Archive for January, 2009

Museums and Academic Values (by Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Education)

January 29, 2009

Arts advocates have been outraged this week by Brandeis University’s plan to sell all of the art in its museum as a way to raise money for the university. It turns out Brandeis isn’t the only university where critics are questioning the university’s commitment to important values for academic museums — although many may be relieved to know this other controversy does not involve a university selling off a collection. (Update on Brandeis: Its president on Wednesday indicated he might go along with keeping some of the art, but was committed to shutting the museum.)

The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology — long considered one of the leading institutions of its kind — last month told the 18 research specialists who make up the research division of the institution that they would all lose their jobs in May. Those laid off include many leading scholars, some of whom have worked 20 or more years at the university, managing research expeditions around the world, running labs at Penn, and publishing widely. These researchers are not tenured faculty members, however, so their positions can be eliminated with relative ease, which is what the museum is doing.

While these jobs are being eliminated, the museum is also considering ways to attract a bigger name for itself, and more visitors. The new director, citing budget constraints and changing museum priorities, wants research focused on the collections, not on scholarly inquiry broadly related to the museum’s fields, as the researchers have been able to do.

And the museum sees fund raising as key — whether in the idea of adding an upscale restaurant for visitors or in encouraging researchers who want an affiliation to raise their own funds through grants or other sources. Indeed those whose jobs are being eliminated may be able to stay if they can raise money for their costs. This more entrepreneurial approach isn’t flying with many scholars.

“We would like to remind the administrators that universities are not for-profit businesses, rather they are institutions of research and teaching whose component parts need to be supported and protected, especially in tough financial times,” says an open letter circulating about the situation at Penn, and signed by more than 3,300 people, many of them professors from all over the world. Noting the museum’s “unique status as a research institution that has carried out many historically significant archaeological projects, most notably in the Middle East, the Mediterranean World, and Mesoamerica,” the letter says that the “dismantling of the research infrastructure” is “a drastic surgical gesture, a decisive act that will discontinue the possibility of future archaeological research…. “

And noting some of the scholars who will lose their jobs, the letter says: “We feel that the firing of these researchers in this financially strained environment is unfair since they may not be easily employed elsewhere at this time with their laboratory and facilities needs. Additionally, the administration’s financially motivated decision not only violates academic ethics of respect to such scholarly accomplishments and intellectual labor, but also ignores the institutional memory of the University Museum all together.”

The Penn museum was founded in 1887 and boasts that it has sponsored more than 400 expeditions around the world. The museum has a curatorial staff of about a dozen, many of whom also hold faculty titles at Penn and teach and are tenure eligible. The curatorial slots aren’t being touched. It is 18 research scientists who work on anthropology and archaeology, conducting original research all over the world and publishing the results, whose jobs are being eliminated.

Richard Hodges came to the museum as director in 2007, moving from Britain, where he was director of the Institute of World Archaeology at the University of East Anglia. He repeatedly described the changes he is leading as being about moving the museum “into the 21st century.” To do that, he said, the museum needs both money and a change in attitude.

“What we hope is that as a museum we will focus not on the personal research of the range of individuals, but essentially concentrating on the museum’s extraordinary collections and getting those out to a world audience,” he said. By eliminating the salaries of the 18 researchers, the museum will save about $1 million a year, he said.

Told that some of those whose jobs are being eliminated have said he is trying to run the museum like the Wharton School, with the assumption that anyone good can find money, he doesn’t balk at the comparison with Penn’s acclaimed business school. “Why not?” Hodges said. Many scientists of course must win grants to cover salaries if they want to win tenure. Hodges said that in his position in Britain, if he didn’t land grants, his team members would lose their jobs.

Of the prior approach at the Penn museum, he asked, “Why are we sustaining a tradition that believes that all we do is go out and do research for our ends?” He said that the current researchers “through no fault of their own” have been working in an outdated model of following their research interests and not raising money. “They have been in a different kind of institutional structure,” he said.

He added that “the critics are saying we should be frozen in time, speaking a language which is different from the language I speak.”

One idea being discussed — and much criticized by the scholars angry over the job eliminations — is adding an upscale restaurant to the museum. Hodges said that people are making too much of this, and that the changes he is pushing involve a commitment to high quality research and outreach — just funded in a different way. But he said that given poor financing of museums in the United States, and the reality that Penn can only pay for about 40 percent of the museum’s budget, there is nothing wrong with considering the amenities at museums.

“You need to get the right kind of people to take a genuine interest in the place,” he said. “We have a perfectly serviceable canteen at the moment, but wouldn’t it be better to have a better place and then [would-be donors] would support us more wholeheartedly?”

To many scholars, such talk of fund raising and priorities masks what they view to be really going on at Penn: an unceremonious dismissal of scholars who have done outstanding work. One Web site that has been created features links to letters about the work of some of those who would lose their jobs.

One of the scholars whose position is being eliminated after more than a decade and who asked not to be identified for fear of offending potential employers said the problem is one of differing perspectives over the role of a scholar at an archaeology museum.

“I think archaeology is a not-for-profit enterprise. Given the way archaeology is underfunded, to expect it to produce income like the medical school produces income is unreasonable,” the scholar said. Museums like the one at Penn have three missions, the scholar added. “They have stuff to care for, they have outreach through exhibits and education, and they have research — and not just research on existing collections. I do not understand why the people who run the university do not appear to value the research that many of us do.”

