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Classical Archeologist

Lots of kids have fun digging holes in the backyard, but for Johanna Best '02, this pastime led to her professional calling. 

"I lived in this big old house in Connecticut and I got interested in reading National Geographic, probably around third grade. I started digging up parts of my backyard, and ended up finding things. My house used to be a village doctor's office, so I found old medicine bottles. Before that, it had been a pewter shop, so I found one of these tea strainers they had made. I got really into it," said Best, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College.  

Her fascination with history led to studying Latin in high school and Greek at Earlham. She went on a May Term trip to Greece led by Professor of Classical Studies Steve Heiny, and was enthralled. Today, her life is oriented around archeology and sharing her fascination with others in a way that makes history come alive.

Finding her place

Earlham is a family tradition for Best; more than 10 of her relatives attended the College. She resisted following the family precedent at first, but the Earlham charmed her, and when a high school teacher asked where she thought she'd be happiest, she realized she was Earlham bound.

"The education was wonderful; I thought a lot, I learned a lot. I learned skills that I use all the time now, not just the Latin and the Greek, but the writing and research skills. The experience of going to Greece with Earlham gave me the confidence, my following year, to apply for an excavation," Best says.

Having received her Master's degree and completed the requisite coursework for her PhD, Best's eyes are now on her dissertation. Her subject is the significance of the roadside altars of ancient Greece, specifically Athens and the surrounding area. 

"When I read about Greek religion, a lot of the focus is about large temple structures, which are truly magnificent, but I think about all the ways people moved through the city, and I realized that there are a lot of these small roadside religious spaces that need exploring," Best says.

Some of the structures might not be recognizable as shrines to the untrained eye. There are small stone altars and low stone fences enclosing a lone rock by the side of the road. "Sometimes we'll find a rough stone upon which people put dedications or made sacrifices, because there were burnt animal bones," Best said.

Connecting with History

The desire to help others connect with history is the force behind one of Best's biggest dream: to design an educational curriculum for children that incorporates the hands-on aspects of archeology. For three years after graduating from Earlham, Best worked as an elementary school teacher, and it showed her how much excitement archeology can contribute to history classes. 

"Students really understand history through archeology and objects. It makes the past seem much more concrete," she says. 

As far as employment after graduation, Best is going to cast a wide net. She can picture herself working in a museum as the curator of exhibits, or working on the aforementioned dream of creating educational curricula for students, or in academia as an archeology professor. "I'm open to a wide variety of fields; I'd also think about working for academic archeological publications," Best says.

Come what may, Best sees herself involved in archeology for the long run. "I can't imagine I wouldn't be involved in the field in some way," she says.

Johanna Best

Johanna Best 2002, Doctoral Student at Bryn Mawr College

Hometown: Middlefield, Conn.

Major at Earlham: Classical Studies

Interests: Roadside religious sites in Ancient Greece, connecting kids with archeology

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