Macleay Museum

Educating Ruins

My Day of Archaeology 2015 is a frantically busy one.  And that actually makes it an enjoyable (if somewhat stressful) day!

I work as the Manager of Education & Public Programs for Sydney University Museums, which includes the Near Eastern, Egyptian and Mediterranean archaeological collections at the Nicholson Museum, and the Australian Indigenous and historical collections of the Macleay Museum.  I am trained as a Classical Archaeologist, getting my PhD studying the Hellenistic world in the Eastern Mediterranean, so for people like me with a Classical bent, to have a collection of antiquities of the scale of the Nicholson Museum in Australia of all places is extraordinary.  Likewise the collections of the Macleay Museum are mindblowing at times, and my colleague Matt Poll (the curator of Indigenous collections in that museum) is curating an exhibition titled ‘Written in Stone’ to open on 21 August which features Aboriginal stone tool technology from around Australia .  For an archaeologist like myself who works in Cyprus, to be able to walk into the next room to see antiquities from Cyprus from the Early Bronze Age through to the Middle Ages is a truly privileged position.


My role at the museums is to develop and teach the collections to museum visitors, from pre-schoolers, through to school groups, to undergraduate students, through to adult and retiree groups.  I am a strong advocate for the concept of public archaeology (hence I love the idea of Day of Archaeology each year) and feel passionately that it is the responsibility of every archaeologist to publish not only academic papers and formal reports, but to also engage with the community as strongly as possible – through community reports, site tours, educational programs, social media, and any other opportunities that arise.  We are a passionate group of people, so let’s share with the community what is exciting about archaeological inquiry!  Museums represent a perfect means of that public engagement, particularly at university museums where I see part of my duty to act as a connection between current research and the general public and using the collections is a means of sharing that process.


With school groups being a large part of our visitor make-up, I work very closely with the History Teachers Association of New South Wales.  And coincidentally today is the first day of their conference which is taking place on the campus of the University of Sydney.  So today I am hearing talks at that conference (indeed Matt has just spoken with teachers about the ‘Written in Stone’ exhibition at his session), and preparing myself for a talk that I will present tomorrow morning at the conference.  At the moment I have a powerpoint open and when I am finished this entry I am straight back to work on the talk.  My topic for the conference lecture interestingly is not directly archaeological, rather I am talking about depictions of Pompeii in popular culture through the centuries.

The historiography of archaeological investigation, and the impact of the ancient world in popular perception (reception studies) have long fascinated me, but with the structure of the Australian history syllabus, all students will study Pompeii as a core study for their Higher School Certificate.  It means students can get a good grip with a famous site, and approach the archaeological, epigraphical and historical evidence critically, as well as learn about the evolution of the history of excavating there.  Popular perceptions of the ancient site is not a large component of the syllabus (although it is there), but it something of a personal interest (you will be amazed how many archaeologists are film buffs!).  So the paper I am preparing will take a look at Pompeii through the eyes of visual artists, writers (from Bulwer-Lytton to Charles Dickens), musicians (any excuse to watch ‘Pink Floyd in Pompeii’ again, and film makers.  From the 1913 silent film version of ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ to the recent movie starring Kit Harrington (via Doctor Who and Up Pompeii!) I want teachers to explore how the story of Pompeii has meant different things to different generations and how students need to be self-aware of modern baggage we bring to our historical interpretations.  But more importantly, its also a fun talk.  Did you know, for example, that British fireworks entrepreneur James Pain produced Pompeian ‘pyrodramas’ in England, the USA and even here in Australia in the late 1800s, that featured everything from dancing girls to fireworks?  It was a popular presentation at New York’s Coney Island between 1879 and 1914!  Fascinating to see how modern audiences responded to the story of Pompeii in film, spectacles, paintings and novels, and also how the ideas of historians and archaeologists were interpreted (or misinterpreted) by artists.



We ourselves at the Nicholson Museum have contributed to this with our current exhibition ‘Lego Pompeii’ which features part of the ancient city recreated in Lego blocks!

Lego Pomp

On top of the lecture, I am also giving teachers a guided tour of the Nicholson Museum this afternoon, and of the Macleay Museum tomorrow afternoon.  It is a great chance to get people into the museums who may not have seen the collections before, but also to talk first-hand with them about their educational needs and how best to get their students to analyse and interpret material culture in a classroom environment. Its also nice to meet the teachers without 100 Year 7 students ready for an excursion standing behind them!

My major fieldwork project is co-directing the Australian excavations at Paphos in Cyprus under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus.  I have written about the excavations in previous years.  The University of Sydney has been excavating the site of a Hellenistic-Roman theatre and the surrounding precinct at Paphos since 1995, which means I have been to Cyprus at least once a year, annually for two decades now.  It is an amazing place to work, and I am currently planning a small trip in mid-September to spend sometime working out logistics for our next planned field season in 2016 (yes we will be advertising for student and volunteer positions soon if you want to join us).