Gunder Varinlioglu, who finished a Ph.D. at Penn last year on the art and archaeology of the Mediterranean world, is one of those who have been involved in organizing to protest the changes at the museum.

“They say research will continue at [the museum], but research has so many components. Of course certain types of research will go on, but the people they are laying off are scientists, working on scientific archaeology, and their labs are being dismantled. The scientific component is being murdered,” said Varinlioglu. “Yes, there will be nice collections, but does that mean the museum is becoming an art museum rather than a museum of archaeology and anthropology?”

Tom Berger, who teaches museum studies at George Washington University, said that while the Brandeis and Penn situations are different in many ways, they may also point to a common need for university museums. Berger, who has worked on the finance side of such museums as the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, said that a museum may be vulnerable financially whenever its supporters’ sense of its mission differs from that of the leaders of the university. At Brandeis and Penn, what some view as an essential role others see as something that may not be essential, at least if there is not a budget for it.

“Everything starts with the mission of the organization,” he said. At Brandeis, everyone at the art museum and many others saw its role as a key part of the liberal arts environment. At Penn’s museum, the scholars whose positions have been cut saw their wide ranging studies as essential to the university’s research mission. “I think it’s incumbent to understand clearly how the museum’s role fits within the context and mission of the university,” Berger said. “Is your view in congruence with the university’s view?”

Scott Jaschik

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at


For Turkish speakers: Recent newspaper article on Patrick McGovern’s work

January 19, 2009


Aylin Öney Tan

Cumhuriyet Pazar 18 Ocak 2009

Toz, kir, pas, süprüntü. Çöpün dibini boylamaya aday torbalarca pislik. Yıllardır raflarda bekliyor. Neredeyse niye saklandığını hatırlayan kalmamış. Oysa bu torbalarda gözle görülemeyen bir hazine gizli. Torbalardaki toz toprak süprüntüleri çil çil altın değerinde. Bu hazine Anadolu’nun binlerce yıllık yemek serüveninin ipuçlarını sunan son derece değerli kalıntılar.
Anadolu’nun eski uygarlıklarından günümüze uzanan zengin kültürel miras göz bebeği gibi korumamız gereken bir hazine. Kazılarda çıkan her türlü kalıntıda binlerce yılın sırrı gizli. 1957 yılında Ankara Polatlı’daki Gordion kazılarında ortaya çıkan birbirinden gösterişli kapların içindeki kalıntıları, toz toprak diye atmayıp itina ile saklayan uzak görüşlü bilim insanlarına şapka çıkarmak gerek. Onların özenli dikkati sayesinde kapların içindeki yiyecek ve içecek kalıntıları sonsuzluğa gömülmekten kurtulmuş. Efsaneye göre tuttuğu altın olan Frig Kralı Midas’ın mezarı olduğuna inanılan Gordion kazısında çok miktarda kap kacak ortaya çıkarılmış. İşte 2700 yıl öncesinin yemekleri bu kapların sayesinde bugün bilinebiliyor. Kapların ve kazanların içinde cenaze töreni sırasında verildiği düşünülen ziyafetin artıkları bulunuyordu. Yarım asır önce kazı ekibi tarafından saklanan ve günümüze dek Amerika’da Pennsylvania Üniversitesi Müzesi depolarında korunan bu izlerin sırrını çözmek için bilimin ilerlemesini beklemek gerekiyordu. Kalıntıların keşfinden kırk yıl kadar sonra arkeo-kimyager Patrick McGovern gizin sırrını çözecek altın dokunuşu gerçekleştirdi. Kalıntılar raflardan laboratuar tezgâhına indi, mercek altına alındı ve gizler tek tek çözülmeye başladı.

Kazıda yaklaşık yüz kadar içki kabı ve üç büyük kazan bulunmuştu. Her bir kazan yaklaşık 130 litre içki alabilecek büyüklükteydi. Kapların içinde bulunan tartarik asit, kalsiyum oksalat ve balmumu kalıntıları şarap, bira ve bal liköründen yapılmış bir içkiye işaret ediyordu. Besbelli cenazeye katılanlar üzüntüden olsa gerek epeyce kafayı çekmişlerdi. Ancak içkiyi aç açına götürmemişlerdi. Cenaze yemeğinde etli, mercimekli bol baharatlı bir yahni de dağıtılmıştı. McGovern ve ekibi yemek artığındaki yağ asidi, kolesterol ve triglisidleri inceleyerek koyun veya keçi eti ve hatta kuyruk yağı kullanıldığını buldular. Karbon izleri etin yemeğe katılmadan önce ateşte çevrildiğini gösteriyordu. Kullanılan bakliyat büyük bir olasılıkla zamanın baş gıda kaynaklarından mercimek idi. Cenaze yemeğinin tadı yavaş yavaş şekillenmeye başlamıştı. Tohum artıklarından uçucu yağların analizi ile anason veya rezene türü bir baharatın, belki biraz da kimyonun yemeğe bolca katıldığını saptadılar. Soğan, bal, şarap ve zeytinyağı izleri yemeğin lezzetini tamamlayıcı malzemeler olarak tespit edildi. Bütün bu analizlerde üst düzey teknoloji kullanılmıştı.
Bugün ise trajik bir kararla karşı karşıyayız. Tüm bu kalıntılar en sonunda çöpe gidiyor. Bu bilgileri kültür hazinemize katan üst düzey teknoloji ve özveriyle çalışan bilim adamlarıyla birlikte. Universite araştırma merkezini ve laboratuarları lağvetme ve bilim insanlarını işten çıkarma kararı aldı. Patrick McGovern kadar değerli araştırmacı arkeo-etno-botanikçi Naomi F. Miller da araştırmalarını durdurmak zorunda. Kendini Anadolu yerli otlarını arşivlemeye adayan, eski çağlarda kullanılan yiyecekleri tespit eden Naomi Miller’ın araştırmaları da apayrı bir yazı konusu. Daha nice araştırmacı topun ağzında.
Bunu durdurmak için bir imza kampanyası başlatıldı. Destek vermek için bir altın dokunuş da sizden gelsin. Bir tık ile bu yazıyı inceleyin ve imzanızı gönderin. İngilizce bilenler bilmeyenlere yardım etsin. Umarım bir göndereceğiniz bir tek tık, Midas’ın altın dokunuşu kadar etki gösterir, kültür hazinesini titizlikle koruyanların tuttuğu altın olur.

