The Living Past: Archaeological Excavations Bring Ancient City to Life
Today, the written word is widespread and highly structured; yet, there was a point when writing was in its infancy. Almost 5,000 years ago Europe and Asia Minor entered what is known as the Bronze Age, which lasted approximately 2,500 years, and was characterized by proto-writing, early literature, and the widespread use and trade of bronze, allowing for inventions such as the chariot and sword.
Several millennia later, it’s hard to relate to these ancient civilizations and almost impossible to imagine living during this era. Ianna Recco ’16, an art history and classical languages double major, is bringing one such society to life through her Emerson project, “Gournia Excavation Project.”
Gournia is a Late Bronze Age town, located on the eastern portion of the Mediterranean island of Crete, just south of the Aegean Sea. Recco is supervised by the John and Anne Fischer Professor in Fine Arts John McEnroe, who has been working on a project with the same title for five years.
This is the project’s final season, and the team is finishing the survey work in order to complete a layout of the town. “We are using a Topcon Total Station,” a top-of-the-line surveying instrument, “to shoot a series of coordinates, which can later be strung together to create an incredibly detailed plan of the site, allowing for a comprehensive view of [the city’s] impressive architecture,” Recco explained.
“I always found it incredible that not only could I study a civilization that thrived thousands of years ago, but I could actually see the physical remains of that particular city or town,” Recco said. She has always been interested in archaeology and ancient history, especially after visiting ancient sites in Greece when she was young.
Recco continued, “As a Greek-American, I feel especially close to this project and greatly appreciate this opportunity to immerse myself in my heritage and to apply my knowledge of Greek culture and the modern Greek language, as well as to develop my knowledge of ancient history and the ancient Greek language.” She has worked with McEnroe before, taking his course in classical art history, which laid the foundation for her interest in this project.
Given her areas of study, Recco is thrilled to have this opportunity. She began studying archaeology this past year with Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nathan Goodale; “I have not only reflected on, but also applied many of the things that he taught me on this project including the ethics of archaeology and the significance of an artifacts’ provenience, as well as the more technical procedures such as unearthing an artifact and cataloguing it,” she explained.
Recco was also given “a substantial background of classical artifacts, excavations and sites in Greece,” as a result of a Greek archaeology course taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics Anne Feltovich. “I am often questioned about my choice to study classics,” Recco admitted, “because many people view it as a useless and unprofitable field that revolves around dead languages and obsolete cultures. However, everything that I have studied and experienced thus far on this project has validated the value of studying antiquity as a means to understanding not only the past but also the present through the lens of history.”
Recco confirmed that she would like to do more archaeological work in the future, saying that it is “an incredibly expansive field that requires a great number of different specialists, making it all the more interesting, as there is such a breadth of opportunities.” Although she still has two more years on the Hill, Recco is planning for the future with the same determination that she is deciphering the past; she plans to attend graduate school to continue studying art history and hopes to eventually work in a museum, specifically as a curator.
Ianna Recco is a graduate of the Emma Willard School, Troy, N.Y.