US Soldiers Get a Behind-the-Scenes Tour

November 17, 2010

As head of the Archaeological Institute of America’s program to work with departing soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, Dr. Brian Rose has begun a two day series of workshops with Fort Dix. The first day, he lectures at their base and the second day, they come to the museum for various tours.

The soldiers were greeted by Dr. C. Brian Rose, Deputy Director, Penn Museum, and President of the Archaeological Institute of America. Dr. Rose has been offering American troops headed to Iraq and Afghanistan cultural heritage training since 2004

I have had the honor of giving tours for the last two visits. The first visit, I was able to give them an in-depth tour of our Iraq’s Ancient Past exhibit. This time, with no exhibit up to base my talk out of, we toured storage, with the assistance of our Head of Conservation, Lynn Grant. I pulled out not only our “dead heads”, but tablets and cylinder seals—the type of objects they would be interacting with most often in the field.

Near East Section Keeper, Katy Blanchard, discusses objects from places to which the soldiers have been deployed.

I get so much out of these tours. I will be honest. Who knew that my knowledge of handling and interacting with these ancient and sometimes dead cultures could actually be relevant for today? And for today’s Military? Right? For both visits, I was surprised at the range of ages of the deploying soldiers—some are younger than my work study students. And yet many are returning to places I can only dream of visiting. They show me photos on their phones of places they have been with pride and ask for details of things they have seen. They point out on maps places they have seen. As a field archaeologist who works in Syria, we discuss deserts and verdant places. We laugh about various words in Arabic [I can really only buy fruit from the local fruit seller and that’s about it. They can really only say various military related words]. I taught them all one sign in cuneiform. And I get to discuss the accidental looting of cylinder seals and tablets that contractors and soldiers end up doing by simply picking something up from the ground. They all promised if they find anything, they will leave it and call me. I’ll be right out, the minute they tell me it’s all secure for civilians, I tell them.

They ask such great questions. They relate to the material and the culture in ways that I can’t imagine. And I get to feel like I’m doing one small thing for the men and women who end up serving overseas.