How did you wind up at RIT?
I am primarily an archaeologist. I also teach Cultural Anthropology,
but that is something I do mainly because in the United
States, archeology is considered a subfield of anthropology. I
mainly work in the part of the world known as Mesoamerica, in
the Mexican state of Oaxaca, studying a group of people called
the Zapotec. In addition to that, I’m also an archeological scientist,
or what we call in the field, an archaeometrist, and that’s
really what brings me to RIT... I saw the job and I said, “That’s
what I want to do.”
Are your students usually very engaged in your classes?
Well, teaching archaeology is really a wonderful thing. In a sense,
it’s like shooting fish in a barrel: you don’t have to sell the subject
to students. A lot of people come to archaeology classes with a real
desire to learn, and as a professor, you can’t ask for a better situation…
RIT students are very interested in applied learning, so I try to
do a lot of that... I’ve got kits of artifacts, some of them as much as
5000 and 7000 years old, that students can do things with. In “Exploring
Ancient Technology,” we have students doing things like making
stone tools. They’ve really done some amazing pieces.
How often do you travel?
I’m in Mexico as much as three times a year. The longest single time
I was ever there was five months. I come by [travel] naturally: I was
actually born in Turkey because my father was in the American Navy,
but I’m not actually Turkish. Although at some point, I had the right
to Turkish citizenship because I was born in a Turkish hospital and
my birth certificate is Turkish (which causes me no end of trouble)...
After Turkey, my father had lots of tours of duty over the world, and
I’ve lived in the United States, Korea, and Japan. Since becoming an
archaeologist, I’ve worked in Israel, Turkey, China and the United
States—just sort of all over the place.
Have you ever made any particularly interesting discoveries?
Actually, there is one really interesting one: I was working on an
excavation a number of years ago... As we were digging outside
this wall, we found a pit. Inside, we found the skeletal remains of
two eaglets., both of which had their heads cut off. I was like, “Oh,
that’s interesting, they’ve been very carefully laid in this pit. They
weren’t food rubbish.” Aside from missing the head, all the bones
were there and in place. The Zapotec I was working with said, “I
know what this is. This is a curing.” Then he went on to describe
to me that when someone is really sick and the doctors don’t seem
to be able to cure them, what they do is undergo a special ritual
where whatever is afflicting them is magically transferred to a
bird...They’d then kill the bird, bury it, and it would take the sickness
away...I thought, “Well, that’s really interesting. Here we have
an archaeological data point that’s over 1000 years old, and people
are still doing it in modern times.”
Some of your students have said you’re pretty wacky.
As far as the wackiness, I think I was dropped on my head when I
was a child. Actually, my father tells me that at least on one occasion
I fell out of my high chair before my first year. And I continue
to bang my head, so that might have something to do with it—the
cumulative brain damage. I think part of the goofiness comes from
having spent so much of my life outside of the United States. When
I came to the US to go to college, I’d spent half my life outside of the
US, so I had sort of a different socialization than a lot of people do
here. Sometimes, I probably say things that are a little too edgy....
Like today, we were talking about sexuality in Cultural Anthropology
and whether or not there’s a gay gene, so I posed the question:
If there’s a gay gene, is there a gene for bondage? Or masochism? Or
nurse’s uniforms? That’s a ridiculous thing to say, of course, but it
sort of drives home the point.