Graduate student Rebecca Karberg in 2001, documenting the unpredicatable ritual of discovery, one spadeful at a time.
Graduate student Rebecca Karberg in 2001, documenting the unpredicatable ritual of discovery, one spadeful at a time.

 

In myth, the model for this bronze was the infant Opheltes, son of a Namean king, tragically slain by a serpent. A sizeable shrine to his memory has been uncovered at Nemea. According to folklore, the first Namean games were held for his funeral.
In myth, the model for this bronze was the infant Opheltes, son of a Namean king, tragically slain by a serpent. A sizeable shrine to his memory has been uncovered at Nemea. According to folklore, the first Namean games were held for his funeral.

 

Jorge Bravo (at Nemea in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003) is a doctoral student whose dissertation is on the Hero Shrine of Opheltes. I enjoy the feeling of discovery, of seeing objects that haven’t been seen for a couple of thousand years. Wherever I end up after my Ph.D., I’d like to keep fieldwork as part of my career. Nemea has also given me the topic of my dissertation, which is on the hero shrine that I helped excavate.

James Clauss (at Nemea in 1978) received his Ph.D. in 1983 and is a professor of Classics at the University of Washington, and also a self-confessed “docustar” via a Discovery Channel program and BBC documentaries.

Before going, I did not realize that much of what we were going to do would require me to take almost complete charge of a trench, for which I had no experience. This concerned me considerably, especially given the fact that Steve would casually say that we could destroy history completely and forever if we weren’t careful. What I found by the end of the dig was the courage that comes from necessity.

Randall Colaizzi (at Nemea in 1983) earned an M.A. in 1979 and a Ph.D. in 1986 and is a senior lecturer in Classical studies at Wellesley College.

I had planned to go, at the end of my stay, to Italy, my real interest (or so I thought). But by the end of the dig that summer, I didn’t want to leave Greece. Living in that landscape overwhelmed me. This was 1983: there were no cell phones or computers there, no ATMs. All day long the cicadas shrill pulsing rose up and down in the heat. It was the most vivid three months of my life.

Rebecca Karberg (at Nemea in 2001) is working toward her Ph.D.
When we laid out our pottery, which had been washed, that’s when the research part of the day began. In the field, while digging was going on, we recorded finds, took levels of various layers, updated plans, and made notes on anything of interest in the trench. Our time in the museum was devoted to looking up and confirming (or refuting, as they case may have been) hunches that we had about things earlier in the day. Museum work ended late in the afternoon, and then it was back to the house for a shower.

My trench, much to everyone’s surprise, turned up two starting-line blocks. These blocks, laid side-by-side in a layer of flat, well-packed clay, marked the start of a practice track, where the athletes could train before the races of the actual games. We found the blocks after days and days of digging sand and gravel finding almost nothing, not even pottery — which only added to the excitement and unexpectedness of it all.

Jeannie Marchand (at Nemea in 1990) received an M.A. in 1990 and a Ph.D in 2002. She spends every summer in Greece and works at two nearby sites.

The work routine: We got up early, had a quick coffee, and hopped in the truck to be up at the stadium by 7. We then spent all day there excavating, until around 3:30, with a break for lunch, eaten on site. It was very hot by around 10 in the morning, and very dry. I spent most of the time writing in the notebook and talking to the workmen, trying to learn Greek and trying to learn archaeology from them. They were great about explaining what they were doing. After the day’s digging, we went back to the dig house and had some down time. In the late afternoon, we had a few hours in the museum.

Professionally, it gave me a sense of a relationship to Greece which made me decide to continue for the Ph.D. It also led indirectly to my dissertation at the nearby and related Kleonai, where I now conduct excavations of my own along with a colleague.

Sarah Stroup (at Nemea in 1994 and 1997) received an M.A. in 1994 and a Ph.D. in 2000 and is now an assistant professor of Classics at the University of Washington and a co-director (with Andrew Stewart, a history of art professor at Berkeley, and Ilan Sharon, of Hebrew University, Jerusalem) of the ongoing excavations at Tel Dor, Israel, “a direct outgrowth of my time at Nemea.”

In 1994 I worked with another graduate student in excavating the remaining areas of the tunnel that led from the ancient apodyterion (“un-dressing room”) into the ancient stadium. We also learned how to plot, measure, and record (draw!) the architectural details at the far end of the stadium, and I worked on the numismatics collection at Nemea. In 1997 I led a team excavating the area south of the bath house.

My work at Nemea changed me as both a person and a scholar. There is really nothing like it to be had in the “regular” structure of on-campus grad student work or grad/faculty interaction. I truly believe that even the most highly “textual” of literary scholars is made better — more interesting, more critical, and sharply analytical — by a bit of time in the dirt.

Athena Trakadas (at Nemea as an undergraduate research apprentice in 1997 and as a graduate student in 2000) received a B.A. from Berkeley in 1997 and graduate degrees (one complete, one in progress, from institutions in Texas and Denmark, respectively). She has directed a coastal archaeological survey of Morocco for three years, examining remains of early shipwrecks and anchorages.

Moment of Discovery; in 1986, graduate student Anne Stewart and two local Nemean workmen carefully cleaned off a marble dedicatory relief they had just found.
Moment of Discovery; in 1986, graduate student Anne Stewart and two local Nemean workmen carefully cleaned off a marble dedicatory relief they had just found.

I knew that excavating includes long, hot days surrounded by dirt and numerous pottery shards, but at Nemea I got to experience more readily the entire archaeological field process. Nemea is a small site, with only several graduate students every summer, and about 40 local workmen. In the field, you’re not only involved in part of the digging, but are directing what happens in your own trench: you’re responsible for deciding what will be dug when and how (and when to ask Professor Miller for help), mapping your trench, keeping your daily trench notebook, doing pottery readings, artifact conservation, and writing up artifact descriptions. Because this process is directed by you, you have a much clearer idea not only of the archaeological processes of the site, but also the chronology of your trench in particular and how it relates to other trenches, past and present, on the site.

Favorite Memories

The astonishing ability of many of the workers, some of whom had been employed at Nemea for a decade at that point. They often taught the grad students what to look for. The most important thing in archaeology is stratigraphy, recognizing where one layer of earth begins and another ends. Layers mean a change of time or substance. Recognizing the color and consistency of the soil, and then describing it accurately, is therefore crucial. But the same soil may look different when dry or wet; on a sunny or a cloudy day; in the morning or in the afternoon. Some workers (and Steve Miller) could tell you exactly when the soil was changing, and often the changes were in three dimensions, not just flat layers but shapes of one color barely discernible in another. This could show, for example, an organic object that had disappeared. — Randall Colaizzi

A rainstorm breaking suddenly one afternoon late in the season, being caught out by my trench, and huddling under the umbrella that served as my sunshade with about six of the workmen, who put me at the center so that I would get least wet. — Rebecca Karberg

The very first day I was in Nemea, which is so rural you could still see people using donkeys, I went out alone in the afternoon for a walk; no one was out, because it was still hot. I was walking down the only main road in town when an old man came out of his house, and without saying a word he went over to his rose bushes, pulled off handfuls of rose petals, walked over to me, and sprinkled them all over my head without making a sound or even really smiling. Then he turned and went back into his house. That was my introduction to Nemea. Working there changed my life, since I met my husband — who is from Archaia Nemea — while digging in the stadium. — Jeannie Marchand

Tree frogs in the shower. You’d hardly notice them at all until you turned the thing on after a dusty day of digging and they’d start greeting you with a happy little chorus — a huge highlight, almost as good as finding that big gold coin. A pit viper in the courtyard. A large earthquake in the middle of the night. The very voice of heaven in the silence of a Nemea valley sunset. — Sarah Stroup

Mycenaen vases found at the site.
Mycenaen vases found at the site.

I remember hanging upside down in a well we were excavating, examining architectural fragments that were buried in mud and several feet of water. — Athena Trakadas


Categories: Student & Alumni Profiles
Tags: , ,

About Dick Cortén