Johns Hopkins senior Matthew Kroot participated in the excavation.
On his first overseas dig in Umm el-Marra, Syria, last July, aspiring archaeologist and Johns Hopkins senior Matthew Kroot carefully sifted his way through thousands of years of accumulated earth, helping to uncover an ancient mortuary complex. Researchers hoped to find an untouched royal tomb like the one Kroot's adviser, Glenn Schwartz, had uncovered near the site three years ago.
The good news is that they found a tomb from the Early Bronze Age, dating to 2400 B.C. The bad news is someone else had found it first, raiding the space thousands of years ago and leaving behind only a few bones and smashed pieces of pottery.
The looted tomb was the second unexpected turn in Kroot's Provost's Undergraduate Research Award project--he was originally slated to excavate a different building complex before personnel changes required him to switch to the mortuary site. But despite the change in plans and then the empty crypt, both Kroot and Schwartz consider the dig a success. Archaeologists must learn to expect the unexpected, a valuable lesson for Kroot to learn early in his career, Schwartz says.
"This is normal for archaeological expeditions, where you have to be flexible in the field," says Schwartz, the Whiting Professor of Archaeology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Department of Near Eastern Studies. "However, even though the tomb had been robbed, its discovery was very important because it confirmed the existence of a mortuary complex and revealed that the complex was used for at least a century or so, given the date of the pottery."
It's a lesson Kroot wouldn't have been able to afford to learn without a PURA grant.
"Archaeology is always a cash-strapped field," says Kroot, a 22-year-old senior from San Francisco. "To participate in digs, you have to go to field school, where you pay thousands to be somebody's lackey. I wouldn't have been able to participate without the PURA grant."
Even though his dig didn't turn out the way he had anticipated, "it was still exciting because there were a lot of specialists from other countries at the site," Kroot says. "I actually only got to dig through the top layers before we had to stop and slow down to make way for the experts who deal with human remains. [But] I got to look over their shoulders and bug them by asking questions about what they were doing."
The Johns Hopkins University is recognized as the country's first research university, and has been in recent years the leader among the nation's universities in winning federal research and development grants. The opportunity to be involved in important research is one of the distinguishing characteristics of an undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins.
The Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards program provides one of these research opportunities, open to students in each of the university's four schools with full-time undergraduates: the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, the Peabody Conservatory and the School of Nursing. Since 1993, about 40 students each year have been awarded up to $2,500 to propose and conduct original research, some results of which have been published in professional journals. The awards are funded through a donation from the Hodson Trust.
Kroot is the son of Carol and Dave Kroot and graduated from San Francisco University High School. Color images of Kroot are available. Contact Amy Cowles at 410-516-7160.
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