Madison graduate helps unearth story of past

EMILY KNUTHS spent five weeks in Turkey as part of a 15-person archaeological team working at Antiochia ad Cragum, where St. Paul stopped three times. It was also a bishop's seat in the early Christian church.

Parents spend years teaching their preschool children not to put foreign objects in their mouths. Then they grow up, go to college, head to Turkey for an internship, and all that training goes out the door.

"If you saw a chunk that you didn't know what it was, you could scratch it or lick it," Emily Knuths said about her experience in excavating at Antiochia ad Cragum. "I licked a lot of pottery and bones."

The Madison High School graduate will be entering her sophomore year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota this fall, but she spent five weeks this summer exploring the career field for which she is training.

"Definitely, a goal of mine is to be an archaeologist," she said in a brief interview following a presentation at the Madison Public Library on Wednesday night.

Knuths learned about the internship from a professor at St. Olaf shortly after beginning classes last fall and immediately began to explore the possibility. It appealed to her not only because she is interested in archaeology but also because she is studying classics and history, and because she enjoys being outdoors.

While she was engaged in strenuous physical activity in helping to excavate the lime kiln at the acropolis, Knuths was not paid for her endeavors. Instead, she paid for the opportunity and received college credit. Overall, the experience cost around $5,000.

"It was worth every penny," Knuths said.

In defining archaeology to more than two dozen people, she said, "The main goal of archaeology is to tell the story of the people who came before us."

She demonstrated her storytelling skills by reviewing the history of the site and her experiences at the dig with humor and informative details.

The site, which was visited by St. Paul three times and was a bishop's seat in the early Christian Church, is located on the Mediterranean in southern Turkey. However, its initial use was probably by pirates, according to Knuths.

"Because of this handy-dandy harbor, it was easy for them to go out and do pirate things," she said, showing a slide which depicted water the deep aquamarine color for which the Mediterranean is known.

Knuths reported the site was probably inhabited from early in the first century CE (Common Era, used as a modern alternative to AD) to around 800 CE. Seismic activity may have caused it to be abandoned.

A number of structures have been identified, including the imperial temple, a bath complex, a courtyard with 1,600 square feet of mosaics, a medieval fortress and a necropolis. Knuths helped to excavate the lime kiln at the acropolis.

However, before the dig could begin, the team had to clear the shrubbery which grows over the site between the annual digs. In describing the work itself, Knuths said, "It's much more than digging up holes."

The interns are taught to use the tools -- a trowel and shovel -- in ways that keep the area being excavated level. This enables them to properly document each artifact. In addition to bones and pottery, Knuths reported a small glass bead was found at her site.

"Everything is important," she said. "Everything gets cataloged."

Because the heat index would be well over 100 degrees during the day, they would begin work by 6:30 a.m., hopping the bus in the town where they stayed by 5:30 a.m. They would work for about four hours and then break, working two or three hours later in the day.

Knuths was part of the four-person team excavating the kiln, which was initially believed to be a cistern. Her field notes, kept in a gridded notebook she was able to keep, include sketches and notes about the work which were later transcribed into the official dig record. They reflect the way their thinking about the structure changed.

"We are no longer a cistern," she wrote when the structure was identified.

In speaking about the progress her team made, Knuths noted the walls were fragile, making it necessary for team members to use a ladder to gain access to what essentially became a seven-foot pit.

"Then, they would take the ladder away and we couldn't get out," she deadpanned.

The acropolis -- which is, by definition, a complex built on a high hill -- is not believed to have had any permanent inhabitants, according to Knuths. However, teams have found what are thought to be multi-storied, interconnected houses around what is believed to be an early Christian church.

In addition to talking about the acropolis and kiln, Knuths talked about other structures on the site, including the baptistry complex, the pirate tower, the necropolis and mosaics. Knuths also talked about "Stanley," a skeleton which was unearthed.

"They found a Byzantine wall on top of him," she said, and went on to explain how this may have happened. "They would build their ancestors into the walls. They believed their ancestors would protect them."

Knuths also touched on some unique features of Antiochia ad Cragum. Women appear to have had both money and influence. The pottery is unique, unlike anything else found in the ancient world.

Her enthusiasm was evident as she made her presentation and fielded questions. A comment made early in the presentation seemed to suggest one reason she was so excited about the work.

"It's amazing when you excavate something last seen thousands of years ago," she said.