‘Hold a piece of history’

AMCA Lab student intern Sophie Graham holds an artifact depicting Ramses II. Photo by Natalie Goo

LEAH OLLIE | MANAGING EDITOR | lollie@butler.edu 

Though several years and hundreds of millions of dollars of support have fueled the recent construction of Butler’s state-of-the-art Sciences Complex, the newest research lab space on campus is tucked away on the third floor of Jordan Hall: the Ancient Mediterranean Cultures and Archaeology (AMCA) Lab. Formerly located in the office of Dr. Lynne Kvapil, associate professor of classics and AMCA Lab director, the lab is a hub for research and professional experience for student workers who have an interest in ancient cultures and artifacts. 

The AMCA Lab has been operational since 2016, but its new home is an upgrade from Kvapil’s personal office. Jordan Hall 380 now contains the full collections and workspace necessary to maintain the operations of the lab, which entail accessioning and processing new objects, photographing the current collection and overseeing the use of artifacts for outreach and classroom instruction both inside and outside of Butler’s walls. 

To celebrate the move into the new space, the AMCA Lab hosted an opening celebration on Sept. 26 featuring guest speaker Dr. Yorke Rowan, who presented a talk about desert kites — titled on the lab’s flyer: “The Enigmatic Traps from the Air and on the Ground.” Students and faculty gathered to celebrate the lab’s location upgrade, share themed stickers and refreshments and observe a display of several artifacts and replicas in the current collection. 

For students in the Department of History, Anthropology and Classics, the AMCA Lab is one of few opportunities at Butler to engage in hands-on archaeological research. Off campus and abroad, several students have taken advantage of academic opportunities in classics and archaeology. On campus during the academic year, however, limited courses are offered by Kvapil and professor of classical studies Dr. Chris Bungard, who also serves as a director of the AMCA Lab. 

Senior anthropology major Elizabeth Bocksenbaum works as a lab intern focusing on photographing the collection, and appreciates the chance to incorporate hands-on experience into her academic studies. 

“You can be passionate about your degree, but if you don’t have an application of it … [you can] almost have imposter syndrome in a way,” Bocksenbaum said. “Having this opportunity and then [sharing] it with fellow students is a great workplace to get that start into, say, if you do museum work or you’re a part of collections or a part of a nonprofit arts organization. It’s a nice smaller scale entry level to get a grasp of that realm while also still [working comfortably] with faculty and students.” 

Sophomore history major Cole Himmelheber interns in the lab to gain research experience that pertains to his future graduate school plans, and finds gratification in the responsibility of managing a collection of ancient artifacts and replicas. 

“A day in the lab for me would [start with] going in, and I check on ‘Boatie’, which is an ancient Egyptian wooden boat,” Himmelheber said. “I make sure the humidity and temperature is all right. Then I go in … and check on things that need checking and arranging. We have a lot of new books in the lab, so [I work on] accessioning those and cataloging. If Dr. [Kvapil] is going to be showcasing some items at an elementary school, I’m going to help with those. Taking care of these things and being in a room full of these items is just an amazing experience.” 

Though access to ancient artifacts may be of primary interest to history, anthropology and classics students, all are welcome to visit the AMCA Lab and get involved in learning about archaeology. A variety of rotating roles and tasks in the lab grants space for students of differing levels of experience to find a place for their skills and interests, and offers insight into the spontaneous nature of working in archival collections. 

Kiara Somerville, a senior computer science and economics double major and classics minor, enjoys exploring new academic fields through her internship in the lab that diverges from her typical coursework. 

“It’s just so different from what I do day-to-day because I’m in computer science or economics classes, [and] I’m coding or [doing] math or things like that,” Somerville said. “When I’m in the lab, I can kind of take whatever path I want, and find the things that interest me. There’s also just so many things that I [do here] that don’t need to apply only within an archeology space. Inventory and [those skills] will apply to my job outside [of the lab]. I’ve already learned so much, and it’s [calming when] I’m able to just do things that I’m interested in.” 

Kvapil ensures that student involvement is at the forefront of the lab’s management and operation. By maintaining student interns from the founding of the lab to the present, and nurturing community partnerships with the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) system, the AMCA lab’s impact extends beyond campus walls. 

“[Lab interns] really get this incredible experience of [learning] to manage, right?” Kvapil said. “They’re managing these antiquities, managing the artifacts, doing research, trying to figure out what it is we need to do day to day. The internships can be kind of what the students want and need. Ideally they’ll come out of it with this great experience and these skills that are transferable while also learning about the past and getting to handle and experience these materials.” 

Kvapil brings artifacts and replicas to the Butler University Laboratory School, to share the joys of archeology and the collection with elementary students. Bungard similarly conducts in-person instruction with high school Latin students, drawing connections between the ancient world they study and pieces of it housed in the AMCA Lab. These community connections motivate the lab’s staff to make the collection accessible and form an entry path for students who may desire to study archeology. 

The interdisciplinary study conducted in the AMCA Lab is encouraging to all students who are looking for pathways at Butler to explore their interest in ancient cultures. With a new museum studies minor now available and developing research spaces such as the AMCA Lab, Bulldogs who aspire to careers in museums, cultural heritage preservation and archaeology can identify new opportunities to work towards their dreams — they just have to start digging.

Photos by Natalie Goo.


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