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Associate Classics Professor
If you harbor a suspicion that archaeology is dry stuff, you clearly haven't had a conversation with associate classics professor Zoë Kontes, whose current scholarly project resembles something of an archaeological detective story. Bringing the past to life is both a goal and a method defining her research and her teaching style.
Kontes discovered her passion for archaeology as a first-year undergraduate at Bowdoin College. But it was during a junior-year study-abroad program in Athens, Greece, that she became hooked for good.
"Visiting ancient sites and seeing ancient objects firsthand got me even more excited about archaeology," she says.
Seeking to strike that same spark in her Kenyon students, Kontes introduces her research on everyday objects such as coins and daggers into the classroom. She believes in the power of her students' informed observations to help shape scholarly understanding of the ancient world. "Sometimes all it takes is a new pair of eyes," she tells them.
Kontes experienced the transformative power of trained observation as a graduate student at Brown University with an assignment on a Roman sculpture in a nearby museum. "I spent hours staring at the piece and others like it, and decided that it was not in fact what the expert art historians and archaeologists had decided it was," she recalls. The museum agreed with her findings and subsequently displayed the piece in a new setting and position, with a new label. She performed a similar reinterpretation in her doctoral research, determining that some Early Bronze Age daggers found in Italy and Greece were not weapons, as previously thought, but sacrificial knives.
"I tell this story to remind students that history is continuously being updated, reinterpreted, and reconstructed as new excavations are reported and old material is re-examined."
Her current research on cult practices seeks to determine the precise site where, according to Greek myth, Heracles was initiated into the purification ritual known as the Lesser Mysteries. The project will explore the role of Athenian topography in the city's attempt to dominate the cult of the Mysteries.
No profile of Kontes would be complete if it did not mention her passion for music. A favorite guitar riff from the song "Dalliance" by indie rock band The Wedding Present opened every edition of the two-hour show Kontes hosted Monday evenings on WKCO during her first at Kenyon. During her final radio show of the year, she played one song for each of her students, choosing pieces that reminded her of them or that included their names.