Annie Wright ‘14 dives into the ocean to uncover Byzantine mosques, shipwrecks from the Spanish Civil War, and amphora in the Balkans. She maps the ruins of a Roman aqueduct underwater and gathers ecological knowledge from residents of a fishing village in the Caribbean. And that’s just her undergraduate career!
“People hear what I do and say, ‘That’s so cool. I wish I could do that.’ I love telling them that they can.”
Wright never imagined the path her life would take at Transylvania, or the profound shifts in her approach to living. “I always had an interest in world cultures and anthropology, but it wasn’t until an introductory class with archaeology professor Chris Begley that I learned about underwater archaeology.”
She’d done a bit of diving with her dad, exploring shipwrecks in the Florida Keys. By the summer of her first year at Transylvania, she was working as a research assistant in Spain’s Balearic Islands.
“That trip is where I got hooked on archaeology. I’ve always loved history. I’d grown up on Indiana Jones movies. Suddenly I was uncovering mysteries.”
It’s a familiar story at Transylvania. You happen on a course or a professor, and your life changes forever.
Every subsequent year, Wright discovered new parts of the world and new things about herself. In her junior year, she spent a term as part of a field study on a small island in the Caribbean. Part study, part service, she got to know the people of the small fishing village. In doing so, she learned that many of the women were afraid of the ocean. So, she taught them how to swim “or at least float.”
Even the experience of living in an intentional community of 30 students who shared chores—cooking, doing laundry in the ocean—changed the way she looks at life. “It taught me to live my life in a much more sustainable way.” And it confirmed her desire to work in marine biology sciences and find a way to combine underwater archeology and ecological sciences.
“This is really exciting work, detective work,” she explains. It has tremendous value. It’s about preserving ancient artifacts from the growing legion of profiteers who don’t understand the crucial desalinization process necessary to keep them from disintegrating. It’s about uncovering trade routes, surveying ruins, mapping diminishing sea life, and understanding something of the culture and lives attached to them. Wright loves the process of discovery and of sharing the knowledge.
With the help of her faculty mentors and the remarkable research opportunities, Wright has become deeply committed to what is today a relatively new part of the profession. “Underwater archaeology is totally different from terrestrial archaeology. The environment is so different, as is the way you go about treating the artifacts. You have a very limited time to work. Safety is a big issue.”
“Because underwater archaeology is a new field, you often have to figure it out as you go. You have to think critically and on the spot. That’s something my liberal arts education at Transylvania prepared me to do.”
The next step for Wright is graduate school and then a life in the field—on boats and underwater—helping students find their way. It’s a tribute to the professors who guided Wright to find her future by delving underwater and into the past.
Credit: Second photo from the top was provided by Derek Smith/ICEP.
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