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Active Learning and Research
Active Learning and Research
Professor Rhys Townsend and student Ed Connor searched for archaeological evidence of pirates along the Cilician coast in Turkey.

Meet the researchers: Off the beaten path

An interview with Ed Connor
Ed Connor ’01 is a University Scholar with experience in land surveying, a career he still pursues in addition to being a Clark student. Although his major is in Environmental Science and Policy, his interests got diverted—to Turkey! We talked with him recently about his participation with professor Rhys Townsend of the Art History department in the Rough Cilicia Project. One objective of the project is to search for evidence of Roman-era pirates in the Cilician area of Turkey. Ed visited the site during the summer of 2000, and will be returning again this summer. He plans to complete his master’s degree in ES&P through Clark’s fifth-year free MA program.

When you came to Clark did you know you’d be doing research?

Yes, I knew that Clark was a research school. But I didn’t expect to be doing research in archaeology.

As an ES&P major, how did you get involved with archaeological research?

For fun, I took Introduction to Archaeology with Rhys Townsend. I’m trained as as a surveyor and have been doing surveying in the Worcester area. I was interested in how land surveying works in the archaeological world, and what better way to find out than actually going and doing it at a site. I talked with Rhys about getting on the grant for the Rough Cilicia Project and I was written in as a field assistant. Rhys and I really hit it off. I did topographical [elevation] as well as positional surveying [latitude/longitude] at several sites around the town of Gazipasha. We used both GPS [global positioning system] and a total station [surveying equipment that allows one to measure elevation, latitude and longitude, and distances].

It was a good learning experience—seeing how site mapping is really done by archaeologists. I’m used to working with engineers, putting up new bridges—this was working with ancient buildings. These people put up structures thousands of years ago without the benefit modern technology. Quite an interesting experience.

Had you traveled outside the U.S. before?

No, this was my first time going abroad. Suddenly I was on a plane going east, 12 hours later I was landing in another country--I couldn’t even say hello to half the people. It was a shock to me to think that I’d be on a plane going to another country to do archaeology.

I have the impression that this area of Turkey is characterized by pretty rough terrain.

Yes, hence the name Rough Cilicia!  Scrub oak, spiders whose bites make you ill, 100 degree temperatures in the shade.

Even though it’s not your major, do you think you’ll continue doing archaeological work?

I intend to. Right now I’m taking a course in remote sensing [a technology that uses aerial photographs and satellite images to provide information about the earth’s surface]. For a final project I’m looking at using balloons as platforms for taking pictures of terrain from low altitudes. That approach would lessen the field work involved in surveying. Thorny bushes, scrub oak and mountainous terrain are not the easiest things to navigate carrying surveying equipment.

Changing the subject, what is your final project for your ES&P major?

Estrogen mimics. Some cancers, such as breast and uterine cancer, are very influenced by estrogen, or chemicals that mimic estrogen. I’m investigating a suspected toxin, nonylphenol, a chemical found in most plastics, paints, liquid detergents--it’s very ubiquitous. The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] hasn’t done a lot of testing on it.  It’s been shown to shrink testes in male rats and cause inverted-uterous births in rats. Its presence may create a cancer friendly environment.

It sounds like a hot topic.

Yes, because the plastics industry is so important. Everything these days seems to be made of plastic.

It seems like you’ve been going in two separate directions here at Clark.

I never thought I’d be looking at thousand-year old castles! Now I have two perspectives--the archaeological and the environmental. From an environmentalist standpoint, going to Turkey, regardless of the archaeology involved, has given me a unique perspective on a culture’s ability to adapt to a climate. This climate is not friendly. The people there know that water is precious and they’re doing everything in their power to preserve what little water they have. I saw trash piles piles being burned out there in Turkey and found out that sewage was just being pumped into the Mediterranean. There are people living in shacks,…but then they’re doing that here in America…

By uncovering the past I’ve gained an understanding of a past society’s adaptive skills. What were the people doing there, why were they there? Was it the same environment as today, or was it different? There aren’t many trees there today, but we think there were during the Roman era.


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