Welcome Dr Lieve Donnellan!

This semester we welcome Dr Lieve Donnellan, incoming Lecturer in Classical Archaeology. Lieve comes to the university from her previous role as Assistant Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Aarhus in Denmark.

After graduating in archaeology from Ghent University in 2012, Lieve held various fellowships and positions at the Universities of Chicago, Göttingen and Amsterdam. Lieve has written on Greek ‘colonisation’ (Greek cities began expanding in a more organised manner from the late Geometric period [c. eight century BCE)], founding settlements around the Mediterranean and on the Black Sea), urbanisation, regional networks and social interaction. Her works include Conceptualising Early Colonisation (2016), Contexts of Early Colonisation (2016), and Archaeological Networks and Social Interaction (2020). Lieve is also currently directing a field survey project in Calabria (southern Italy), examining the impact of regional networks on local societies.

Lieve was due to join the Classics and Archaeology program for Semester 2, 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed her physical presence. Lieve is teaching the popular third-year Classics and Archaeology subject The Age of Alexander the Great (ANCW30016) from her current base in Denmark. In this interview, she talks to Larissa Tittl about archaeology, early urbanisation and cities, and the challenges of online teaching.

Lieve Donnellan in the field in Boeotia, Greece . L: Preparing a drone for survey work; R: Surveying archaeological remains

What began your interest in archaeology?

I’ve always loved books and I’ve always loved history. In primary school I would even make my own notes of what the history teacher was saying because I wanted to know absolutely everything. Next, I guess, it was my love of the outdoors combined with a broad interest in art, history, philosophy, literature and travel that made me choose Greek archaeology in particular. I loved the idea of going out in the field, studying Ancient Greek objects and reading a lot of books about it in the library. The Ancient Greek world, its history and its culture are so rich and there is so much to Greek archaeology that it is difficult to escape – very much like Odysseus meeting Circe. Not to mention that I have the opportunity to travel a lot in Greece and Italy!

Can you tell our readers about your most memorable fieldwork experience?

I absolutely love fieldwork and I can fill an entire evening telling adventure stories about my expeditions. I’ve excavated in many places: Greece, Italy (including Sicily), Portugal, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Ukraine. I even excavated in Sweden once, but there were no ancient Greeks, obviously! When I was a student, I learned to dive, hoping to join an underwater expedition (which never happened, sadly).

However, an experience I will never forget, for sure, is one of the first excavations I participated in. A couple of friends and I collaborated with a local team in the excavation of what once had been one of the most flourishing Greek metropolises on the Black Sea coast, Olbia; there [was] nothing left, apart from what the excavations are uncovering. There were no facilities and we were sleeping in a tent. The nearest village where we could get some provisions was at a distance of several kilometres. There was absolutely nothing around us, but the night sky was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. We truly felt we were in a magical place. It was an exhilarating and humbling experience at the same time.

Greek colonies of the Northern Euxine (Black) Sea, eight to third centuries BCE, with modern names, 2015. Creator: George Tsiagalakis via Wikimedia Commons. Background topographical map from Wikimedia Commons

What does an archaeologist do in lockdown?

Regretfully, all fieldwork has been cancelled this year. I had hoped to take some students to the south of Italy, where I run a ceramic survey project. However, with the current situation, it is impossible to go. Luckily, archaeologists also spend a lot of time in the library and at their desks. We have classes to teach, books to review, research to write up. There are always a lot of meetings during the academic year, and we have to seek funding to keep projects running (hopefully for next year). I’m currently finishing a paper on amphorae and the rise of a market economy in the ancient Greek world and I [was] preparing my class for the second semester [now underway]. Both very exciting!

Lieve Donnellan

You have written extensively on network analysis and its application to archaeological datasets. Can you tell us about the benefits and drawbacks of using analytical models, largely used in disciplines like sociology, to archaeological material? What can interdisciplinary approaches bring to archaeology?

Archaeology is, per definition, a multi-disciplinary approach. Even in its most basic form, as art history, methods and ideas from other disciplines are applied. The scientific revolution in the discipline of archaeology, that took place after the Second World War, has revolutionised the field. In particular, the use of radiocarbon dating, GIS (geographical information systems), and various methods for chemical analysis of objects, and even the use of photography, have drastically altered our understanding of the past. The next revolution at our doorstep is obviously the digital one. Computers help us to collect, organise and represent data in a capacity that reaches far beyond the human brain. However, we must not forget that we are the ones who must ask the intelligent questions! Quantitative methods, such as network analysis, are only as useful to archaeologists as the questions they ask.

