Finding Something New in the Old
Angelina Phebus uncovers a new world of possibility by exploring the ancient.
She’s from a tiny town in West Virginia and the first in her family to attend college. With that background in mind, you might think that Angelina Phebus ’11 would have stepped gingerly into collegiate life on an urban campus. But you would be wrong. Phebus jumped head first into her studies at the College, tackling subjects that send most other students running for the hills: Latin and ancient Greek.
Latin and Greek classwork, however, just wasn’t quite enough. Her passion for ancient languages and all things Classical spurred her to join a College research team heading to Turkey in the summer of 2008 with Professor Jim Newhard, who co-founded the College’s interdisciplinary program for archaeology. There, on the steppes of North-Central Anatolia, Newhard, Phebus and nine other College students helped conduct archaeological surveys and manage field operations for the Avkat Project, where more than 50 researchers from 9 countries and 21 institutions have gathered at a time to explore the surroundings of a village historically occupied by residents of Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations.
At Avkat, Phebus was charged with basic data collection. Walking through agricultural fields with five fellow researchers, she collected data that enabled the creation of detailed GIS (geographic information system) maps that help researchers andarchaeologists better understand the area’s past. Such work was thrilling for Phebus, who returned to the region the next summer to work as a fieldwalker in the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project in Greece. Hardly catching her breath, she left Greece mid-summer to return to Avkat to work as a GIS assistant and analyst, developing models explaining archaeological data. While she was away, the young scholar’s legend built on campus, among professors and peers alike.
“She’s what I would consider as the poster child for what we hope to see in every student–curiosity, studiousness, willing to challenge the status quo, firm in her basic skills, she gives back to her peers, institution, and community, and is ready (and able) to tackle the world,” says Newhard, the assistant director for the Avkat Project and chair of the Classics department.“Phebus’ strength is that she goes the distance – from Latin and Greek to multivariate computer modeling.”
In January, Phebus presented her most recent research at the national conference of the Archaeological Institute of America, winning an award for first runner-up. Phebus’s poster, titled “Analyzing Bronze Age Terrestrial and Marine Communication Routes in the Saronic Gulf and Argolid” and co-authored with College professors Newhard and Norman Levine (geology), predicts the most likely routes taken by ancient peoples traveling from the island of Aegina to Mycenaeon the Greek mainland.
It was an ambitious research endeavor, especially when you consider that the analytical GIS methods Phebus used have traditionally only been used to predict routes across land, not water. It was also the second time Phebus presented at the classical archaeology conference, and work she says she could not have accomplished without a little help from the College’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities grant program.
“The College funded my work in Turkey and my last two poster presentations at the Archaeological Institute of America,” says Phebus. “I’m lucky to have had so many opportunities.”
If fortune favors the bold, it’s a good thing Phebus is rarely intimidated. Latin and ancient Greek didn’t scare her, nor did the big, wide Aegean Sea or the steppes of North-Central Anatolia. In fact, making adjustments to research methods and breaking new ground, says Phebus, isn’t something to be feared but rather savored. It is, she says, the “challenging and exciting part of the experience.”