Midas’ın Mercimekli Yahnisi

Yıllar önce Amerika’da laboratuarda sırrı çözülen yemeği bizzat kazı yerinde İngiliz yemek yazarı Fuchisa Dunlop ile birlikte Patrick McGovern’ın yönlendirmeleriyle yeniden canlandırmıştık. Rahmetli Tuğrul Şavkay yahnimize tam puan vermiş, Patrick ise baharatta cimri davrandığımızı düşünmüştü. Bu tarifi gazetedeki ilk yazılarımdan birinde Gordion kazı alanında yaptığımız biçimiyle vermiştim. Şimdi ise ev koşullarına daha uygun, gündelik mutfağınızda yer alabilecek şekliyle yeni bir tarif veriyorum. Bu yahnide o zamanlar Anadolu’da olmadığı için domates veya biber salçası yok, yanına patates püresi koymak içinse tarihte iki bin yıl ileriye gitmek gerekiyor. Ancak o zamanlarda Anadolu’da yetişen ve hala yaşayan ilk buğday türlerinden yapılan siyez bulgurundan bir bulgur pilavı yaparsanız otantik bir lezzet yakalarsınız.

1 kg. kuşbaşı kuzu veya keçi eti
½ kg. yeşil mercimek
3 adet soğan
5-6 diş sarımsak
1 çorba kaşığı bal
½ bardak sızma zeytinyağı
2 bardak kırmızı şarap veya esmer bira
1 lt. kadar su
1 çorba kaşığı tane kimyon
1 çorba kaşığı tane kişniş
1 çorba kaşığı yabani kekik
1’er tatlı kaşığı tane rezene ve/veya anason
2 çorba kaşığı keçi boynuzu pekmezi
2 tatlı kaşığı tuz

Soğanın birini ve 2-3 diş sarımsağı rendeleyin veya robotta püre haline getirin. Bal ve 1-2 çorba aşığı zeytinyağıyla karıştırın ve kuşbaşı eti geniş cam bir kap içinde bu karışım ile iyice ovalayın. Üzerini örtün ve bir gece buzdolabında bekletin. Bu arada mercimeği de ıslatın.
Ertesi gün eti terbiyesinden alın ve hafifçe mutfak havlusuyla kurulayın. Kalan yağın yarısını geniş bir tavada iyice kızdırın ve et parçalarını yüksek ateşte iyice renk alana kadar hızla kavurun. Bu işlemi ortalama üç seferde yapmanız gerekebilir aksi takdirde et çok su salabilir. Et su salarsa tekrar çekene ve rengi kahverengileşene kadar çevirmeye devam edin. Kavrulan etleri bir kenarda bekletin. Geniş bir tencerede kalan yağda ince doğradığınız soğan ve sarımsağı çevirin. Baharatları havanda azıcık ezilecek kadar kabaca dövün ve kavrulan soğana ekleyin. Kavrulmuş etleri de ekleyin ve üzerine şarap veya birayı ve iki kaşık pekmezi dökün. Şarap kullanıyorsanız etin üzerini bir parmak geçecek kadar su ekleyin, bira kullanıyorsanız tamamını bira ile tamamlayabilirsiniz ya da su ekleyerek eti tamamen örtecek kadar sıvıya tamamlayabilirsiniz. Eti kısık ateşte bir saat kadar pişirin. Bu sürenin yarısında tuzu katabilirsiniz. Et kısmen yumuşayınca mercimekleri süzün ve yemeğe ekleyin. Bu aşamada yemeğin suyunu sıcak su ekleyerek ayarlamanız gerekir. Yemeğin suyu mercimeğin pişmesine elverecek şekilde bir-iki parmak üste çıkmalıdır.
Tencereyi kapatın ve bir saat daha kısık ateşte pişirmeye devam edin. Mercimek ve etler iyice yumuşayıp hemhal olunca Midas usulü mercimekli yahniniz hazır demektir. Yanına pişirdiğiniz siyez bulguruna bir tatlı kaşığı toz zerdeçal katarak Midas dokunuşunun altın sarısını kral sofranıza katabilirsiniz.