I think, however, that the ultimate challenge is the other way around: what can archaeology do for other disciplines? I believe that archaeology, in a broad sense, presents a holistic view on the material world, which could be useful in other disciplines, such as sociology.

Ruins of Olbia, Mykolaiv Oblast, Ukraine, c2007. Photographer: Ivengo(RUS) at Russian Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons

Your recent research has examined the development of urbanisation and early cities in Iron Age Italy. How do you define a ‘city’? Are modern cities like or unlike ancient cities?

Many books have been written about how one could define a city or an urban society. These definitions differ between disciplines and theoretical perspectives and, as so often in science, no one agrees with one another. An archaeological approach, in my view, should emphasise the sequence of behaviours that led to the production and deposition of the material remains we find. One could think of an urban society as a network between objects, people and practices that find a materialised expression in a defined space. As such, one can approach the study of an ancient city in the same way as a modern one. In practice, ancient cities looked different from modern ones, of course. However, there was also a huge difference between ancient cities themselves. A telling quote is found in Pausanias, a second-century CE Ancient Greek, who wrote what could be seen as one of the first travel guides, in the modern sense of the word. When visiting the ancient city of Panopeus in Phokis he says:

From Chaeroneia it is twenty stades to Panopeus, a city of the Phocians, if one can give the name of city to those who possess no government offices, no gymnasium, no theatre, no marketplace, no water descending to a fountain, but live in bare shelters just like mountain cabins, right on a ravine. Nevertheless, they have boundaries with their neighbours, and even send delegates to the Phocian assembly. (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.4.1)

Pausanias was clearly opinionated about what was supposed to be a ‘civilised’ centre, just like many people today!

Aerial view of the archaeological site of Olbia, on the Black Sea coast in Ukraine, c2016–2019. Photographer: Vasyl Salyha via Ukrainer.net

What challenges – or unexpected delights – have you encountered with the current switch to online teaching and classrooms?

The major challenge for me was that the switch to online teaching had to happen from one day to the next. That has obviously created some chaos, as it caught me totally by surprise. I normally try to create a nice dynamic flow in my classes, in which I talk a bit, then the students talk or do group work or something similar. I find this slightly more difficult to re-create online. There is a certain barrier by not being present physically in the same room, I find. I also have the impression that students ask fewer questions. Normally, in class, I can see when someone looks very puzzled, and then I will intervene and ask what is going on. I can’t see enough of the students’ facial expressions on Zoom to do the same. That’s a shame. On the other hand, I like the freedom asynchronous teaching allows the students: they can work at their own pace at home, pause a video to take notes, or take a break. In the future, when, hopefully, we’re out of lockdown, I will definitely aim at creating hybrid classes in which the best of both worlds is combined!

The Classics & Archaeology Postgraduate Society meet with Dr Lieve Donnellan (top row, second from R) for a chat via Zoom, 2020

What research are you planning for the future?

My ceramic survey in the south of Italy is ongoing and will be for a couple of more years. Related to this, I’ve just started a collaboration with Professor Naoíse Mac Sweeney from Leicester University in the UK, funded by an ERC [European Research Council] Consolidator Grant, which she obtained. We met with the whole team for the first time at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, just before the lockdown. It looks like we have a very exciting group of scholars and I am very much looking forward to what is going to come out of this! Melbourne students will be welcome to join the fieldwork and hopefully there will be space for a postgraduate research project too.

In the near future, I would also like to develop a project in Greece. I’m currently writing up the publication of an architecture survey I conducted in Haliartos, Boeotia, on the Greek mainland. Several observations during our fieldwork make me wonder whether we’ve truly understood the development of Greek cities as well as we think we do. I believe there is some work to be done on this front.

In a recent Zoom meeting with the Classics & Archaeology Postgraduate Society, Lieve expressed her ongoing delight in introducing students to ancient Greece and Rome, saying “there is a significant number of students with a non-Classics background and I’m super-excited about showing them the impact of Alexander and the ancient Greek world on global history”. We certainly cannot wait to meet Lieve in person and look forward to welcoming her to Melbourne.

Feature image: Lieve doing fieldwork in Boeotia, Greece