The scent of ancient perfumes evaporated eons ago, but scientists are able to reconstruct their ingredients by analysis of the residues left on their containers. Up until now, however, such studies have largely been isolated in the scientific literature, disconnected from the textual and archaeological data that place these perfumes back into the hands of their ancient users.
Kate Birney, assistant professor of classical studies, archaeology, and art history, is hoping to change that as co-architect of the OpenARCHEM project, which seeks to assemble the largest set of organic residue samples ever collected from archaeological artifacts around the Mediterranean. Built in collaboration with archaeochemist Andrew Koh of Brandeis University, OpenARCHEM connects botanicals with the containers in which they traveled and the ancient texts that mention them, to reveal the many roles they played in Mediterranean cultures. To develop this project, Birney has received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship.
The New Directions Fellowship will enable Birney to take advanced coursework at M.I.T. and to study with experts in mineral analysis and the ecology of the ancient Mediterranean, fields that are essential for understanding the cross-disciplinary nature of this work.
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On March 28, the Archaeology Program and the Department of Classical Studies invited Ian Roy of Brandeis University to Wesleyan to discuss ways new technologies are used to study the past. Roy is the founding head of Brandeis MakerLab and director for research technology and innovation at Brandeis University’s library.
Students learned how to use a portable Artec 3-D scanner to scan a vessel from the Wesleyan University Archaeology and Anthropology Collections.
Roy first visited the Archaeometry: How to Science the Heck out of Archaeology class taught by Andrew Koh, visiting assistant professor of archaeology. There, he demonstrated how to scan objects in 3-D using an Artec Space Spyder, a tool that uses structured light to capture incredibly high-resolution scans of objects. The class produced multiple models of artifacts, including a vessel that has since been posted to Sketchfab.
“What’s so amazing is that these are just quick versions made in only 15 minutes, without any post-processing and touch-ups,” said Kate Birney, assistant professor of classical studies, archaeology, and art history.
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Assistant professor Kate Birney (pictured in foreground wearing a blue shirt and tan hat) and Joy Feinberg ’19 (pictured in back with a long-sleeve shirt) work to unearth skeletons and artifacts buried in a Philistine cemetery.
Two Wesleyan students, one recent alumna and a faculty member contributed to a groundbreaking discovery of the first Philistine cemetery, a crowning achievement of more than 30 years of excavation in Ashkelon, Israel. Archaeologists and scholars have long searched for the origin of the Philistines, and the discovery of the cemetery is poised to offer the key to this mystery. Findings from the cemetery, dated to the 11th–8th centuries BCE, may well support the claim – long inferred and recorded in the Bible – that the Philistines were migrants to the shores of ancient Israel who arrived from lands to the West around the 12th century BCE.
Kate Birney, assistant professor of classical studies, assistant professor of archaeology, assistant professor of art history, is the assistant director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon and has been bringing Wesleyan students to the site since 2011 to participate in the research and excavation. The 3,000-year-old site, located in the southern district of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, offers clues to the Philistines’ way of life. Little is known about their origins.
Sarah McCully ’16 has worked for the Leon Levy Expedition in Ashkelon for three years.
This summer, Joy Feinberg ’19, Jaimie Marvin ’19 and Sarah McCully ’16 worked on the Philistine cemetery. McCully ’16, who came to Ashkelon with Birney years ago, is now a staff member for the Leon Levy Expedition. In addition, Sam Ingbar ’16, Hannah Thompson ’17, Maria Ma ’17 and Sabrina Rueber ’18 are also in Ashkelon this summer working on the excavation of a 7th century merchants’ neighborhood.
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