My name is Victoria Clayton and I am passionate about archaeology, in particular, the archaeology of the Mediterranean, North Africa and Middle Eastern worlds.
Where did this passion for archaeology come from? Two distinct influences come to mind.
First, my father is taught geology in secondary school and in holidays we would take long, rambling caravan trips to places of geological interest. Beaches were placed filled with the ancient past; fossils would crumble out of cliff faces, we’d sift through kitchen middens high up on sand dunes, trilobites would be identified amid extreme excitement, or less excitingly, Dad would point out the tessellated pavements, flattened areas of rock disappearing and reappearing as the foam tumbled over them. Or perhaps we would go to an inland national park and take the walking tracks to a scenic lookout high above the tree-line. Dad would show us how the land around us was formed, so long ago.
During these childhood holidays we would also be taken to historic sites, such as early houses or convict prisons, or those funny old museums which seemed to feature in every country town. I loved his laboratory at the school where he taught. Musty smells still transport me back to those long flat drawers filled with tiny cardboard boxes, each containing a rocky or crystalised treasure. It was a childhood redolent with images of the past and I’m pretty certain my interest in the past had its seeds in those childhood holidays and my father’s story of the creation of the earth.
I was also a very bookish child. Each Saturday morning I’d head up the local library and return with another bag of books. I went through a phase of interest in the Dark Ages in the British Isles, my imagination fired with names like Ethelfrith and Egbert. But it wasn’t long before the ancient Middle East took its place.
So why the Middle East?
I suspect the church may be to blame! Each Sunday we attended the local Uniting Church and I do remember spending a great deal of time reading the Old Testament (during the sermons) fascinated by the names of places and people. ‘Nebuchadnezzar, Tyrenius, Ashurbanipal’ I would whisper under my breath. My old school Bible had a colour photograph of the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, with an Arab family in the foreground. I loved that picture. Through it I could see the women at the well, the shepherds on the hillsides, the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.
I was accepted into the Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne and majored in archaeology and Middle Eastern studies. Throughout university my desire to travel grew and after taking a year off and building up some financial resources I set off for London for a trip around the UK before heading across to Damascus where I met up with a team from Melbourne University to excavate at Tell Ahmar.
And so began the rhythm of my 20s; three months excavating in Syria, the remainder of the year raising the money to return for the next season. This happened for four seasons of excavation, followed by a study season for my PhD.
Throughout my 20s I was confused about my career path. I loved archaeology, but could not see how to make a living out of it while living in Australia. There seemed to be few university teaching positions (and anyway, I didn’t want to teach), museum work seemed to require another qualification and anyway, I just wanted to dig! So I had a strange kind of split life; two-thirds of the year temping as a receptionist in order to fund my trips back to excavate in Syria. While working I immersed myself in archaeology through reading and attending public lectures, or doing the odd bit of field work in Australia, but it wasn’t really the same as having a career in archaeology. At one point I thought archaeological conservation might be the answer to my career confusion and took a semester of chemistry in order to prepare myself for that course, but I just didn’t ‘get’ chemistry and was reprimanded for writing essays instead of lab reports.
Finally, I decided to go back to archaeological research and was invited to look at the collection of baked clay figurines from Tell Ahmar. It was a long but extremely interesting and rewarding five years of research on three continents. But, like most candidates, by the end, I was exhausted, broke, depressed and wanting a ‘normal life’.
When I finished my PhD, my interests turned to issues of contemporary society. In Melbourne I have worked with refugees on settlement and immigration issues, community development and English language learning. I have volunteered as a registered migration adviser with the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre and also in community education around international humanitarian law through the Red Cross. Presently I am a teacher of English as a Second Language and have spent three years at universities in Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi Provinces, China. I plan to blog about those adventures very soon. The thread which ties these diverse career paths is an interest in and compassion for people of all walks of life, culture, language and life-stories.
So who am I? Am I an archaeologist or not?
This blog is about getting involved in archaeology again by sharing my PhD research, reading current research, perhaps getting out and digging again and generally feeling my way back into the field. I am not an academic. I don’t hold a professorship or even a lectureship at any university. I haven’t done any field work for 15 years. But I am an educated, interested amateur and I’m writing this blog for people who may have studied archaeology many years ago, or who enjoy watching Time Team or other quality archaeology programs and reading good research articles in fine magazines for a general reading audience, or who have travelled to the Middle East, visited or perhaps even volunteered on an archaeology excavation.
So, who are you and why are you reading this? Please leave a comment or email me at figurinesslavesandsoldiers.com. I’d love to hear your story!
Dr Victoria Clayton is author of Visible Bodies, Resistant Selves: The Iron Age Figurines From Tell Ahmar. If you are fascinated by life in the ancient past, let this very readable book take you on a journey back 2600 years to the bustling town of Kar Shalmaneser where Assyrian soldiers, businessmen, craftsmen and slaves lived together and learn who made the figurines and why. Meet their makers and learn their story. Click here for access now.