Bulldog Burrows: Dr. Lynne Kvapil and the Ancient Mediterranean Cultures and Archaeology Lab

Dr. K’s office is full of ancient history. Photos by Katerina Anderson.

JACK WILLIAMS | STAFF REPORTER | jrwilliams@butler.edu

The personal spaces we inhabit are a reflection of ourselves — from dorms to offices — and that much is true for members of the Butler campus community. Read on to discover the next of our Bulldog Burrows through a Q&A style interview. 

Preserving an ancient Grecian vessel and investigating the authenticity of a Roman bust are all in a day’s work for Dr. Lynne Kvapil, who goes by Dr. K. She is a director of the Ancient Mediterranean Cultures and Archaeology Lab, also known as the AMCA Lab, at Butler. The lab is a collection of authentic and replica artifacts while doubling as Dr. K’s office. She uses her expertise as associate professor in the department of history, anthropology and classics to give students the opportunity to interact with ancient artifacts firsthand.

The Butler Collegian: Can you describe your role in the AMCA Lab and the work you do in that role?

Dr. Lynne Kvapil: I am one of the directors of the lab along with my colleague Dr. Chris Bungard. My job is to make sure the collection is managed, as it has grown quite a bit since we started it around 2016. The main idea is that we want to get as much of this material as possible into the hands of people who are not us. We want these [artifacts] to be in classes, and those classes could be at Butler, but they could also be outside of Butler. 

One of the things that I’m trying to work out now is a pilot program to get little kids to think about archaeology. I have these great plastic bins of dirt filled with little treasures. 

I’m working with some kindergarten and first grade teachers at IPS 60, which is the Butler Lab School. I read a little story about the importance of archaeology and how it’s all around us, and then [the students] get to use paint brushes and spoons to dig in the dirt and find artifacts.

I’ve done a version of this a couple of times in different places, and kids love it. It gets them thinking about archaeology as a potential profession, as something that they can engage with either professionally or as a volunteer. You don’t have to be a certain type of person. Anybody can do it. 

TBC: Where do you source the artifacts from?

DLK: Initially, we started with a Presidential Innovation Grant, and we wanted to use that to [solely] buy reproductions associated with the ancient Mediterranean world for engagement in the classroom. We did not want [authentic] artifacts. As an archaeologist, it’s really important to me from an ethical perspective to not engage in a market for antiquities. 

[However,] I got an email from a contact at Newfields saying that they were rethinking their ancient collection — they had all these things in storage and didn’t have a home for them. They asked if we wanted them, and I thought through the ethical component of that. [I thought,] “If these are gonna go anywhere and do anything, they might as well go in the hands of students.” That’s the best way to utilize them and get them out of the storeroom.

TBC: Would you say that the reproduction artifacts you have are mainly souvenirs or that they were meant to be intentional fakes and fool people?

DLK: My sense is that anything we have that isn’t a real artifact was probably made as a reproduction, not meant to fool people. It changes how we interact with the object. [If] this [artifact] is ancient, we want to take different care of it … to make sure the handle stays on and things like that. You never hold it by the handles because they can pop off.

I’ve had the opportunity to start some research projects on artifacts with students. This lekythos is an ancient Greek vessel painted with some figures and some horses, and it would have been used in a funerary context to hold oil.

This one, if you look at it, it’s not super high quality painting. The student who was researching it was able to pin down the pottery workshop, based on the painting style, where she thinks it might have been made in ancient Athens. Because it’s not really nice, it’s painted pretty quickly, [and] it’s got cursory decoration, it’s more likely that this is a real artifact.

TBC: What would you say is your favorite artifact of the collection?

DLK: I don’t like favorites; [I have] so many friends in this collection. I love them all. They’re all exciting because they all have their own really interesting story. That could be because it’s something that we got for the collection. I got that [vase] in Greece, from a priest in the ancient [part of] Corinth, who has a shop where he makes really high quality reproductions. To me, that’s a really great story.

TBC: I like that idea of what you’re saying, that there’s potential stories behind the artifacts, and that’s what gives them their power.

DLK: We have lots and lots of things that I like to call fun question marks. Pick a question mark — there’s work to be done. One of our former interns at the lab is now working at Newfields. She was working on this askos in the shape of a duck. We were befuddled by this guy, so she named it Ducky. When we first got it out, she [said] “I love it; I want to research it because it’s a duck and it’s cute”. 

She now works at Newfields and [said] Newfields had it tested. She had been contacting them trying to get records about Ducky, and now she’s got pictures of the [thermoluminescence] testing. She’s still thinking about this artifact even though she’s graduated from Butler. [AMCA] is a lab full of fun and all kinds of good stuff.


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