Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sailing, sailing

Big news! It's not very Classical, but it is archaeological and really cool. Even the historic period people are talking about it.

A survey team on Crete found stone tools at several sites on the southern coast dating to the Lower Paleolithic period, about 130,000 years ago. As in, over 100,000 years older than any known Mediterranean seafaring, and 70,000 years older than ANY other known seafaring (from Polynesia to Australia, about 60,000 years ago).

For a little perspective - 130,000 years ago predates anatomically modern humans, so the peoples who were out and about on the Mediterranean back then were Neanderthals, or another species of early hominid. No one (that I've heard, anyway) is talking about the implications for this, but to me it implies levels of organization completely unexpected this early in history. So, pretty cool.

I must admit, the entire contents of this post I got from this article in the London Times. Apparently the researchers announced the finds at the Archaeological Institute of America meeting in Anaheim a couple weeks ago. I, alas, did not hear this there; I was probably at a session about black figure pottery or Downtown Disney or something. Dang. But, word on the street is that their article is being "fast-tracked" in one of the major Greek archaeology publications.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Return of the Mack


It's no secret to many of you that I had a bit of a rough Fall. I attribute this to many things: the move and missing old friends and my old city, lack of enthusiasm about most of my classes, generally getting used to the pressures and politics of a new department, community, and peer group, and, perhaps most significantly, the lack of direction which follows the achievement of a long term goal. For years, getting to this point - namely matriculating in the PhD program at Michigan - has really been my motivating force, the goal to which I directed all my professional efforts. And, now that I'm here, now what? Not to mention the completely depressing thought that I am 27 years old and just beginning this long march toward a doctorate. After working so hard to get to this point, all it seemed I had gained in return was the opportunity to work even harder to get to the next point - and I was not at all sure what I wanted that point to be. Figure six years more of this, then the race toward tenure - when would it end? Thoroughly demoralizing.

So I would get home at the end of the day and feel totally uninspired to write or think more about archaeology. This blog is supposed to be about the love I have for my field, and love I could not find. The last thing I wanted to do was confront and complain about all these frustrations, and I was operating under the "if you can't say something nice..." premise.

But, I now face a new semester and a new year. The dreaded first semester is over. Even better, I'm officially done with Greek! Any more Greek I do from this point forward will be of my own free will and I will have no one to blame but myself for the pain it causes. I'm genuinely excited about 3 of my 4 classes, and neutral on the fourth. (Compare last semester, when I was neutral at best on all 4, even from the onset.) I have several resolutions for myself to make this semester better. Many of them are personal and designed to help me get out of the departmental bubble of stress and anxiety in which I have resided for the last several months. But perhaps most significantly, I think I have found a new 'ultimate' goal, a new aspiration to define and direct my forward progress from this point.

I spent last weekend at the Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting in Anaheim. I had no real reason to go, beyond showing up to appear invested in the field and hopefully network a bit. I ended up being extremely glad I did, though. My old undergraduate department is hiring, so many of my old professors who don't typically attend the meetings were there. We had an impromptu reunion with a few other former students who happened to be around, and it was just brilliant. These are the people who originally inspired me to do this with my life, and they have always been supportive, encouraging, and just a joy to spend time with. Both of my graduate school departments have also been good, and I have no real complaints about them, but the atmosphere is just different. I'm a favored child of my undergrad department, and they have known me for a long time - a benefit of friendships I'm coming to appreciate more and more the older I get and more people I know.

There was also a great session about Career Strategies for graduate students in archaeology. The panelists were frank but also encouraging, and they made a lot of points which were nice to hear (not least of which is that being older, and having more life experiences, is all the better these days on the job market). And suddenly it dawned on me: my 'ultimate' goal is to have a tenured job at Macalester, or at least a similar institution. A high performing, liberal arts school in an urban environment that values scholarship and teaching, multicultural experiences, and has great departmental dynamics and support. Sure, a lot always depends on timing, what jobs open when I happen to need one, but as far as thinking about how I ultimately want to tailor and market myself goes, this is a pretty concrete and, I think, attainable goal.

So there it is. The next real, big goal of where I want to end up. I still hope to run my own field project one day, and want to keep some doors open toward working in non-profits or NGOs instead of the academic market (shhh, don't tell), but in all reality - who am I kidding - academia it will be.

I feel a spark of the love returning. Time to fan the flame.