Natasha Meyer ’16 speaks about excavation of ancient infant cemetery

By Gregory Chin ’18

Natasha Meyer ’16 before her presentation to the Introduction to Archaeology class.

This past Tuesday Natasha Meyer ’16 visited the Introduction to Archaeology class taught this semester by Prof. Ellen Perry. Natasha talked to us about her senior thesis work and research concerning the micro-excavations of the Kylindra infant cemetery on the Greek island of Astypalaia. Her goal was to foster an ongoing dialogue and understanding between cultural anthropology and biological archaeology concerning how and why the funerals in the Kylindra cemetery occur. That’s some pretty intriguing stuff, and it is hard to believe that a current student is doing such groundbreaking work — part of the average day and life of a Holy Cross student, I guess.

Natasha first delved into the logistical background behind Astypalaia, addressing its population, history, and location. After establishing this foundation, she went about dating the cemetery by using information gained from items found during the excavation, such as amphorae (tall jars) and other burial pottery in which the remains had been placed. This connected almost seamlessly to what we were doing in class (and what we would have to do on a slide exam the following class day!).

She also explained how a “micro” excavation worked, and how members of a field school would have to carefully deal with the infants’ remains, trying to keep them intact and in their exact position before taking pictures and measurements. In addition to this, Natasha acknowledged that, biologically speaking, it would be difficult to uncover the cause of death for the approximately three thousand infants found so far.

However, it would be too easy to stop there, to have an “oh well, we tried” moment that Holy Cross students refer to jokingly in the face of all of our studies. What was perhaps the most interesting point of Natasha’s presentation was her possible explanations for why the infants were buried here at Astypalaia, and in the way they were. Natasha considered and then cast doubt on both infanticide and the existence of a widespread plague or disease as explanations for the many burials in this cemetery. Instead, she argued that the evidence hinted at the possibility of Astypalaia serving as a birthing or healing sanctuary.

Furthermore, according to Natasha’s research, the placement of the babies within the pots perhaps suggested a symbolic rebirth of the infant into the afterlife, a movement proposed to “fix the universe” according to Natasha, Prof. Perry, and her thesis director Prof. Rodgers of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, who was also present for the presentation.

I do know one thing, though. Natasha’s conversation has definitely “fixed” what would have been a normal Tuesday afternoon after class, filling it with questions, answers, and the notion that perhaps the human body is an artifact itself, revealing not only who we are, but who we are in the context of our culture and communities as well. It was an amazing experience, and I can tell that Natasha will go on to do amazing things in the future.

Spirited discussion at student-faculty colloquium on the Aeneid

Colloq 1
A student group projects and analyzes passages from Books 1 and 12 of the poem.

Troy? The gods? Love? Nature? Arms and the man? These topics and more were the subject of spirited discussion among students and faculty from Holy Cross and beyond at the Classics Department colloquium “Vergilian Beginnings: Looking Ahead from Aeneid 1-4” on the afternoon of April 14.

The colloquium was centered around presentations by groups of students from Prof. Aaron Seider’s spring seminar on the Aeneid. After each presentation, Professors Sarah McCallum of Harvard University and James Uden of Boston University offered commentary and questions, as did members of the audience.

Jack Champagne ’19, Nicholas Jalbert ’16, Liam Prendergast ’19, and Melody Wauke ’17 began the event with a consideration of the epic’s deer similes, a group of passages which lend an air of inevitability to Turnus’ doom at the end of the poem.

Questions of Fate were taken up once more by the following student group, as Toni Armstrong ’19, Claude Hanley ’18, and Julia Spiegel ’19 provocatively questioned whether Fate, like so much else in Vergil’s masterpiece, may simply be a matter of perspective.

Sarah McCallum of Harvard University (second from left) talks with students during the break.
Sarah McCallum of Harvard University (second from left) talks with students during the break.

Offering one last bit of intellectual sustenance before the colloquium’s first break for cheese, cookies, and drinks, Maretta Guiendon ’16, Michael Kelley ’18, Andrew Morfill ’18, and Corey Scannell ’18 provided a bracing take on Aeneas’ leadership or, rather, lack thereof. In the colloquium’s final student presentation, Luke Griese ’18, Chris Ryan ’16, Charlie Schufreider ’17, and Jason Steranko ’17 wove together many of our themes in a nuanced consideration of how the same divine forces that set the epic’s plot in motion return once more in its final scenes.

Lastly, Professors McCallum and Uden treated the group to presentations of their own scholarship on the Aeneid. Professor McCallum spoke about how the genre of elegy enriches Vergil’s epic and Professor Uden discussed the intersection of medicine and poetry in Aeneid 12.

Debate among students over Aeneas' leadership qualities spills over into the break.
Debate among students over Aeneas’ leadership qualities spills over into the break.

With our colloquium complete, all joined in to continue the conversation over refreshments and to begin mulling over questions that will remain with us for the remainder of this academic year and, hopefully, much longer.

Post post by Prof. Aaron Seider.