Student Archaeologists in Clean Sweep
7 March 2011
For the first time ever Sydney University students have taken out first prize in all three undergraduate competitions offered by the Australasian Society for Classical Studies (ASCS).
Harrison Jones, a student at the Department of Archaeology, won the prestigious essay competition prize, which is now in its 21st year.
Paul Touyz won the Greek translation prize, and Nicholas Olson won the Latin translation prize - both are students at the Department of Classics and Ancient History.
Jones' winning essay, 'Oikist cults at Cyrene, Delos and Eretria', was judged the best amid a field more than double the size of any previous year.
"I feel honoured to have been awarded first prize from such a wide field," says Jones, "but more than that it is heartening to know that there exists such widespread interest in the field of Classics".
Entries come from undergraduates at universities across Australia, covering topics on the archaeology, history, languages and literature of the ancient world.
Jones' essay investigated specific cults in ancient Greece, which worshipped their city founders as heroes. Part of his research, he says, was comparing archaeological remains with poetic and historical written records.
Dr Anne Rogerson from the Department of Classics and Ancient History describes the unprecedented clean sweep as "a remarkable feat".
"We're all very proud of the students. Their achievements show how vibrant and healthy the study of the Classical past is at Sydney".
"I'm delighted to think that we're keeping alive traditions that stretch back to the University's foundations, and that our students are so talented, engaged and - above all - enthusiastic about the subject."
Winners of the ASCS essay competition have in many cases had their essays published, and gone on to successful academic careers at Australian and international universities.
After completing his BA majoring in Archaeology in 2011, Jones hopes to go on to honours in Near Eastern Archaeology.
"Beyond that, my goal is to be a field archaeologist working in the Middle East, so as I approach the end of my undergraduate studies I'll look at the possibilities for doing a master's or doctorate focussing on that region."
The translation prizes are open to undergraduates at universities in Australia and New Zealand.
In a single week, students on both sides of the Tasman translate at sight unseen passages of Greek and Latin literature, which can come from any classical author, without the use of a dictionary.
Dr Rogerson says the translation competitions link very closely with what the Department of Classics and Ancient History tries to impart to students.
"These kind of exercises are an element of the assessment in all our language and literature units, right up to Honours level.
"They're the real test of a thorough grasp of these very complex languages, and that's what we aim to foster in our students: an appreciation of Classical literature, history and culture, founded on knowledge of the languages."
The practical skill of translation, she says, is not just about code cracking, but is rather a gateway into a deeper scholarly appreciation of just how different the ancient Greeks and Romans were from us: right down to the ways in which they expressed themselves.
"That's the sort of insight that all too often is lost in translation, and that's why the study of Classical Greek and Latin is central to the Department's teaching at Sydney."
The students reportedly gave up their lunch hours to enter the competition, which, Dr Rogerson says, is the true evidence of their love for the subject.