Get to Know an Archaeologist: Dr. Lissette Jimenez
Dr. Lissette Jimenez is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Near Eastern Studies Department and has worked as an Archaeologist in Egypt, Greece and Italy. She recently gave a talk to the Hearst Museum members titled "Portraits from the Past: Mummy Portraits and Shrouds from Roman Egypt." We asked her about her experiences and thoughts about a career in Archaeology.
Dr. Jimenez excavating in her trench at the Nemea Greece UC Berkeley field school in 2010.
1) In what area do you focus your work/research?
I study the art and archaeology of ancient Egypt and specialize in funerary art from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.
2) What did you study in undergraduate/ graduate school?
In undergrad, I majored in Archaeology in the Art History and Archaeology Department at Columbia University.
At UC Berkeley, I got my PhD in Near Eastern Studies with an emphasis in ancient Egyptian art and archaeology. My dissertation was on painted mummy shrouds from Roman Egypt, and I specifically examined their function in commemorative practices and the symbolism of their imagery.
3) Was there a key moment in which you were inspired or realized that you wanted to study this?
There were two key moments that inspired me to pursue archaeology: 1) When I was 17, an archaeologist took my family and me on a tour of the Roman Forum, and I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist--it was such a wonderful experience. 2) During my junior year of college, I studied abroad and went to field school in Egypt, and I was fascinated by the art and archaeology of ancient Egypt. That experience cemented my decision to pursue a PhD in Egyptian art and archaeology.
4) Can you tell us a little bit about some of your current projects?
Currently, I am the Assistant Curator at the Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology and I am working on two projects: the first is an on-going project where we are creating a digital catalog of all the artifacts, archives, and photographs from the Tell en-Nasbeh excavations conducted by William Frederic Badè between 1926 and 1935, and for the second project I am curating a fall exhibit on Israelite mortuary practices in the Iron Age.
I am also working on an article with my colleagues about our 2009-2012 fieldwork and research at the site of El-Hibeh in Egypt (UC Berkeley's El-Hibeh Project). El-Hibeh was an important city dating to the Third Intermediate Period in Middle Egypt that has been heavily looted since the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Our report focuses on the findings from our excavation seasons and some of the issues we have encountered due to the looting of the site.
5) When you are out doing fieldwork what does a typical day look like?
A typical day begins before the sun rises. You want to begin working before it gets too hot out, which means we are on site and working around 6 or 6:30am. A typical day in the field can involve surveying the site, excavating in your trench, planning architectural features, or sorting pottery and registering finds discovered during excavation. We break for second breakfast around 10am and then lunch around 12 or 1pm. You continue working on site until 2:30 or 3pm depending on the heat and if we are at a good stopping point. When we return to the dig house, we usually work on reports, notes, or drawings. In the evenings, we sometimes work in the storerooms or museums and analyze our pottery and finds from the day. We have dinner around 6:30 or 7pm, and then I usually try to get to bed before 10pm so I can wake up early again the next day and start all over.
Some of the students and workmen from the Nemea Greece UC Berkeley field school in 2011
6) When you are doing research or curating what does a typical day look like?
When I curate or do museum work, I tend to keep more normal work hours (10am-5pm). I pull the objects I need or look up information in the database at work, and then do any additional research when I am home if necessary. Most of the exhibit preparation is research based and requires writing and editing labels and text panels. The more physical installation process occurs once the exhibit is planned and the objects are ready for display.
When I do my own personal research (for example when I am working on an article or when I was finishing my dissertation), my hours are long. When I get on a roll, I just keep going and sometimes I find myself writing until 2 or 3 in the morning--especially if I have a good idea. Researching and writing is a long process, and I often find I work best at night when it's quiet and I'm not distracted. When it comes to research and I'm not in the field, I am a total night owl.
7) What is one key take away that you would like people to know about archaeology?
While archaeology is a fascinating and exciting discipline, it is also meticulous and methodical and looks nothing like what is portrayed in the Indiana Jones' movies. Archaeology is a destructive process by nature, and it's crucial that when we excavate we try to record and collect as much data as possible for future research.
As a side note: When people find out I am an archaeologist, people always ask me if I "dig up dinosaur bones." As an archaeologist I study the material culture and remains of humans; I am not a paleontologist who studies fossils.
8) What would be your advice be to someone who is interested in becoming an archaeologist?
Dr. Jimenez and Conservator Jane Williams present Roman mummy portraits to Hearst Museum members.