Biehl wins Chancellor’s Award
Peter Biehl, associate professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, and director of the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology, College of Arts and Sciences, has received a 2012-13 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Internationalization to fund a project that will bring students from disparate regions together to study their common ancestry.
Mitch Leventhal, SUNY vice provost for global affairs, described Biehl's project, “The Podgori Archaeological Field School in Albania,” as one of five outstanding proposals selected for the award from a SUNY-wide pool of 17 strong applications. Biehl is the UB first recipient of this award since 2003, when the university received funding for projects in Brazil, Haiti and Turkey. The project in Turkey was directed by the late Samuel Paley, an archaeologist and professor of classics. Biehl currently is working on the Samuel Paley legacy project through the UB Digital Humanities Initiative.
The Chancellor’s Award for Internationalization was re-established for the 2011-12 academic year to support SUNY faculty providing students with new opportunities for academic experiences in less commonly visited countries and to explore underrepresented academic disciplines in study abroad. Each recipient of the Chancellor’s Award will receive $4,000 in funding to support the program and make the cost more affordable to students.
In this instance, UB will partner with Albania’s University of Tirana in piloting an archaeological field school near the western Albanian town of Podgori, which will begin in June, 2013. If it receives further funding, the school will continue through 2015, followed by a two-year, post-excavation analysis and subsequent publication of the research results. Biehl expects 15 UB undergraduates to take part in the program, along with 15 undergraduate and graduate students from Albania and the surrounding countries of Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo and Serbia/Montenegro.
Biehl is director of the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology and his research and extensive publications focus on Neolithic and Copper Age Europe and the Near East, archaeological method and theory, cognitive archaeology, cult and religion, climate change in the past, multimedia in archaeology, heritage and museum studies.
His early archaeological work was in Bulgaria, where he studied the first farmers to colonize Europe. He went on to Anatolia, the western peninsula of Asia that forms the greater part of Turkey, where he studied the origins of those colonizing farmers, who lived and worked there some 8,000 years ago. He currently has projects in Germany, Israel, Romania, Ukraine, the United States and Turkey.
“If you look at a map of the western Mediterranean region,” he says, “you can see how one group of early Anatolian farmers dispersed along the Mediterranean coast to colonize Europe and become the common ancestors of the many disputatious groups that comprise the Balkans today.”
As we still don’t know exactly when, how and why the Anatolian farmers spread to Europe, this project will unlock some of the key questions surrounding the fascinating beginning of European culture, Biehl says. “This project also will include interdisciplinary research on climate change and the so-called 8.2 cal BP Climatic Event, which seems to be at least one of the reasons for the migration of Anatolian farmers.
“But the project also has an impact on the present,” he explains, “as it shows that in the past, the Balkans can be seen as a stable and uniform group of people with a common ancestry and identity.
“It was only after the expansion, decline and eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire, between 1451 and 1908, that these units became increasingly hostile to one another, provoking war upon war. The fact of their original common roots in Anatolia was all but lost to them until uncovered by archaeologists,” he says.
“In this excavation, at one of the very earliest farming sites in Europe, we will look for evidence of their common ancestry in the remains of early Neolithic settlement structures, artifacts like bone and stone tools, jewelry, figurines and pottery, as well as paleo-environmental data to explain culture and climate change. All of this helps us understand what caused the migration of early farmers thousands of years ago.”
Albania is a fascinating country at the crossroads between the Near East and Europe, with a fondness for the United States, Biehl says, and the Albanian partners will provide the project with transportation and a “dig house,” a former school with living facilities and labs necessary for field research that is only 10 minutes away from the field excavation site.
In excursions, lectures and social events, the UB students also will learn about a live, culture and people of this country.