ARCH 0420: Archaeologies of the Greek Past

Why should one take a class on Greek Archaeology?

January 27, 2014 · 10 Comments

I have asked archaeology concentrators and non-concentrators to comment on why should a student take a Greek Archaeology class? What does one hope to take away from such a course and how learning about the Greek past is relevant to our students’ lives? Tom and Sophie are taking the class this Spring  and share their thoughts.

Tom Pettengill:

Every academic subject has something unique to offer, and archaeology is no exception. Studying archaeology challenges you to look beyond what you see and urges you to make connections to see the bigger picture – to go beyond merely memorizing details. It forces you to look at objects or events not only from your perspective, but from the perspectives of those who created, used, and experienced it. You learn to ask why and how, but you also learn to imagine the lives and stories behind things that are now past their time. Archaeology teaches you how to analyze, but it also teaches you to use your imagination and to recreate a world that once was. For me, studying Greek archeology will allow me to pursue all of the important benefits of archeology, all the while learning about one of the most influential and interesting ancient cultures of all time.


The image I chose is the lighthouse of Alexandria. I took a course on Egyptology last semester, and this is one monument that really stuck in my mind. It depicts the melding of both Roman and Egyptian cultures and was a major landmark of the city. It demonstrates a civilization’s ability to grow and innovate into a more complex society. Also, lighthouses (to me anyway) have always symbolized a sort of mystery, knowledge, and fortitude – something that I’m sure we will all find within this class!

Sophie Cohen:

Homer’s tales, Plato’s teaching, Phidias’s architectural feats are just a few of the many notable examples from the Greek past. As an archaeology concentrator, a class on archaeologies of Greece is imperative. Looking at the history of archaeology, it is hard to ignore this awe-inspiring branch of Classical Archaeology that has captured the minds of scholars, artists, poets, and authors alike. Not only are the civilizations and cultures of the Greek past still admired today, but also they were respected in their time as some of the most advanced and well connected people. Some civilizations like the Mycenaeans had elaborate fortifications and burial sites while others like the Minoans had strong seafaring capabilities and far-reaching trade routes. Regardless of what their strengths were, they solidified themselves as powerful and influential people in their respective times.

As Brown students, we are constantly presented with architecture, sculpture, and customs in our lives that are influenced by these ancient civilizations. Whether it is the columns on some of our university’s buildings, or the upcoming Olympics, we are reminded of the archaeologies of the Greek past every day. Furthermore, a good archaeologist should not be exclusive – not choosing to study Greek history, in my opinion, would give an archaeologist an incomplete depiction of archeology as a whole.



This picture shows a Minoan fresco found in the palace of Knossos. This further illustrates their seafaring ways and their knowledge of the Mediterranean aquatic life. The immense detail of this piece gives us, as archaeologists and students, a glimpse of the lavish palace and its artistic style.


Categories: Weekly posts

10 responses so far ↓

  • Meredith Bess Bilski // January 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm |

    I think Christian’s point is a very interesting one–so much of the modern world today is based on what has been accomplished by Ancient Greek civilizations. As a history concentrator who relies on primary sources–written correspondence, oral testimonies, etc.–for analysis to draw historically sound conclusions, I find archaeology equally essential in helping us understand the past. Relying on hard evidence, archaeology uses the same methods of the discipline of history and, as we’ve read, even can be seen as a type of history. Nonetheless, it is a unique lens through which we can understand, access, and analyze a very rich and interesting past; its hard evidence allows us to make unique inferences about a pivotal time in human history. Importantly, these civilizations played a central role in informing and defining the present–both in Modern Greece and in the modern world more broadly. Archaeology allows us to understand how our modern world is tied to and has grown from the ancient world.

  • Grace Elizabeth Cinderella // January 29, 2014 at 12:24 pm |

    I really appreciated the fake news story from the Onion that Professor Kondyli showed during the first class. As a science major who has in the introduction of almost every textbook read about “____ who accomplished ___, __, and __ which greatly expanded our understanding of the field of ____,” it has always seemed so incredible to me that so many of these scientists were Greek. The ancient Greek cultures are held in high regard by scientists and scholars alike for the myriad of technological and artistic accomplishments. I think it is important for a student such as myself to study archaeology (and Greek archaeology especially) because to simply accept this thing that we so often wonder at without question would be quite unscientific. The same drive that stops us from merely admiring a flower instead of proceeding to examine and try to learn more from it has the potential to drive any curious mind, archaeology concentrator or not, to want to look closer at these societies. Scientists should embrace this because this tendency is what makes us scientists to begin with.