A Museum slips up badly (Archaeology magazine blog)

January 16, 2009

by Heather Pringle (January 16, 2009)

In a time of darkening financial gloom, when the hedge fund industry is collapsing and sales of Kraft Dinners are booming, and everyone from GM to Microsoft and Motorola are threatening major layoffs, you may not have paid much attention to a brief news story coming out of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. There, on November 19th, a month before Christmas, director Richard Hodges announced that the museum would be disbanding its MASCA division, and terminating eighteen senior researchers, effective next May.

I should state flat out that I think this is a real error, one the museum will have cause to regret in years to come. Penn Museum has long been a mecca of archaeological research in the United States, and its renowned MASCA division (the acronym stands for Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology) has won kudos in fields as diverse as archaeological chemistry and faunal analysis.

Even the most cursory look at the accomplishments of the researchers in question speaks volumes about their contributions to the archaeological community. Archaeological chemist Patrick McGovern, for example, has led the way in developing new techniques for detecting residues of the earliest known fermented beverages, including grape wine and barley beer, and a type of “grog” blended along China’s Yellow River as early as 7000 B.C. Epigrapher Simon Martin is one of the world’s leading Mayanists, a researcher who has devoted his career to deciphering hieroglyphic inscriptions and chronicling the rise and fall of Maya kings. Zooarchaeologist Kathleen Ryan is an expert on the early domestication of livestock, and her work has shed fascinating new light on humanity’s transition from hunting to animal herding.

I realize that times are tough and that our major public institutions have to worry, like many private corporations, about balancing budgets, tightening belts and cutting costs. But these layoffs seem misguided to me. In the not so distant past, archaeology was largely a field science. It consisted of long months of excavation at a major site, followed by weeks of analysis in an archaeological lab. But today, given the steep costs of excavation, archaeologists are spending far less time in the field, and trying to extract much more data from old museum collections, auger samples, remote sensing photos and the like. This means that they depend increasingly on analyses conducted by archaeological specialists—chemists, faunal experts, computer scientists, remote sensing experts, botanists and so on. MASCA and many of the newly fired museum researchers were devoted to just this kind of research: they will soon be gone.

I wonder why a museum that places “research excellence” at the top of its priorities in its online mission statement couldn’t have found a better way to economize. Other businesses in extremis have managed to do so. In the news yesterday, I read that New York Magazine, which has been hammered by declining ad revenues, took a much more sensible approach to its problems. Its managing editor called each of its staff writers, one by one, into her office, laid out the dire financial picture and asked for salary cuts. In this way, the magazine seems to have avoided layoffs of vital staff members.

I wish someone at Penn Museum had tried something similar before handing out those pink slips so freely.

Petition opposes museum layoffs: Daily Pennsylvanian article 01/16/09

January 16, 2009

Petition opposes museum layoffs

Kathy Wang

These days, finding a balance between academics and economics is crucial.

That balance motivated the museum’s administrators to discontinue 18 research specialist positions at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology last November, effective May 31.

But more than 2,000 people in a variety of fields around the world signed an online petition, posted Jan. 7, claiming the museum went too far.

The museum defends its restructuring as necessary to maintain fiscal stability and its missions.

Gunder Varinlioglu, who received her Ph.D. in Art and Archaeology in the Mediterranean World from Penn, created the petition with Omur Harmansah, professor of Archaeology and Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies at Brown University.

“There was such a public outcry over the issue that it had to be brought together,” said Varinlioglu.

Several archaeology blogs and letters circulating in academic listservs have also questioned the museum’s actions.

The museum “has always been about research and not really exhibits, and that’s what differentiates it from others,” said Varinlioglu, who said the move made the museum seem “like a business rather than the non-profit it is supposed to be.”

Varinlioglu also criticized the lack of transparency behind the museum’s actions, since its finances are not public.

“We don’t know if they tried to do any fundraising or approached any alumni or exhausted all their resources,” she said.

“The broader underlying concerns are how you treat your own employees,” said Paul Zimmerman, a research associate whose position has not been affected and who wrote a personal letter to museum director Richard Hodges and Penn President Amy Gutmann protesting the decision.

Zimmerman and Varinlioglu also raised concerns that those laid off may not be able to find new employment.

But Hodges stressed that the museum has worked personally with each of the 18 researchers to try to help them secure other sources of funding. He added that the Museum announced the restructuring in November to give researchers enough time to explore new positions – even though the timing exposed the museum to criticism.

“If you don’t work in a museum, you have to put a lot of effort into understanding what’s necessary to maintain these high standards,” said Hodges. “But the more time I spend with [petitioners and journalists], the less time I’ve had to support these researchers.”

In a letter sent to researchers, he emphasized that research remains “central to the mission of the Penn Museum,” and that five of the 18 researchers laid off will continue to work with the museum in some capacity.

The letter goes on to explain that one of the original goals of the soon-to-be disbanded Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology unit – to raise income – has not been met.

As a result, the museum is pursuing a new five-year strategy to better adhere to its original missions of being a research center and a museum while still generating sufficient revenues.

“We are the largest research entity in the U.S. and have more expeditions than any other universities,” said Hodges. “We’re trying to sustain in difficult times, and it isn’t always easy.”

