September 15, 2014, BY Gigi Marino

Bucknell University Professor Kevin Daly, classics and ancient Mediterranean studies

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In fall 2012, Bucknell Professor Kevin Daly, classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, was encouraged to apply for the prestigious position of academic professor for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The American School is one of the most well-established foreign centers of archaeology in the world and attracts the top graduate students in classics and archaeology every year for its yearlong academic program of study in Greece.

"This is a pinnacle position," said Daly, "something people do at the end of their careers, when they are well established in the field. My first reaction was that I didn't have enough experience, I'm only in my mid-40s and I shouldn't apply. But I finally put in an application and then didn't think much about it." In spring 2013, Daly received notice that he was on the short list. "I knew everyone on the short list, all of whom are great scholars," Daly said. A few months later, he was offered the job.

"I was shocked to learn that I was the first choice," said Daly.

The job, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Classical Studies, is a three-year appointment. During this time, Daly will be responsible for setting the school's academic program and leading site visits across Greece.

These two-and-a-half-week trips are intense and compressed periods during which the students of the American School visit three or four archaeological sites or museums a day. "You leave at 7 a.m. and get back at 7 p.m.," said Daly, "but it's one of the best educational experiences in classics and archeology that you will ever get." 

In addition to his duties at the American School of Classical Studies, Daly will continue to co-direct the excavation in the sanctuary of Ismenion Apollo in Thebes. This project, supported and sponsored by Bucknell and the Greek government, was launched in 2011 by Daly and Professor Stephanie Larson, classics and ancient Mediterranean studies. | Read more in the Bucknell Magazine article, "A Hill in Thebes"

The site at the Ismenion Hill covers three main phases. During the second millennium BCE, it was used as a Bronze Age cemetery. Through the eighth to fourth centuries BCE, it housed a temple to Apollo. During Byzantine times (the fifth century to the 14th century CE) the hill was again used as a cemetery for the nearby Christian church of St. Luke. 

Among the dig's many finds, Larson said, is a rare red-figure vase with sphinxes rather than the traditional griffins. "To have found the only existing example of an altered traditional motif is really fascinating in terms of local identity and demand," said Larson.

The vase will be housed in the newly re-opened Theban Archeological Museum. "It was chosen by the head archeologist of the region because it's so important," Larson said. "All the time, effort and money that Bucknell has put into this dig has contributed to new knowledge for posterity." 

Another key discovery at the Ismenion Hill was a fully articulated skeleton found buried into the bedrock of the original temple of Apollo. Affectionately known by the Bucknell team as Gus, the skeleton is in excellent condition and will be a source of much scholarly study.

But the most important thing that Gus has to tell, said Larson, is how quickly the ancient Thebans abandoned their pagan roots and embraced Christianity. 

"Gus' date of death, which was late 5th century AD, suggests that the pagan temple had been completely out of use by this time. It's an important date in understanding the Theban transition from paganism to Christianity. It was pretty early," said Larson.

Lastly, throughout 2015–16 Larson will direct the newly formed Athens study abroad program co-developed by Bucknell and Penn State, which Larson said is "the only purely humanities-based semester study abroad program" Bucknell offers. "It will be highly academic, focusing on history, art and classical studies," she explained. "It offers a great opportunity for Bucknell students to complete a double major, and for faculty to develop professionally."