  • Anders Chase Weiss // January 29, 2014 at 12:06 pm |

    I think another important aspect of Archaeology is the intersection of two civilizations. We get to study how the meetings and interactions between two civilizations ultimately create a blending of the two cultures. While one nation can clearly conform more to another nation’s culture, others take much less. I feel like this is applicable today as America has been described as a ‘melting pot’ of cultures. This phenomena has created its own unique culture from the blending of multiple cultures, and with the study of Archaeology we can get a better grasp of what is going on in our own country with our ever changing culture (this applies to other nations other than America).

  • Christopher Jason Farrow // January 29, 2014 at 1:14 am |

    Echoing what many have already said, the importance of archaeology, especially Greek archaeology, is that it allows for an individual to see the connections between ancient cultures and the modern world. Much of the world we live in today has been directly influenced by developments made in ancient Greece. Arts, culture, religion, architecture, all have roots to classical antiquity. For this reason, archeology allows for a direct examination of how these elements of our world developed into what they are today. As a non-concentrator, taking a class in this subject is certainly invaluable in that it allows me to get a glimpse of this learning process. I look forward expanding the breadth and depth of my knowledge of ancient Greece, and, by extension, the world I live in now.

  • Ashley Urrutia // January 28, 2014 at 9:56 pm |

    Taking a course in Greek archeology, I believe will not only help me further understand Greek society in the past but also the impact it still has one society today. Just like Sophie stated we do we see Greek culture in our everyday lives, and I would love to learn and make more of those connections throughout the semester. I am currently undecided but I have always found Greek culture fascinating. I am excited to recreate and imagine people’s lives in the ancient world and as Tom wrote “go beyond merely memorizing details.”

  • Gabrielle Celine Spencer Hick // January 28, 2014 at 8:02 pm |

    As an art history concentrator, I appreciated what Tom said about looking beyond what is right in front of you to instead understand things within a larger context. I decided to take this class not only because I studied classical civilizations in high school and greatly enjoyed this kind of material then, but also because I think it’s important in the study of art to understand how the evolution of human society is preserved in some way in the art that we produce. I think to look back at the lives and art of the Grecian cultures that essentially founded civilization is also to understand, in part, how much of a debt we owe, artistically and otherwise, to them today.

  • Todd Alexander Stewart // January 28, 2014 at 7:57 pm |

    Just to almost piggyback off of Emile’s (and Tom’s… not very original am I?) point on perspective. Tom mentioned in his post that “You learn to ask why and how, but you also learn to imagine the lives and stories behind things that are now past their time” and the last part of that sentence stood out to me. Yes the items that archaeology unearth are in one sense “past their time” in that they are no longer useful for their intended purpose. But, in unearthing these things, we bring them into our own time and in doing so almost create a physical link to an ancient culture and time. And just the fact that we can hold an item that was used or even treasured by a person – a person not unlike ourselves, with similar desires, ambitions, problems – is something I think that is pretty awesome in the full sense of the word.

  • Lindsay Dara Levine // January 28, 2014 at 5:37 pm |

    As Jonathan commented, I want to take this class because the topic is very different from what I’m normally interested in (biology and environmental studies). However, since high school I have wanted to learn about archaeology simply because it is something I’ve never learned about before, but seems so interesting and multi-faceted. I’ve always been drawn to learning about societies and cultures of the past, I think because there is an inherent element of mystery and imagination when we learn and think about them today. The Whitley reading alluded to the “romance to the study of the Greek countryside,” and I think this is also something that catches my interest.
    I am not currently planning to be an archaeology concentrator, but I think I could be convinced!

  • Jonathan Chang-Huong Chen // January 28, 2014 at 5:07 pm |

    As a non-concentrator like Tom, I took this class because I wanted to leave my comfort zone and take a class that I wouldn’t normally take, which is essentially part of the Brown experience. Archaeology seemed like an interesting subject to study and I was pretty interested in Ancient Greece so I decided on this class.

    I like what Tom said in his post. “Archaeology teaches you how to analyze, but it also teaches you to use your imagination and to recreate a world that once was.” It just seems really cool to me that we can explore ancient history and discover artifacts today that people used thousands of years ago. I can’t wait to learn about all the different civilizations that existed before us and how they impacted our world today.

  • Emile // January 28, 2014 at 5:02 pm |

    I think the most important thing, something that Tom mentioned, was the perspective aspect of archaeology. Understanding things from the point of view of the individuals from the past (in this case, related to Greek culture and whatnot) can contribute to our thoughts and emotions concerning the topic at hand. It’s a much more in depth analysis of Greek culture/society that is both captivating and enlightening.

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