CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Jennifer Miraldi, a junior classics major at Austin Peay State University, unfolded a large map and spread it over the desk of Dr. Tim Winters, APSU professor of classics, covering up his coffee mugs and a worn, paperback copy of Euripides’ plays.
“The site is called Gournia,” Miraldi said, leaning over the map and pointing at a small dot on the Greek island of Crete. It didn’t look like much on the crinkled paper, but in actuality Gournia is a stunningly beautiful archeological site, with ancient stone walls surrounded by lush green hills and the deep blue of the Cretan Sea.
This summer, Miraldi will spend about two months at this site, sifting through the remains of what was once a 3,000-year-old town, as one of only four students in the United States to participate in a coveted archeological excavation of the city.
“In the mornings, we will be digging in the trenches,” she said. “In the afternoons we’ll learn how to wash pottery, how to classify it.”
The site is the type of place that causes archeologists and classics professors to speak in loud and excited voices, their eyes widening, because it is the only town from the Minoan Period ever to be excavated. Miraldi will be picking through materials from about 2000 to 1500 B.C., during the Middle Minoan period, which Winters said is a critical time for understanding what happened not just in Crete but in the surrounding areas.
“It’s the period when writing first appears in the Aegean, when trade with Egypt and the Near East picks up,” he said. “I am so jealous of her being able to do this.”
It is also the period when the Thera volcano is believed to have erupted, causing enormous damage to the island and possibly darkening the sky all the way to Egypt.
“Graduate students tremble for an opportunity like this,” Winters added as Miraldi refolded her map. “It’s very rare for an undergraduate to work at a dig like this at a major site. And she will be one of four, so she’ll get a chance to be a part of every aspect of the excavation, to learn about it from the ground up.”
Miraldi visited the area last summer while on a study abroad trip to Greece with Winters. The area captivated her, and she wanted to return to do some actual hands-on work at an archeological site.
But those types of opportunities aren’t that easy to come by for undergraduates. Luckily for Miraldi, Winters is friends with Dr. John Younger of the University of Kansas, one of the participants in the excavation. One evening, the two men were talking on the telephone about their travels when the topic of Gournia came up.
“He mentioned to me that he was going to be excavating at Gournia, so I asked if they needed any students,” Winters said. “He said, ‘we do have one place open.’ I said, ‘I can fill that for you.’”
A few days later, after talking with Winters and then Younger, Miraldi altered her plans for this summer so she could spend six weeks in Crete.
“I was ecstatic when I found out I was going,” she said. “I didn’t think undergraduates got to do this type of thing. I wanted to do this for a long time. I couldn’t believe it.”
When Miraldi returns to APSU next fall, she’ll begin the tedious process of applying for graduate school programs. But her experience over the summer will help her stand out over other applicants, Winters said.
“Two really good things happen. She’s going to be trying to get into graduate school pretty soon, so having contacts with someone who is the director of a dig at a major graduate institution for our field is a great thing. It gives her a little bit of a leg up over the other applicants. The other thing is, any other time she applies for any type of excavation in Greece, she already has letters of recommendations and hands-on experience. That makes her so much more valuable.”
Miraldi will leave for Greece around June 15 and return to the U.S. on July 30. For more information on her trip and on studying classics at APSU, contact Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.