Letter by Bar-Yosef, Harbottle, Harrison, Hair, Mass, and Stager

January 15, 2009

Dear Colleague:

The recent precipitate firing of researchers at the Penn Museum includes another world-class scholar and scientist in Near Eastern archaeology and archaeological science among its casualties. Why was Patrick McGovern, who heads MASCA’s Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory, fired? McGovern, who received his Ph.D. at Penn in Near Eastern Archaeology, has made a series of stunning discoveries and set a standard for how the sciences and the humanities can be effectively integrated together in his 40+ year career at Penn (C.V. posted on his personal website, below). Indeed, McGovern’s academic achievements embody the interdisciplinary research that the university espouses in The Penn Compact and its new PIK (“Penn Integrates Knowledge”) Professorships.

His Vita reads like a compendium of major scientific breakthroughs and accomplishments:

Pioneered the rapidly developing, interdisciplinary field of Biomolecular Archaeology. This field is at the technological cutting-edge of modern archaeology.

Discovered the earliest Royal Purple (the famous dye of the Phoenicians), grape wine, barley beer, alcoholic beverages generally (China, ca. 7000 B.C.), and chocolate.

Published these findings in high-impact scientific journals, including three in Nature (one as the cover story) and two in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (one as the cover story) .

Published 10 peer-reviewed books, most recently Ancient Wine (Princeton University Press), which garnered numerous awards. Uncorking the Past (University of California), in press, traces alcoholic beverages around the world and as far back in time as possible from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Published 50 peer-reviewed articles, ranging from geophysical prospecting for archaeological sites to some of the earliest steel ever found to the earliest DNA evidence for wine yeast, and another 70 additional articles, reviews, and book chapters.

Directed major excavations in Jordan, and collaborated on archaeological projects throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. His Baq`ah Valley Project was one of the first excavations in the Near East to successfully incorporate scientific methodology in the field and the laboratory (published as a museum monograph). An older excavation (Beth Shan, Israel), part of the museum’s Near East collection, was subjected to similar scientific scrutiny (published as a museum monograph).

Built up a state-of-the-art laboratory in MASCA for archaeological chemical research (with Fourier-transform Infrared Spectrometer, High-performance Liquid Chromatograph, and other instruments). It is one of the few such facilities in the U.S., and is staffed by Ph.D. chemists and Penn students. Numerous close collaborations with laboratories at Penn and around the world have given his lab access to the latest, most sensitive instrumentation.

Developed an innovative, cost-effective ceramic analysis program which combines multiple analytical techniques (Neutron Activation Analysis, petrography and heavy-mineral analysis, xeroradiography, etc.) to solve important anthropological questions.

Established an academic program in the archaeological sciences by teaching (cross-listed in Penn archaeological and science departments). Students, who were trained in his lab, have gone on to careers in archaeology and conservation science.

Received grants from the NEH, NSF, American Philosophical Society, Wine Institute, Fulbright Foundation, universities, and many other funding agencies and private individuals world-wide, together with in-kind contributions (i.e., equipment donations, gratis analyses at outside labs, and the expertise of volunteer chemists). These monies, combined with the value of his publicity for the museum and university, amount to millions of dollars. He has leveraged a very small budget into a very productive research program.

Re-created the “King Midas” funerary feast, the first time that a historic meal has been reconstructed by chemical analysis of ancient organic residues

His ground-breaking research has resulted in 15 international stories, and widespread public and scholarly exposure and acclaim. It has been profiled in ten video programs, including a full-length feature filmed at the Midas Tumulus in Turkey, and has been the focus of museum exhibits in Philadelphia, Athens, the Napa Valley, France, and elsewhere.

Given keynote addresses around the world (most recently at the National Museum in Tblisi, Georgia, after the Russian invasion), and has collaborated with over 400 scientists and archaeologists in museum and academic institutions in more than 30 countries.

On-going studies include testing ancient compounds for their anti-cancer and medicinal effects (Abramson Cancer Center and Penn Medical School), grape and yeast DNA, prehistoric Chinese fermented beverages, New World chocolate, and early wine, ranging from Neolithic villages in the Taurus and Caucasus Mountains to Iron Age shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

In short, McGovern has made a huge contribution to both Near Eastern Archaeology and archaeological science. Few other museum researchers has the distinction of so many peer-reviewed books and articles, which is the ultimate measure of research success.

At a time when science and technology have become increasingly important in our society, why would a museum, which is supposedly looking to the future, fire a researcher of McGovern’s caliber? To destroy a laboratory which took years to create, in a matter of days, is not only short-sighted, it is contradictory to the very essence of a university and museum in advancing human knowledge and preserving the past. The loss in human capital and facilities is incalculable, and not easily rebuilt.

Why weren’t other, less draconian, measures explored before firing McGovern? During the Great Depression, all Penn employees pulled together and took an across-the-board 10% pay cut. Some of the fired researchers might even have been willing to take larger cuts, to continue their careers. Moreover, if McGovern had been evaluated as an individual, based on his annual performance evaluations, peer-reviewed publications, grants received, teaching, etc., he could never have been fired.

We urge our colleagues, who have benefitted from Dr. McGovern’s research, to not let this decision stand, but to express their objections to the museum Director Richard Hodges, the Deputy Director Brian Rose, university President Amy Gutmann, and Provost Ronald Daniels (addresses, below).

