Courses, visiting artists and a lab devoted to reverse-engineering pottery give University of Arizona students a deeper understanding of the Mediterranean region's ancient history.
One morning in April, about a dozen University of Arizona classics and anthropology students gathered under the eucalyptus trees in the Women's Plaza of Honor to watch an artist at work.
Using a series of fine-bristled brushes dipped in wet clay, Roberto Paolini – an artist from Cerveteri, Italy, a famous ancient town north of Rome – traced over graphite drawings on a vase modeled after an ancient southern Italian vessel.
Paolini led the long bristles of his brush, just a few millimeters wide and made of rabbit whiskers, precisely along each graphite line. Students craned their necks to see the images of people dressed in robes taking shape, as they took pictures with their phones.
Like the vase he was replicating, Paolini's painting style – called red-figure vase painting – is thousands of years old. The technique, invented in ancient Athens, was a common pottery decorating method used by artisans in Greece and in southern Italy between the sixth and third centuries B.C.
Paolini is one of only four or five artists, he said, who practice the style, which he learned from his uncle. Paolini, now 36, began painting when he was 12, initially as a hobby. He started selling his work when people would stop by his studio asking to meet the artist, expecting someone older.
"They would say, 'I want to meet the guy,'" Paolini said. "I would say, 'I am the guy.'"
By coming to campus and demonstrating his work, Paolini brought to life the ancient Greek and southern Italian pottery and iconography that classics and anthropology students had spent the semester studying.
In the spring, during Paolini's visit, many of Hasaki's undergraduate students created pots in the lab while documenting the process. Hands-on experiences like those, Hasaki said, are valuable for understanding the technological processes of ancient materials.
"They understand much better when they go through a process, any process. They learn from mistakes, they learn patience and perseverance," she said. "It enhances their appreciation for the course material, and I think it will stay with them for life when they go to museums, to conservation labs, to field excavations."
After reading several of Hasaki's papers about ancient artisan workspaces and social network analysis, Serino thought she would be a valuable collaborator on the A.G.A.T.H.O.C.L.E.S. project and reached out.
"I thought that my project would fit very well with her expertise, and then I realized that the University of Arizona had the facilities to do experimental archaeology and to do research to social network analysis," Serino said. "All of this fit very well with some parts of my project, which is why I asked her to help me."
Rehumanizing the past
As a sophomore last semester, anthropology student Kat Moore was originally nervous to take Pottery Craft and Society in Ancient Greece, a course Hasaki teaches mostly to graduate students.
But Hasaki's teaching style – blending lectures with opportunities for students to work hands-on with ceramic replicas of ancient vessels and to use digital tools to visualize the materials – made the class more accessible than Moore had expected.
Students spent significant time in Hasaki's lab, some of them creating their own pottery projects with the help of Tucson ceramic artist Cynthia Jones, the lab's ceramics instructor. By keeping students so immersed in the pottery-making process, Moore said, Hasaki and the course "rehumanized the past."
"A lot of people look at the object and don't think about where it came from," Moore said. "Eleni really rooted the human element: 'Who exactly were crafting these objects that we would find and what were their lives like?'"
Moore was among the students who gathered around Paolini at the Women's Plaza during his demonstration in April. Watching an artist replicate the movements and techniques of ancient potters, Moore said, further emphasized the human element behind the inanimate objects the class had spent the semester studying.
Thanks to industrialization, Moore said, it's easy to forget about what goes into the material items most people use every day.
"Thinking about the ancient world is in sharp contrast to that because it's all person labor," Moore said. "There is a human or multiple people who worked on this one object so that it can be used."
This summer, Moore will complete archaeological field school in Ferns, Ireland, studying the ruins of a 12th-century monastery. The lessons from Hasaki's class, Moore hopes, will help rehumanize the past in Ireland and any future archaeological experiences.
"It's really valuable to teach students how to critically look at old datasets and create new meaning from them, or reaffirm meaning," Moore said. "It's about teaching new skills that feed into inspiring students, especially undergraduate students, to ask new questions about the past and the impact they're going to have for future research."