Interview with Professor Lisa Nevett
Lisa Nevett is currently a professor of Classic Archaeology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Professor Nevett got her PhD from the University of Cambridge. One of her interests is how the material culture of the Greek world can be used as a source for social history. Related to this, Professor Nevett is involved in the Olynthos Project. The Olynthos Project is a field project focused on the life and history of the community in Olynthos, Greece. In her interview, Professor Nevett answers questions about her fieldwork and her take on cultural preservation. Read the Interview below:
What inspired you to enter the Archaeological field?
>> I was always interested in the past from when I was a young child - I loved history lessons, visiting museums and old buildings; at school I was lucky enough to learn Latin and ancient Greek, but it was the artifacts and buildings that always caught my imagination. Then as an undergraduate I had the opportunity to travel to Greece and participate in an excavation; the other participants shared their passion for the subject, the country and the people, and I have been hooked ever since! What does your work with the University of Michigan involve?
>> The job is quite varied between teaching, research and administration. There are a lot of meetings and emails (like most jobs). The fun parts are working with students and doing research. Summer field work combines these! What does your work with the Olynthos Project involve?
>> From 2012 I was laying the foundation of the project - setting up the team and writing the research design, From 2014 to 2019 we were gathering data in the field: this not only meant spending 6 weeks in Greece working at the site each summer, but in the rest of the year it also involved a lot of proposals and reports (for publications, for funding and for permits etc.) Now we are in our study phase, so combing through our project archive, and spending weeks in the summer documenting the pottery and other artifacts we found. What has your work in Greece taught you about Greek Archaeology?
>> It is an inherently collaborative enterprise - in order to do anything meaningful it takes many brains and the physical work of a team of people striving towards the same goals! What makes Greek Archaeology unique and how does it connect to Greek culture in general?
>> As a discipline Greek archaeology has a long history - this is good and bad - good because there's a lot of previous work to build on, but bad because it is often founded on untested assumptions and on the cultural values of previous generations, which are different from our own. Traditionally, ancient Greek culture was viewed through the lens of the ancient writers but one of the exciting things about archaeology is that it offers a window into the lives of members of society who didn't leave written texts - such as women, the economically disadvantaged, rural populations etc. It also enables us to ask questions that the texts don't touch on. Archaeology therefore massively expands our view of the Greek past. As an archaeologist who spends time in the field, what steps/ precautions do you take to make sure that the artifacts you find are preserved?
>> I mentioned that archaeology is collaborative; our local colleagues are the ones charged with preserving the material and presenting it to visitors. We try to be good partners by making sure that we organize the material and that we contribute resources to support conservation, recording and publication. How important is preserving artifacts?
>> The artifacts are individually less important than their context: we cannot learn very much from an individual pottery vessel (for example); but we can learn a whole lot more by looking at how a group of vessels relates to each other spatially (and therefore in terms of their relative chronology and their use-lives). If we add to that information about the surrounding architecture and the different archaeological layers, we can start to build up a picture which helps address questions about the people who once lived in a place. This is why protecting and conserving ancient sites is so important. Saving individual objects from them is not enough - we need to preserve the objects' relationships and surroundings. What can the average person do to help with cultural preservation?
>> Become educated about different cultures by reading and visiting museums; value other cultures for their differences; support those who are trying to preserve varied cultures; be respectful of cultural artifacts; become involved with cultural organizations.