picture book version of Homer's Iliad in 5th grade.  When I was in high school I did an independent study course in archaeology.  I also joined a Boy Scout Explorer troop (yes, they let girls join) that worked on an archaeological excavation in Richmond, Virginia led by a man who later became the first State Archaeologist of Virginia.  When I applied to college, I already knew I wanted to be an archaeologist and work in Greece and the Near East.

What can you learn from excavating a town?  What can you learn from a tomb?

When you excavate a town, you learn how people lived: what their houses looked like, how they furnished their houses, what they ate, what kind of work they did, how close they lived to their neighbors, and what kinds of animals they kept.  When you excavate a tomb, you learn about what kinds of clothing and jewelry people wore, their religious beliefs, differences in wealth, and (based on the study of their bones) what they ate, what kind of work they did, and what kinds of illnesses they had.

How many times have you traveled to Greece?

More than 20 times.

How can you tell that pottery was smashed long ago (i.e. in the dromos), rather than recently?

When it was smashed long ago, the edges of the broken pottery are dirty and worn.

How can we trust that the pottery that we see in one style was used only for a certain time period?  What if they liked one style from centuries? 

Sometimes they did like one particular kind of pot for centuries.  For example, in Greece the very large storage jar called a pithos was first made 4000 years ago and is still made the same way today.  Pottery for other purposes change style more quickly.  For example, drinking cups change in shape, the hardness of the pottery, and the painted designs on the surface all the time.  We know because we sometimes find ancient houses that burned down with all the pots inside and a new house built on top of the old one.  Then the later house burned down with all the pots inside and we see how the styles of pottery have changed.

Who is your best archaeological friend?

My husband Jim Wright, who I met on an archaeological excavation in Greece in 1978.  We've worked together on excavations in Greece ever since then.


 

 
 
Copyright © 2007 Johanna Best