Specifically, we encourage our colleagues to stress that by firing McGovern, the professions of Near Eastern archaeology and the archaeological sciences, the museum, the university, and the academic world generally will suffer serious losses. The Penn administration needs to find another solution in keeping with McGovern’s significant contributions and world-wide reputation. If enough colleagues register their dissatisfaction with the decision and highlight different aspects of McGovern’s career, the combined effect might well provide a compelling argument for the administration to find another solution.

Please consider submitting one such letter, and feel free to forward this request to other colleagues.


Ofer Bar-Yosef
MacCurdy Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology
Department of Anthropology
Harvard University

Garman Harbottle
Research Professor
Department of Geosciences
Stony Brook University

Timothy Harrison
Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology
University of Toronto
President of the American Schools of Oriental Research

Victor H. Mair
Professor of Chinese Language and Literature
Consulting Scholar, Museum Asian Section
University of Pennsylvania

Jennifer L. Mass
Director, Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory
Winterthur Museum
Winterthur Delaware

Lawrence E. Stager
Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel
Director of the Semitic Museum
Harvard University.

News releases on Penn firings:

Daily Pennsylvanian (also look for responses under Article Tools):

Philadelphia Inquirer:

Dr. Patrick McGovern’s websites

Personal website: :

Addresses of Penn administrators:

Dr. Richard Hodges, Director
University of Pennsylvania Museum
3260 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Dr. Brian Rose, Deputy Director and Chief-of-Curators
University of Pennsylvania Museum
3260 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Dr. Amy Gutmann
Office of the President
University of Pennsylvania
100 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6380

Ronald Daniels, Provost
University of Pennsylvania
122 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6303

The End of MASCA? (by Paul Zimmerman)

January 14, 2009


The End of MASCA?

Even though I bill myself on the “about” page of this blog as an archaeologist, I haven’t actually posted much here about archaeology. So here goes.

Well, actually, it’s not so much about archaeology, per se, as it is about my old stomping grounds, the Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology (MASCA) at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I worked, in varying capacities, in and for MASCA from 1993 to 2005. It’s there, running the computer lab, that I got serious about using computers in archaeology, and it was through MASCA that I was sent all over the Middle East as a surveyor. So it should be no surprise that I’ve remained interested in my old department. It, however, was a surprise to learn of its imminent dissolution.

Now, as anyone who’s worked at a museum can tell you, there is a tendency for museum departments to stagnate, and persist out of sheer inertia, even after they are no longer useful to the museum as a whole. Sometimes this is due to the unwillingness to deal with a persnickety hanger-on (in hopes that they’ll just grow old, die, and give up their office space), and sometimes it’s due to a weak managerial structure that lacks the power to reorganize when necessary. Though I would argue against it, I’m willing to concede that one could make a case for MASCA’s obsolescence. What I won’t concede, however, is the necessity of retaining good scientists at a research institution such as the University Museum. So I, along with the rest of the archaeological community, was shocked to learn that the Museum’s new director, Richard Hodges, had decided not only to dissolve the department but to also lay off its staff. (See the Daily Pennsylvanian articles about it here and here.)

Mind you, some of these scholars had worked at the Museum for decades. They’re productive and active researchers who bring the Museum lots of good publicity and help study the materials from dozens excavations, Penn sponsored and otherwise. Though that wing of the Museum is a dump, the work carried out there is of the highest quality. So the only plausible reason for dumping these researchers would be a really tight financial bind. That is, in fact, the rationale that Hodges gave. Unfortunately, however, the University President, Amy Gutmann, stated that it was a restructuring exercise unrelated to the recent financial crisis. So, clearly, these two are not on message. There was also very little transparency in the process, so if it was financially motivated, there was no public exploration of where money could be saved prior to the announcement.

In the past month, many prominent archaeologists have written open letters decrying the decision and urging other archaeologists to write letters to Hodges and Gutmann in hopes that they reconsider. So here is the letter that I sent them today. It’s not an especially well written or stirring piece of prose, but given my pedigree, I had to do my part.

Dear Drs. Hodges and Gutmann:

As a former MASCAteer and a Penn graduate, I have watched the recent imbroglio over MASCA’s fate with great personal and professional interest. Though even I could make a case for the dissolution of MASCA and the absorption of its researchers into other departments, your treatment of those researchers—their hasty firings—is, in a word, appalling.

Your failure to openly discuss your options prior to November’s announcement should trouble any outside observer. But, having announced your decision, the confusion of your public statements—each of you declaring different reasons for the decision—reeks of a poorly managed process. Since I was certainly not privy to any part of the process, I cannot imagine what your actual motives might have been. But, in light of the public outcry, I urge you to reconsider that decision.

MASCA’s involvement in major Penn-sponsored excavations, as well as in outside projects, has trained and employed Penn’s researchers and graduate students for years. Its ongoing contributions to the field have ensured that MASCA, through its ups and downs, remains an important nexus in the study and interpreta- tion of archaeological remains. Its dissolution would cheapen the Museum’s reputation and make Penn a decidedly less attractive school for incoming students.

But, of course, MASCA is more than just a legacy department, a bauble or reminder of past glory. It is, in fact, home to researchers who have built their professional careers there and, through their work, built MASCA’s and the Museum’s reputation. Pat McGovern, Naomi Miller, and Kathleen Ryan, in particular, are productive scholars, much esteemed by their colleagues. Their work continues to advance their respective fields and bring publicity—professional and popular—to the University Museum. Losing them will do the Museum irreparable damage, as it will greatly undermine its reputation as a serious research institution.

