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Member of the Month, Pt 2: Monica Barnes

December 19, 2014

I’m delighted to announce our 2nd Member of the Month is Monica Barnes. Monica has had a varied and fascinating life as an archaeologist – so varied and fascinating that it’s two posts worth, at least! I’m putting up half this week and the second half next week. So, sit back, relax and enjoy:

Monica writes I always knew I would be an archaeologist, although I don’t know how I knew that. As a child I read anything I could find on ancient Greece, Rome, and, especially, Egypt–adult books, children’s books, and even fiction. Ruth Fosdick Jones’ Boy of the Pyramids was a big influence with its descriptions of early Egyptian architecture and the annual Nile flood. I can still remember my first trip to THE museum, in my case the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. The skeleton of an American Indian woman and her baby! The ancient Egyptian boat!

Actually becoming an archaeologist was somewhat problematic, though. How did one do that? In Archaeology from the Earth Sir Mortimer Wheeler emphasized the importance of drawing, so I tried to learn to draw and discovered that I was utterly without talent in that area. Did that mean that I couldn’t become an archaeologist? Somewhere I heard an Egyptologist confidently proclaim that all the important finds in his field had already been made. Had all opportunities ended while I was still in my infancy?

As a teenager I had no idea how to find a university with an archaeology program, so I went to Vassar College for a general education. There I took whatever archaeology courses were on offer from Walter A. Fairservis, Jr., who had worked in Egypt and the Indus Valley, and I became an anthropology major and a medieval studies minor. At least the latter connected me to the past. Among my other outstanding Vassar teachers were Gertrude E. Dole, whose obituary I wrote for the American Anthropologist in 2003, Lilo Stern, a refugee from the Holocaust and an ethnographer who worked in Mexico, and Clifford Sather, an expert on Oceania. I began to haunt the Metropolitan Museum of Art and its Cloisters. However, I also attended a field school held by Washington State University at the Minard Ranch in Ocean Shores, then a romantic, rather isolated place of deep forests, driftwood strewn beaches, and taciturn Coast Salish Indians. Now it is a community of cheaply constructed seaside houses. This is not someplace to be in a tsunami.

I enjoyed the field school and wanted to do more digging. After earning my A.B. degree in 1971, opportunities to explore the medieval world being rather limited in the United States, I decided on some time in Europe. One friend from Vassar was relocating to London to study with Sir Karl Popper and with another I discovered the Calendar of British Archaeology. The three of us formed a support group, joining separate projects while still being close enough to one another to be of assistance, if needed. Susan settled into her studies. Ellen joined the excavation team at Hadleigh Castle (so memorably illustrated by Constable), and I went to Mucking, attracted by the site’s multi-period components.

Many people were intimidated by Mucking’s excavator, Mrs. Margaret U. Jones, B.A., as she signed herself, but I saw her as a role model, a strong, dedicated, no-nonsense woman of great professional skill, with a very complex and important project. I felt that earning Margaret’s trust was a real honor. It was only years later, when I read some of the Mucking publications, that I learned that she had never managed anything of that scope before, and was, by her own admission, figuring things out as she went along. She did a splendid job.

When Margaret realized that I was serious about my intention to become an archaeologist and wanted to stay in Britain for a while longer, she sent me in the direction of G. W. Dimbleby, professor of the Archaeology of the Human Environment at the Institute of Archaeology in London. I obtained an M.Sc. in that field in 1975. It was at the Institute that I met my husband, David Fleming, who worked in Asia and South America before switching careers first to banking, and then to investment analysis. The revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Shining Path guerilla movement in Peru made fieldwork increasingly dangerous for him.

Warwick Bray, who later because a reader at the Institute, offered me the opportunity to do field work with him in the Jubones Valley of Southern Ecuador. South America called me, to paraphrase the title of an old popular book on early naturalists exploring that continent. I went on to work with Ann Kendell on Inca sites in Cusichaca, in the Urubamba Valley between Cusco and Macchu Picchu, and to do archaeological survey in the Soras Valley separating the Peruvian regions of Ayacucho and Apurímac.

A family emergency called me back to the Pittsburgh area where I taught at the Community College of Allegheny County and studied Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. There Argentinian philosopher Juan Adolfo Vásquez taught a course on the discovery and conquest of what is now Latin America, using primary sources whenever possible. One of Juan Adolfo’s great insights is that Amerindians developed philosophical systems entirely separate from the European and Asian strands of thought that we usually think of as philosophy. While working in Peru and Ecuador I had become fascinated not just with pre-Hispanic sites, but also with the colonial monuments, then generally in a state hovering between splendor and decay. An interest in the colonial period was then, however, deeply politically incorrect. Why would one study the oppressors? Juan Adolfo helped me see clearly that the processes of colonization and response were, indeed, worthy of examination on their own terms and had helped form the world we inhabit.

I once read that Ernest Hemingway had to read histories of the First World War to comprehend what had happened during that conflict. His on-the-ground observations as an ambulance driver didn’t give him understanding of strategy and the interconnectedness of events. I was beginning to feel that way about archaeology. In spite of all I had observed doing fieldwork on three continents and in spite of eight years of teaching community college and university extension courses, I felt that I lacked the Big Picture. I needed to do some serious reading about what I had experienced. Fortunately I won a series of fellowships to continue my studies, this time at Cornell University. Here Thomas F. Lynch, famous for his excavations of the early occupations of Guiterrero Cave in Peru’s central highlands, and for his explorations of Inca roads in northern Chile, was my academic advisor and he remains a good friend. More and more I began to seek out original, and often unpublished, written and visual materials. I traveled to libraries and archives as I had previously traveled to archaeological sites. I read in the Archive of the Indies in Seville, in the British Library and in the Bodleian, in the New York Public Library and the other great repositories in New York City, in the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island, and in the libraries of the University of Texas. I began to publish frequently on aspects of Latin American indigenous culture and colonial and Inca thought and accomplishments. When a topic catches my interest I try to develop some deep knowledge of it. I have published on architecture, irrigation, and Andean religious thought, among other subjects. I also began to publish short biographies, generally of people who have contributed to our knowledge of native South America.

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