UAlbany students and faculty take a step back in time
l-r: Elena Stylianou, Isaac Samuels, Katie Alois, Professor Stuart Swiny, David Hanssen
UAlbany Associate Professor of Anthropology and Institute of Cypriot Studies Director Stuart Swiny doesn't have a time machine - but he still managed to transport a group of his students back more than 4,000 years last summer when he led an excavation to southern Cyprus.
Supported by a $125,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant, the 11-member research team, which included seniors Katie Alois, David Hanssen, and Isaac Samuels and graduate student Elena Stylianou, traveled to Kaminoudhia, an Early Bronze Age settlement destroyed by an earthquake around 2230 BC. Its several hundred residents "cultivated cereals; herded livestock; hunted deer; and produced a range of pottery, stone, and metal artifacts," said Professor Swiny. (The NEH award was based on the results of earlier work that had uncovered a large structure believed to have been the focus of ceremonial activities at Kaminoudhia - an interpretation supported by last summer's excavation of the approaches to the complex.)
The group worked from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily, unearthing pottery shards, stones, and one particularly impressive find: a soapstone pendant "special because of its shape," Katie said. "It looked like a fish, and also a human. For 4,000 years it was there, and no one else touched it until we found it."
Local women and children helped to excavate the site, doing "as much work as the rest of us," noted Elena, a Cyprus native who "introduced my American family to my Greek family" and translated for the students. A woman from the village cooked for the group. Isaac and the other UAlbany students organized a soccer team - and got "thrashed" by their 14-year-old opponents from the village, David admitted. But there was an unexpected side benefit to the physical activity and the new diet: Isaac lost 20 pounds, and David lost four inches. "It was a running gag: 'Stuart Swiny's Eight Weeks to Success Plan,'" joked Isaac.
Next summer, Professor Swiny will return to Kaminoudhia with another group, including David and Elena. Isaac, who graduates in May, is grateful that he was part of the Summer 2004 research experience; "it's always good to see how people lived, to study things that tell us about human ingenuity." Added Katie: "People today are so caught up in doing things for the future, but there's a lot to be said for taking a step back and seeing where we came from, and for seeing different cultures. It's like an escape."
Department of Anthropology
Institute of Cypriot Studies