Working on the same project over a long period of time has given us a real depth of understanding of the nuances of the site: the architectural changes over six centuries, the changes in trade networks reflected in different ceramic usage and the questions of Roman urbanisation and town planning.  It is an excited phase of the project, where we have now built up a broad level of knowledge but are publishing as many of our findings as we can as quickly as we can (not always easy with limited resources).  I had earlier this week finished a paper providing an overview of twenty years of working at the site for a journal.  The deadline has long passed (sorry to the editors), so it has been a big relief to finish it off.  A colleague of mine has kindly reviewed the paper for errors and edits, and so I am half-way through the process of making recommended corrections.  Once it goes to the editors it will probably require further changes, but that is all part of the process of peer review and making a stronger and more coherent paper.  Ironically at the same time this article is beginning the cycle, I earlier this week sent the final proofs of a paper on the Hellenistic period phases of the theatre I co-wrote with one of the Directors, Professor Richard Green and our project’s architect Geoff Stennett, off to Denmark for inclusion in a volume on ancient Greek theatre.  So the next time I see the paper in couple of months will hopefully be in hard cover book format!


Sometimes it feels like as soon as you finish one article, another paper is due.  But the research and presentation is one of the aspects of archaeology I really enjoy and personally wish I had more time for.

So my Day of Archaeology is rather similar to most days in my career (if somewhat busier than normal).  Writing, editing, preparing a public lecture, taking tours and discussing educational options with teachers.  Because deep down all archaeologists are educators.  And so Day of Archaeology really should be every day!


From Museum to the Field: My Archaeological Life at the Nicholson Museum and in Paphos in Cyprus

My name is Dr Craig Barker.  I am the Manager of Education and Public Programs for Sydney University Museums, which includes the Nicholson Museum, home to the largest collection of Egyptian, Near Eastern and Classical antiquities in Australia, and the Macleay Museum which has significant holdings of cultural material from Indigenous Australia, Papua New Guinea and various locations in the South Pacific.  I am also a classical archaeologist who is the co-director of the University of Sydney’s excavations of the Hellenistic-Roman theatre at Nea Paphos in Cyprus.  So I get the best of both worlds: fieldwork and museum work.

My activities today during ‘Day of Archaeology 2014’ have actually been similar to a relatively typical day for me.  As I write this I have just completed a museum tour along with the Nicholson Museum’s senior curator, Michael Turner.  This was a morning tour for a number of benefactors to the University of Sydney, so it was a relatively formal tour, although still lots of fun, as I led a hands-on workshop with the group where Egyptian and Roman material in the Nicholson collection was handled.  Although Australia is currently in the middle of school and university semester holidays for the winter, our education team has been kept busy with school holiday programs and other activities.  Yesterday I and other curatorial staff welcomed over 50 school aged students from the Matavai Cultural Arts group of Pacifica communities in Sydney who came and explored the various museums and the material culture of the Pacific held in the Macleay Museum, as well as having a look around the grounds of the university.  So even without our usual undergraduate and school visitors it has been a busy time using the museum collections.  Discover our collections:

Part of the Nicholson Museum's Egyptian collection

Part of the Nicholson Museum’s Egyptian collection

One of the key components of any archaeological museum’s educational activities is explaining to visitors the aims and aspirations of archaeologists to interpret the past by using material culture, so it is great to actually be able to use genuine archaeological material.  In the case of the Nicholson’s collections of Egyptian and Classical artefacts this is even moreso, as its relatively rare for Australians to be able to access this type of material easily.  The hands-on artefact workshops are always a highlight of organized museum visits by school groups and tutorials.

Craig Barker teaching in the Nicholson Museum

Craig Barker teaching in the Nicholson Museum

A hands-on workshop at the Nicholson Museum

A hands-on workshop at the Nicholson Museum

Although all museum staff like to pretend that they don’t have favourite collections, in reality we do.  And mine is the Nicholson Museum’s Cypriot collection.  Obviously I work in Cyprus so know the material culture well, but the story of the 1500 Cypriot objects in the Nicholson Museum in Sydney is fascinating, and is largely associated with the work of our previous curator Professor J.R.B. Stewart (1913-1962), who was the first Professor of Middle Eastern archaeology in an Australian archaeologist, but also the first ever Australian to excavate in the Mediterranean, firstly in Cyprus in 1937 for the British School at Athens, and then again at a number of Bronze Age cemetery sites in northern Cyprus in the 1950s, including his final dig at Karmi in 1961; the first time Australian students had worked on an Australian funded and directed excavation project in Cyprus, and developing a strong scholarly contact between the two island nations.  2013 was the centenary of his birth, and a major conference was held at the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) in Nicosia to commemorate his contribution to the archaeology of the island, particularly the Bronze Ages.  We at the Nicholson Museum marked Stewart’s contribution with an exhibition titled Aphrodite’s Island: Australian Archaeologists in Cyprus which I curated; displaying material from the various excavations he directed, and material he acquired from Cyprus in the 1950s to be used for teaching his students.  It is interesting that decades after Stewart’s death, we returned to Cyprus to continue that link of research, education and excavation.

