A&S students travel to Greece for the learning experience of a lifetime

January 18, 2023 by Coby Zucker - A&S News

Six weeks of a sunny beach on the coast of Crete may sound like paradise, but it was hard work and a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for the U of T students excavating the Bronze Age site of Palaikastro.

“There are some friendships that I've made in Greece that came with me back to Toronto and these are people that I will be in contact with for a really, really long time,” Zoe Arzuman, a fourth-year undergraduate, says.

Over the summer, Carl Knappett, a professor in the Department of Art History, brought a group of students to Greece as part of the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Research Excursions Program (REP). Knappett, an expert in the pottery from Minoan Crete, has been taking students on excavations there for years — although the past summer was the first visit since 2015.

“My impression from this year and previous years is that it really can be a dramatic and intense experience — not only for the unique insights into the research process, but also for the lifelong friendships that are formed,” Knappett says.

“Every year I have taken REP students I have been hugely impressed by their extraordinary readiness for the challenge and touched by the bonds they form through their shared experiences,” he says.

Palaikastro is one of the biggest Bronze Age towns on Crete, occupied from as early as 2500 BCE. Experts are fascinated by the site’s lack of a clear palace structure, which would typically serve as a focal point for the town.

“Archaeologists are very interested to find out why an island society developed in this way, with people choosing to come together in large settlements,” Knappett says.

Arzuman, an archaeology specialist from University College with a minor in anthropology, and Kaliyah Macaraig, a fourth-year art history specialist from Woodsworth College with a minor in classical civilizations, worked together throughout the six weeks excavating a trench just steps from the sea.

“You could turn around and the entire Mediterranean Sea was right there,” Arzuman says. “It was very, very beautiful.”

The two recently presented on their experience, detailing the arduous work that went into the six weeks, as well as the gorgeous views, unforgettable day trips across the island and the close-knit sense of community they experienced. 

“It’s definitely a lot of hard work because we were working for eight hours a day in the field,” Arzuman says. “But I think the overall experience is worth it.”

“Regardless of what your background is, there is some way it's going to be able to help that excavation,” Macaraig says. “There are ways your experience and your skills can benefit a team, and you can work in the team to achieve something larger.”

“It's nice to know that on the REP,” she says. “You're contributing to a long sustained process of learning and researching.”