SUNY Professor, student to dig this summer to study ancient Turkey


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Sharon Steadman, associate professor of sociology/anthropology at SUNY Cortland, will be doing archeological research in Turkey this summer and is writing a book on religion and cultures for a teaching course.

Staff Reporter

Every summer since 1993 Sharon Steadman has studied ancient Turkish culture through broken pottery, tools, jewelry and mudbrick architecture at a site in central Turkey.
“You don’t find spectacular things,” said Steadman, an associate professor of sociology/anthropology at SUNY Cortland and full-time faculty member since 1998, noting that most people lived ordinary lives and it is the ordinary people anthropologists want to learn about.
In an interview Monday afternoon, Steadman, 44, said she has been interested in the Middle East since the mid-1980s during graduate school. She worked on her first dig in Israel and Jordan in 1983.
“Everyone was working there,” Steadman said of those two small countries. “There were no Americans in Turkey and we knew little about ancient Turkey.”
Steadman said she did excavation work in Turkey for the first time in 1989. This will be the 14th summer she has worked with a team of archeologists from other American universities at Cadir Hoyuk, a site in central Turkey. The group was given an old school site about a mile away in Penir Yemez and uses the two-room schoolhouse as their lab. They raised money and built a house there in 2000.
Steadman said this year the budget is tight. Their work will be supported with a $10,000 grant from the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, an international research center affiliated with Harvard University. Their respective universities also support the excavation, giving the team a total of $18,000. Steadman said some years they have had $50,000 for their expeditions. She said with more money they can hire more local workers and lengthen their visit. Steadman said the trip is tentatively planned for July 6 with the team returning Aug. 15.
Steadman said three other members of the team have gone every year, just as she has — Ron Gorney of the University of Chicago, Gregory McMahon of the University of New Hampshire, and Samuel Paley of SUNY Buffalo.
“I’m competent in Turkish,” Steadman said. She said McMahon is fluent.
Steadman said graduate students also go on the dig and one SUNY Cortland undergraduate is going. Vanessa Weinert, from Jamestown, just received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a minor in women’s studies, this May.
Weinert said she is working as a waitress in Rochester this summer to raise money for the trip. She said she is also trying to pick up some of the language or at least get “comfortable listening to it” from a Turkish language CD.
“It’s been in my head over a year ago,” Weinert said during a phone interview Tuesday. “I’m really excited to visit Turkey.” Weinert said Steadman asked her to go when she was a junior and took the class, “People of the Middle East.” Weinert said she has done research on Middle Eastern women and Muslim feminism in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
“I would like to interact as much as possible with the people,” Weinert said. “I know we’re going to be working in the dirt all day.” She said she is interested in learning about the current culture in Penir Yemez during breaks in their work.
Steadman, who took the spring semester off to start writing a textbook to use with her course, “The Archaeology of Religion,” said she did not plan to work on the book while in Turkey. The book, about a third completed, will examine the origin of religion, a range of ancient beliefs and how archeology can help interpret ancient belief systems. She said she hopes to publish it in the next couple of years.
Steadman said because of the heat, the work starts in the early morning. She said they like to be in the field by 5 a.m., just as the sun is coming up. They take a break around 10 a.m. for a second breakfast and finish fieldwork at 1:30 p.m. and break for lunch. But the day is not over yet. Steadman said they work on processing their day’s work from 4 to 10 p.m., with a dinner break around 7:30 p.m.
Steadman said the excavation site has revealed it was occupied for multiple periods, from the Stone Age to the Byzantine period for about 6,000 years, ending around 1100 A.D. She said she is an expert for the Late Chalcolithic period, which translates “copper stone” and dates from 3600 to 3200 B.C.
This year the grant covers excavation work from the Byzantine period. She said excavation work already done last year shows a decline in wealth and now the goal is to determine why the Byzantine farmers’ fortunes faded from the sixth century to the 11th century. From this period, she said they have found silver crosses and alabaster pieces.
“One of the most important things is where it’s found and its context,” Steadman said of their discoveries. She explained that where items are found in relation to walls and floors, for example, is important. “We’re looking at the whole picture.”
Steadman said in a Late Chalcolithic area excavated, one house had lots of pottery and some of it appeared to be used little if at all, whereas at another house excavation there was not much pottery and it was well used and there were signs of tools used for making other tools. She said this could mean there were “specialists” in the village, such as a toolmaker and pottery maker. The potter appeared to be made for someone wealthier than the toolmaker, she added.
Steadman lives in Lansing with her husband Girish N. Bhat, an associate professor of history at SUNY Cortland. She said he has traveled once to visit her in Turkey in 2001. “He loved my village. He loved everything but the archaeology.”
She said he did enjoy talking to the local people. Steadman said Bhat, a Russian historian, picked up the language easily and got into a conversation about music that she couldn’t follow.
Weinert said she was excited about the trip and the opportunity to live in a rural setting and be able to work outside. “I think I’m pretty good at adapting,” she said of the change from living in a large city to a rural village.
“This is my first time actually working on an excavation, Weinert said.”


Homer to buy property  

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The Town Board on Wednesday night approved a resolution to purchase a fire-damaged vacant house adjacent to Town Hall from the county for $34,220 in back taxes. The 0.27-acre property could be used as a parking lot. The house at 33 N. Main St., which is immediately north of the Town Hall at 31 N. Main St., would most likely be demolished.
“Right now, our options are open. We don’t know what we’re going to do with it,” said board member Barry Warren. “Part of what we’re possibly trying to do here is create a parking lot.”
The purpose of the parking area would be to contribute to the reconstruction and renovation of the Town Hall.


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Contract of McGraw school chief extended

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — The Board of Education voted 4-2 to extend Superintendent of School Maria S. Fragnoli-Ryan’s contract for another year, through the 2008-09 year.
Fragnoli-Ryan’s salary is $101,920. She said an increase in salary has not been approved yet for 2006-07.
“I understand there are many issues that need to be addressed and I am willing to do that.” She said the vote shows that a majority of the board does support her.
Major issues in the district include teacher morale and communications among administrators, teachers and the public. The board did set up a communications subcommittee to address some of the issues and Fragnoli-Ryan is a member of this group. Teachers had taken a vote of no confidence in the superintendent in April, complaining that Fragnoli-Ryan was too controlling and did not do enough to consider the opinions of others.
Wednesday night board members would not discuss the issues publicly, saying they were personnel matters.


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