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Behind the Scenes: an Inteview with Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of the International MA in Archaeology Program

Posted by on Dec 25, 2013

Behind the Scenes: an Inteview with Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of the International MA in Archaeology Program

 I recently sat with Dr. Alexander Fantalkin, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, and our Pottery Typologies professor, to discuss his work in the Archaeology Department, and to get some expert advice to archaeology students.

Alex, who did his BA, MA, and PhD at TAU along with additional training and research at King’s College in London, the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, and his post-doctorate in Berlin, specializes in the nature of connections between the ancient Levantine, Aegean, and Egyptian cultural spheres during the Iron Age. Alex’s projects often pursue questions of synthesis. They consider the material from contemporaneous cultures in various regions to understand each location in isolation as well as contemporaneous and often related historical developments.

Pottery Typology Class with Dr. Alexander Fantalkin

What is the focus of your current research? 

Alex: At the moment, probably the most energy is going towards the new excavations in Ashdod-Yam. But, there are many other projects which take a lot of my time. Others include preparing a monograph for Oxford University Press on Greeks in the East during the Iron Age, and a radiocarbon project within the framework of the European Research Council with Israel Finkelstein [TAU] and Steve Weiner, Elisabetta Boaretto and Michael Toffolo [of the Weizmann Institute of Science]. I am responsible for the historical/archaeological interpretation of correlated radiocarbon dates obtained in Greece and in Israel. We currently have a serious database in Israel and are trying to create one in Greece, with a help from a number of Greek, German and British colleagues who excavate there. We go to Greece from time to time in order to take samples, with a special emphasis on their contexts. The first fruits will be published soon as a series of articles. The project will probably be continued in the near future because we all realize the importance of the chronological correlation between different regions of the Mediterranean. 

Alex’s research questions also includes: State formation in ancient Israel, Phoenician and Aegeancolonization, and more. Historians, archaeologist and the like invest a lot of energy in their attempts to understand the implications of large-scale historical reconstructions, covering large geographical areas. Alex’s research has contributed greatly to this understanding.

Dr. Fantalking with international student, Gennadiy

How did you first become involved with the History and Archaeology International graduate program? 

Alex: I was asked by Prof. Oded Lipschits, the head of the international program, to contribute to the program and I acknowledged, from the beginning, the importance of it.  I consider the program a positive because it gives TAU an additional stance on the international scene and it helps us to become a magnet for young, promising students from abroad. It brings a lot of new people with new ideas and new influences and it’s good to have people with a variety of backgrounds starting from the student stage. We also have a number of fellowship post-docs with students from abroad that teach a class [at the university] while working on their research. The diverse research backgrounds of these graduate and post-graduate students already enrich our curriculum, bringing fresh and innovative forces to our department. 

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I asked Alex to share his secret to success for all of us graduate students that are so easily overwhelmed by the daunting field of professional archaeology and I couldn’t have received a better answer.

Pottery Typology class with the international program

What is the most important thing a young archaeologist can do for his or her career? 

Alex: To enjoy! If you do not enjoy the process, but suffer through it, you cannot be successful in this career. So many students, especially at the advanced stage, think their intensive and demanding academic and field training is just something that they have to finish in order to obtain a degree and completely forget to enjoy it. This career will not make you a billionaire, for sure, but as long as you enjoy it, and you’re good, there is a chance that this will be a good combination resulting in a good scholar. Of course, only if you’re good! But, this is probably the most important thing: just keep enjoying.

Don’t forget that we can influence big historical questions. As archaeologists, we’re allowed to offer different interpretations and contesting ideas. This is what is good about our field, because the past, as we see it, is multi-dimensional with several narratives being offered by different scholars. These are the outcome of different perspectives and socio-economic backgrounds, approaches to life, gender, political views and numerous approaches to the study of the past. These are things that should not be forgotten. It is very important from the early stage of your career to be flexible and to understand that there are a variety of possible explanations for one or another archaeological phenomenon. Keep your mind open. 

Of all the archaeological sites in the world, yet to be or already excavated, what is your dream excavation site? 

Alex: My recent summer project, Ashdod-Yam, of course! Would you expect me to say anything else?? 

This past summer, Alex initiated a new excavation at the coastal site of Ashdod-Yam. The site features an Iron Age compound, the so-called ‘Assyrian Enclosure’ associated with Neo-Assyrian domination at the region during the late 8th and better part of the 7th centuries BCE, that were the focus of the excavation. The city was probably home to heightened international trade during the Iron Age. Th e past and following seasons will hopefully shed more light on the famous episode connected to Ashdod-Yam: the so-called ‘Yamani Rebellion’, clarifying the modes of Neo-Assyrian imperial control of subjected areas and interactions between different peoples in the Mediterranean melting pot at Ashdod-Yam. To find out more about Alex new project visit the excavation website at: www.ashdod-yam-archaeological-excavations.com 

Thank you to Dr Fantalkin for your time and dedication to the students of the international History and Archaeology program. 

 

 

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