You're covered in bug spray and dirt, but I just can't get enough of it. The more you know, the more interesting it gets.

Finding massive status is not the goal of modern archaeology.

"We don't treasure hunt," says Stephanie Larson. Instead, she, like other modern archaeologists, chronicles human existence and the ways in which humans interacted with their environment.

In 2011 Larson, a Hellenist who studies ancient Greek cultures, and her partner Professor Kevin Daly, classics & ancient Mediterranean studies, became co-directors of an excavation in Thebes, Greece, with a $350,000 grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Greek literature provided suggestions on where to dig in Thebes, but surface surveys using equipment such as magnetometry, ground-penetrating radar and resistivity meters helped to pinpoint the best places to start.

"Technology is helping archaeologists a lot," she says. "We can now gather more information and much faster than we could even 10 years ago."

Help also came from the more than 50 Bucknell students who worked on the excavations from 2011 to 2016. Using their skills was challenging, Larson says, because they were inexperienced and "archaeology is a dangerous business."

The danger is the destruction of the evidence being sought as the site is excavated. This means it is crucial for archaeologists to record all information possible for every find and feature discovered, from the location of an object to every detail of its appearance.

"If it's not recorded correctly, then later generations won't know the truth, and as the discoverers, we are the only ones with the knowledge of how things were as they were revealed by the spade," Larson says.

One key find was a vase with a unique sphinx decoration that Bucknell students and faculty uncovered at the joint Greek-American excavation. It has been put on permanent display in the Archaeological Museum of Thebes.

After the excavation was finished under its five-year permit in 2016, Larson and her colleagues started work on publishing results. These upcoming summers are called "study seasons," she says. "It's less glamorous but equally as important. … You quickly excavate, quickly record and put it away, and now you pull everything back out and look at it carefully in order to create the publication of new knowledge."

Archeology is "very hot and dusty. You're covered in bug spray and dirt, but I just can't get enough of it," says Larson. "The more you know, the more interesting it gets," even if there are no big gold statues.

For more on the excavations at Thebes, read the Bucknell Magazine article "Excavating a Legacy."

Posted Sept. 22, 2017