If the department truly cannot be spared—a proposition which has not been effectively articulated—then you must at least, for the sake of the Museum, spare these researchers’ jobs.


Paul C. Zimmerman
PhD, Anthropology, Penn 2008
MA, Anthropology, Penn 1998
Research Associate, Near East Section, UPM 2008–2011
Research Associate, MASCA, UPM 1997–2005
Research Assistant, MASCA, UPM 1993–1997

KYW radio interview with Richard Hodges and Samuel Taylor

January 14, 2009

You may listen to the interview at

Penn Museum Criticized for Staff Cuts
by KYW’s Pat Loeb

The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology is attracting criticism for its plan to lay off 18 researchers, in the midst of an effort to make the museum more attractive to visitors.

It’s not that scientists are unsympathetic with the Museum’s situation. Samuel Taylor of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History says he’s faced the same onerous choices:

“The reason that this has become such an issue is what’s at stake if the choice they’re making is the wrong choice.”

Taylor says if the museum gives up researchers and puts resources into exhibits, it risks losing its legacy as a leader in the field, to focus on something it’s admitting is a weakness.

Museum director Richard Hodges says he’s not abandoning research but wants to make the museum a greater force in the cultural life of Philadelphia:

“What needs to be done is to make our exhibits more appealing to the city as a whole.”

Hodges says he wants better exhibits and research but the current economic climate makes it challenging.

Letter by Glenn Schwartz and Melinda Zeder

January 14, 2009

Dear Colleagues,
As you may have heard, the University of Pennsylvania Museum recently announced its decision to terminate the employment of 18 research specialists and disband the Museum’s program in archaeological sciences (MASCA) as a response to the Museum’s worsening financial status during the economic downturn (see the link below to a news release on this decision).

While this decision affects a number of outstanding researchers who have made major contributions to archaeological sciences, we believe that the termination of Dr. Naomi Miller’s position represents a catastrophic blow to Near Eastern archaeology. We are urging colleagues to register their concern over this decision and its implications for archaeological sciences in general and, in the case of Dr. Miller’s termination, for Near Eastern archaeobotany in particular.

We are attaching Dr. Miller’s vitae here but would like to summarize for you some of her most outstanding contributions.  Over the course of Dr. Miller’s 30+ year career in archaeobotany she has transformed the field of Near Eastern archaeobotany and with it our understanding of human/landscape interaction in this important region.  Her landmark dissertation completed in 1981 was the first systematic examination of agriculture and environmental impact in an urban context in the Near East. She has in the years since gone on to produce major synthetic work exploring issues of economy and environment in Near Eastern urban and pre-urban settings in southeastern Anatolia, northern Syria, and the Anatolian Plateau. Her research has set standards in its use of careful and comprehensive empirical analysis to examine key issues of agricultural practice and environmental impact. Not only has she examined ancient human/landscape interactions but she has used lessons learned from the past to conserve present landscapes and project future such interactions. She has been a tireless field archaeologist, affiliated with numerous archaeological projects in Iran, Turkey, Syria, Turkmenistan, and North Africa. In addition to her own numerous, high impact publications, she has been the editor of three edited volumes that range in focus from major regional archaeological syntheses to path-breaking methodological considerations of the application of archaeobotany to understanding agricultural practice and plant use. She has been an active participant in scholarly forums. She has been a mentor to many younger archaeobotanists.

The termination of her employment also represents a major blow to the University of Pennsylvania Museum which, due solely to her efforts, has become known world-wide as one a leading center of archaeobotanical research. Her contributions to archaeology are internationally known, with a standing as high or higher than many of Museum research staff not threatened with termination by this action. During her 21 years at Penn, she has built a first class laboratory, assembled extensive modern comparative collections, and acquired many important archaeobotanical assemblages from all over the Near East. All of this investment and the continued use and care of these remarkable collections is threatened by this action.

We do not know whether this decision can be reversed or whether some other position could be found for Dr. Miller (or any of the other researchers affected by this decision) within the Museum or the University in general. But we do think that this decision should not be allowed to go forward without some response from the scholarly community that has benefited so greatly from Dr. Miller’s work and that of her fellow research specialists in the Museum.

We think that the best course of action is to notify our colleagues about this action and urge them to register their concerns with Museum Director Richard Hodges, who we understand appreciates Dr. Miller’s many contributions  and is not ultimately responsible to taking this particular course of action. For maximum effect we suggest that any such letters be closed copied to University President Amy Gutmann and Provost Ronald Daniels, who may be less familiar with her many contributions (see addresses below).

In particular, we think it important to emphasize the tremendous loss to the profession, the Museum, and the University that this decision represents and to urge the Penn administration to seek a reasonable remedy commensurate with Dr. Miller’s high standing and continued contributions to the archaeology of the Near East. We believe that a large volume of such letters that highlight different aspects of Dr. Miller’s contributions and the varied negative impacts of her loss to the profession would be more effective than a single letter endorsed by multiple concerned colleagues, although some combination of single and multiple authored letters might also be called for here.

We hope that you would be willing to submit one such letter. And please feel free to forward this request to other colleagues.


