This March, we are spotlighting Madeline Gunter-Bassett, one of our PhD students who studies Medieval trade networks in the Horn of Africa. See what she has to say about her research and working in the museum industry:
How did you become interested in anthropology and archaeology?
I took Intro to Archaeology my first year of undergrad. And the rest is history.
What is your main research focus? How has your time at W&M enabled you to pursue this interest?
I study Medieval trade networks in the Horn of Africa through the archaeology of pastoralist sites in Djibouti. At W&M I had the independence to build the hard skills that I needed to conduct my research, and the flexibility to conduct my field research on a schedule that worked best for me/my project—which was over the course of seven short field projects that ranged in duration from two weeks to three months.
Now you’re an archaeologist with the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH). What is that like? How have you been able to adapt your academic training to the museum field?
At VMNH, I manage collections, work with volunteers and visiting researchers, and conduct fieldwork (among a range of other tasks). I always had jobs and internships in addition to my teaching/research assistantship positions at W&M, and I’d say that it’s that work/internship experience that has best prepared me to do the work that I do every day in my position at VMNH.
Do you have a favorite project or artifact you have worked with, either in your own research or at VMNH?
I love finding and processing chalcedony nodules. Chalcedony nodules are silica concretions that commonly form in desert environments. I found flaked chalcedony nodules all over my two research sites in eastern Djibouti, and I suspect that they were likely collected and used by pastoralists as lithic raw material (i.e., raw material that was used to produce stone tools). At one site I found a pit filled with chalcedony flakes and nodules, which may have been a cache (i.e., a supply of valuable materials that is left at a site for future use).
Image by Maddy Gunter-Bassett, a raw Chalcedony nodule.
Image by Maddy Gunter-Bassett, a Chalcedony flake possibly created in the production of stone tools
Do you have any advice for students interested in the intersection of archaeology and museums?
Grad school is a great time to build the hard skills that will make you marketable to a range of future employers (not just universities), and I'd encourage grad students—especially PhD students—to do that by working while they are in grad school.