Aphrodite's Island: Australian Archaeologists in Cyprus

Aphrodite’s Island: Australian Archaeologists in Cyprus

The University of Sydney has been conducting excavations in Nea Paphos since 1995 when the project was established by Emeritus Professor J.R. Green.  The work is conducted under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, and is sponsored by the Nicholson Museum and the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens.  We are currently planning our 2014 field season which will take place in late August and early September.  As the season gets closer I have been liaising with the team members and students, and have a few emails to send out this afternoon discussing aims for the season with senior team members and dealing with questions from the team.  Although I really should be putting some work into a publication that I am only half-finished this afternoon I realistically don’t think I will have a great deal of time to work on it today.  Over the weekend instead perhaps?

It is a real pleasure to be able to excavate and study in Cyprus, especially at such an interesting site.  Nea Paphos is inscribed on the World Heritage list and was the capital of the island during the Ptolemaic and Roman eras.  Despite today being a major tourist area and heavily developed, the area has spectacular archaeological remnants, including famous mosaics, an incredible necropolis site at the so-called Tombs of the Kings, and some very impressive Crusader remains when Paphos acted as one of the major ports for trade and pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land in the 11th and 12th centuries.  The Danish King, Erik the Good, died in Paphos in 1103 on pilgrimage.

Paphos theatre from the air following excavation

Paphos theatre from the air following excavation

The theatre of Paphos was constructed in the late 4th century BC, and was used as a space for performance and entertainment through various renovations and phases of architectural remodeling until its final destruction via earthquake in the late 4th century AD.   At its largest extent in the mid-second century AD phase, under the Antonine emperors the theatre was expanded to hold a capacity of over 8000 spectators.  The architectural development of the theatre has proved fascinating and much of our research has concentrated upon identifying the different phases, and the influence of Alexandria and Rome on each phase.  The later Roman theatre was adorned with marble which was imported from across the Mediterranean Sea.  As befitting a site used for so long, the ceramic, glass and small find evidence, while often fragmentary, documents the incredible history of the site and its role in major maritime trading networks, particularly with Alexandria in Egypt, two days sail to the south.  In more recent seasons we have begun to explore the urban layout of the precinct near the theatre, firstly with GPR surveying in 2010 and more recently through excavation.  We have located a major road surface directly to the south of the theatre and have excavated a Roman nymphaeum very close to the theatre which will be the subjects of publications currently being developed.  It is providing a fascinating insight into the Hellenistation and Romanisation of Cyprus, as well as indicating the significant role theatre played in the development of a Hellenistic cultural koine across the eastern Mediterranean in the period following Alexander the Great’s conquests.

Corinthian capital from the theatre at Nea Paphos

Corinthian capital from the theatre at Nea Paphos

I (and many of the returning team members) cannot wait to return to Paphos.  One of the great things about long term research and excavation projects is that you get to spend time with colleagues and friends in the area you are working.  Paphos has become a second home to myself and many of the senior team members, and it is always nice to return and catch up with people and enjoy haloumi, Keo beer and other pleasures of Cypriot life.  You will be able to follow the work we do over the five weeks of our field season in Paphos in 2014 on our blog:  A colleague of mine at the Nicholson and I are currently investigating us Skyping some excursion classes in the museum live from the site in Paphos so school students see the archaeologists live at work (we are working out time zones at the moment!).

Excavation at the theatre in 2012

Excavation at the theatre in 2012

This season we are hoping to open two trenches – one in the area of the foundations of the theatre’s stage building, the other a continuation of work we did in our last season in 2013 at the rear of the cavea (seating) area of the theatre.  There will also be considerable recording work to complete as we near the publication of our first volume of the project’s excavation report.  It will be hard work in the summer humidity, but should help with our understanding of the ancient theatre and the urban layout of the Roman city of Nea Paphos.

So for the ‘Day of Archaeology 2014’ I have been planning for future excavation, but also spending time with people exploring the collections of the museums I work in.  Its not a bad life at all.



Guiding students through the University of Sydney's historic Great Hall

Guiding students through the University of Sydney’s historic Great Hall


Recording the nymphaeum at Paphos

Recording the nymphaeum at Paphos

Museums and Archaeology

Hello, my name is Candace and I am an Archaeologist.

The University of Sydney, Main quadrangle

This is wheremy career in archaeology began, at the University of Sydney as an undergraduate in the archaeology Department. And is now where I work for Sydney University Museums.


My role at the Sydney University Museums varies from day to day. I work part time as a Collections Officer with the Collection Management team, as well as part time as a Curatorial Assistant for the Nicholson Museum.  These positions afford me the ability to work with the public and behind the scenes of three very different Musuems and Art Galleries! Today I will be working across all three galleries and in the stores photographing my day as I go. In addition to my daily tasks I will also hopefully find some down time to work on a conference paper I’m presenting in two short weeks on my own archaeological research in Northern Greece and the central Balkans. Follow the captions in the Photo Gallery to see where I am and what I am up to!