Glenn Schwartz and Melinda Zeder

News Release on Penn Firings:

Dr. Naomi Miller’s WebSite:

Addresses of Penn Administrators:

Dr. Richard Hodges, Director
University of Pennsylvania Museum
3260 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Dr. Amy Gutmann
Office of the President
University of Pennsylvania
100 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6380

Ronald Daniels, Provost
University of Pennsylvania
122 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6303

ScienceInsider article

January 14, 2009

U Penn Museum Criticized for Staff Cuts (Updated)

Archaeologists around the world are condemning the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology for laying off 18 researchers, in particular one of the world’s leading archaeobotanists, Naomi Miller, who has been in the field for 30 years. News of the planned layoffs, announced late last month, has ricocheted through the global archaeology community, with help from several academics who have notified more than 1000 of their colleagues…………………………

The complete article can be found at:

New Yorker article and Patrick McGovern’s research

January 13, 2009

Excerpt from “A Better Brew” by Burkhard Bilger

New Yorker, November 24th, 2008

Late one morning, Calagione and I drove to Philadelphia to see an archeological chemist he knows named Patrick McGovern. Calagione looked washed out and a little crotchety—a rare thing—after one too many glasses of grappa the night before. When I mentioned Oliver’s misgivings to him, he smirked, as if hearing them for the hundredth time. “Garrett and I are good friends, but we definitely disagree on this,” he said. “It’s a purist versus populist position. If all of our palates are subjective, who am I and who is Garrett to decide whether there’s too much hops in a beer, or whether you should be putting lemongrass or rampe leaves in it? As long as it finds an audience, it’s valid.”

Extreme beer is a return to normality, too, Calagione believes. It’s just the normality of a thousand years ago, or several thousand, rather than a hundred. If the Reinheitsgebot is still the touchstone for most American brewers, Calagione’s is a bronze bowl from King Midas’ tomb.

The historical Midas was a Phrygian ruler in what is now central Turkey. When he or one of his close relatives was buried, around 730 B.C., the tomb was filled with more than a hundred and fifty drinking vessels—parting toasts to the dead king. By the time they were excavated, in 1957, the liquid inside them had evaporated. But Patrick McGovern, forty years later, was able to analyze some residue from a bowl and identify its chemical content. By matching the compounds to those found in the foods and spices of ancient Turkey, McGovern gradually pieced together the liquid’s main ingredients: honey, barley, and grapes, and a yellow substance that was probably saffron. It was a beer, but like none we’ve ever tasted.

“Beer is a much older concept than the Reinheitsgebot,” McGovern told us later, at the University of Pennsylvania. He was sitting at a chipped metal desk in his basement office at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, surrounded by sagging bookshelves and dusty lab equipment: a furnace, a microscale, a spectrometer, a liquid chromatograph. Here and there, chunks of pottery and other artifacts were wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil and stuffed in file drawers or ratty cardboard cases. “You’re taking nine thousand years of brewing history and just looking at the last five hundred years of it,” he said.

McGovern is a wizardly figure with a long white beard and large glasses that seem to draw his eyes together at the inner corners. He has a quiet but penetrating voice, a sharp wit, and a near total lack of pretension. (When brewing at Dogfish, he has been known to pour himself a chicory stout for breakfast.) He and Calagione first met eight years ago, at a dinner in honor of Michael Jackson, the great British beer writer. McGovern had recently published his findings on King Midas and was hoping to convince someone to make a modern-day replica of the beverage. (Anchor Brewing had done something similar a few years earlier, when it made a beer based on an ancient Sumerian hymn to the beer goddess, Ninkasi.) As it turned out, several brewers took up the challenge and sent beers to his house over the next few months. “Some were pretty good,” he says. “But Dogfish Head’s was the best.”

Midas Touch, as it was later called, has a brilliant rose-gold color—every batch contains about a thousand dollars’ worth of saffron—and a thick, honeyed, spicy flavor: a cross between beer, mead, and wine. It has become Dogfish’s most decorated drink, winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, another gold at the International Mead Festival, and a silver at the World Beer Cup. “I look at beers like these as an opportunity to drink history,” Calagione said. “They’re liquid time capsules.”

Earlier that summer, he and McGovern had brewed their most recent project: Theobroma, or “food of the gods.” It was based on Mayan and Aztec ceremonial drinks, and on residues of the earliest known fermented cacao beverage, found in Honduran pots from between 1400 and 1100 B.C. It contained cocoa nibs, ancho chilies, honey, barley, and annatto seeds. “I kept complaining that it needs more chocolate,” McGovern said. “I wanted to make it more reddish, because it was equated with blood and human sacrifice.” Calagione laughed, saying, “And I told him, ‘O.K., I’ll get back to you on that.’ ”

Beer is less ancient than wine, McGovern went on to say, because it requires more technology: agriculture to grow the grain, fire and kettles to cook it. But, once invented, it quickly spread. “It wasn’t just in one part of the world,” he said. “It was all over.” If wine was rare and therefore aristocratic—it could be made only once a year, when fruit was ripe—beer trickled down to the working class. All you needed was a little malted grain and something bitter to balance its sweetness. Before barley became the grain of choice, brewers used millet and rice. Even after hops were domesticated, around 700 A.D., they threw in wormwood, henbane, cowslip, ivy, mugwort, bog myrtle, elderberry, oak leaf, laurel leaf, autumn crocus, or wild rosemary. Some plants were poisonous, most were not, and they gave the beer an endless variety of flavors.

Full article can be found at: