What inspired you to become an archaeologist?
Whilst at high school I was very moved by the Library of Alexandria project and was fascinated by Egypt. The Egyptian archaeology programs in Greece were pretty limited, and I decided to go and study in England in University College London. When I arrived, however, I was advised to register in Greek archaeology and take some Egyptian courses, which I did. So, although I was fascinated initially by Ptolemaic Egypt and its relations with mainland Greece, an excavation in highland Crete convinced me to study the other period of significant relations with Egypt, i.e. Minoan Crete. The study of the Minoans drew my research away from Egypt towards other aspects of that world, such as iconography, writing, and ritual.
Finishing my undergraduate degree, I went to Cambridge to do my masters with John Killen. My work was mainly on the sun-dried clay tablets with syllabic Greek Linear B script found in Mycenaean palaces. I concentrated on the palace of Pylos in southwest mainland Greece. A lot of detective work was done combining different threads of evidence regarding the role of the scribes who wrote these tablets as individuals in the palace bureaucracy. The examination of the widest possible range of evidence has gradually illuminated various aspects of their stories, including insights into their subject specialization, their movement through the palace, and their co-operation with other scribes. More recently, I started work on a project with Rupert Thompson from Cambridge, which focuses on the linguistic variants chosen by the Linear B scribes in the Mycenaean bureaucracies and assesses their frequency in relation to their position in the scribal hierarchy, their scribal specialization, their occupational affiliations and so on. This is one of the first sociolinguistic studies with ancient subjects.
How did you become interested in ritual theory?
I stayed in Cambridge for my doctorate on ritual theory, supervised first, for one term, by Ian Hodder, and then by Colin Renfrew. Through shaping identities and influencing beliefs, rituals can have a significant impact on society. The thesis argued that the social and political "weight" of rituals is related to their degree of establishment. A methodology was developed for attributing ritual value to an activity and for assessing the degree of its establishment. This was then put to test in the case study of some open-air rituals of Minoan Crete. The degree of establishment of the Minoan rituals, according to the study, was then correlated to other research on the dynamics of Minoan society. The thesis aimed to give a new twist to discussions on politics in ancient societies, through the new perspective of the ritual sphere and its establishment.
That research made me all the more aware of the gaps and limitations in the ritual scholarship in archaeology, which has often lacked an explicitly theoretical basis and has tended towards over-ambitious reconstructions. Both my present and my planned research are dedicated to the ways in which ritual can be used as a valuable source of information for the study of ancient societies.
I am writing a book based on my dissertation entitled Ritual in the Aegean: The Minoan Peak Sanctuaries. It will look at the questions of how we attribute ritual in archaeology. I suggest that understanding rituals' degree of establishment is valuable for the archaeology of ancient societies.
Tell us about the Cotsen Advanced Seminar you organized.
The conference on the Archaeology of Ritual took place on January 8-9, 2004. It was a round table of distinguished scholars working in different areas of the world and with very different agendas discussing the ways archaeology can identify ritual and the ways ritual can be employed in archaeological studies. Several respected archaeologists participated, including Colin Renfrew, Joyce Marcus, Christine Hastorf, and Mary Beard, as well as promising young scholars such as Lars Fogelin, and Alessandra Royo. Then, the biggest names in the archaeology and cognitive science of ritualCatherine Bell, Caroline Humphrey, Robert McCauley, the distinguished historian Terence Ranger, and applied linguist Charles Goodwinresponded to the archaeological papers and proposed new avenues for research in the topic. The roundtable papers will be published by the Cotsen Institute's publications program, hopefully within 2004.
In the spring I will be teaching a course on Theoretical Approaches to Minoan Art for Art History. It is a fascinating, yet rarely taught topic which can serve as a basis to various approaches to material culture.
What's your best personal-experience archaeology story?
My first excavation was before I started studying archaeology as an undergraduate, and I went to Aigaione of the ancient Macedonian capitalslocated near the medieval and modern village of Vergina. We were staying in a small house with its own stinking goats and plenty of spiders, which we named Kiki, Fofo, Loulou. The excavation was very exciting, a crossroads with a temple of Eucleia, goddess of fame and marriage. One road went up to the palace and the theatre, and another towards the town and the cemetery, and a third road went to the temple of Kybele, mother of gods, and to other parts of the town and fields. This setting fits very well with the account of where Philip II was killed, coming back to his palace from a wedding (which would take place in the temple of Eukleia). We know he was killed in the theatre which is where he would go through to go to his palace from the temple. I was greatly surprised that the team had not found anything thus far. The very day I appeared their luck changed, but they decided that the bones found were not to be collected. I volunteered to collect the bones and catalogue them myself, finding literally thousands of them, with at least six boars tusks and a possible lion tooth! That same day I also found a silver Corinthian coin with a wonderful Pegasus on one side. It was great fun and a strong motivation for me to continue with archaeology.