After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the late 1990s, Scott Bucking joined DePaul's Department of History in 1999 as the university's first faculty member of ancient Mediterranean studies. For nearly 10 years, Bucking has taken his passion across the Atlantic Ocean to lead archaeological expeditions in Egypt and southern Israel. After earning two Fulbright grants himself, he recently became the DePaul liaison to the Fulbright Scholar Program for faculty. Read on to learn how this inscriptions expert uses landscapes to understand ancient Mediterranean societies.
How did you get your start in archaeology?
When I began my doctoral training at the University of Cambridge, I was very much a text person working with Greek and Egyptian papyri. During my studies, I became deeply interested in non-portable texts, such as inscriptions and graffiti, and their archaeological settings. I wanted to get in the field to learn about the ancient landscapes in which these texts were situated, since the landscapes give us a more holistic understanding of the texts themselves.
I love bringing my work and field experiences into my classrooms at DePaul where, as I joke with my students, I pretty much teach ancient everything. Now that I'm getting older, I'm starting to feel closer and closer to these ancient materials.
How does ancient Mediterranean studies relate to today's society?
A value in exposing students to many of the problems in ancient societies - Greek, Roman and Egyptian - is that these issues can also be seen, in one form or another, in the modern world. Whether they're political, economic, social or cultural, looking back at the challenges these societies faced and understanding how they played out over time is a great learning opportunity.
By exploring these issues, my students also see the interconnectedness of human cultures across regions and time periods. This helps us to understand something about contemporary society.
Can you talk about your current expeditions?
Our work in Avdat, a late antiquity-period town in the Negev desert of southern Israel, began in 2012. We are excavating a cave-dwelling complex on the slopes of the hilltop town. The complex contains red-painted figures and symbols, similar to graffiti, which relates to a warrior saint cult active in one of the two churches on the hilltop. We are looking at how this complex may be associated with monks who not only were involved in the perpetuation of that cult, but also were major economic players in the wine trade.
My fieldwork at Beni Hassan, an ancient Egyptian cemetery site, started in 2009. Here we're looking at tombs built during the time of the pharaohs - roughly 2,000 B.C. They were reused by Christian monks sometime around 500 A.D, so we're able to see how archaeological landscapes are dynamic, not just static entities; they are reshaped by interactions with people throughout time. This concept fits in the current day when we examine issues like conservation, looting, the destruction of sites by terrorist groups, and many other things happening in the world.
We work very closely with the governmental antiquity authorities in both countries, which has been extremely beneficial to everything we do. They help bring in specialists if we need them and assist us with logistics on the ground, but also they strengthen our overall global connectedness. Global engagement can sometimes be a buzz term, but it's important for people to understand how we can connect with other parts of the world in truly meaningful ways.
My team and I are heading back to Egypt in March. It will be a short, but hopefully very productive, trip.
In August we'll be back in the Negev. Our most recent excavation there last summer yielded some of the best preserved donkey poop and other bio-archaeological material - to sound more scientific - which can really help unlock our understanding of the ancient economy in this region. We actually have grape seeds we think we can extract DNA from and we're working with some wonderful scientific partners in Israel to help accomplish that.
I'm incredibly grateful for the generous support I've gotten through DePaul, the Fulbright program and other organizations. Without that support and without the relationships we've built with the people and institutions in Egypt, Israel and elsewhere, much of this work would not be possible.