Alison Carter, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon
What do you enjoy most/what do you find most interesting about your research topic?
When I was first visiting Angkor as a tourist, I remember sitting in a tuk-tuk riding between temples and staring into the trees thinking “I wonder where everyone was living?” Ten years after my first trip to Angkor as a tourist, I was back directing a project excavating a house mound at Angkor Wat, which was immensely gratifying. We were addressing, in part, my original question about where people were living and what their lives were like. For me, exploring the households and residential areas of the Angkorians is so exciting because we know so little about their lives; they left no written documents and their houses were made of organic materials that do not preserve well. Nevertheless, they are not completely invisible and through archaeological studies we can begin to learn more about what life was like for the Angkorian people. For me, it is fun to imagine Angkor Wat not as a static temple, but as a bustling residential neighborhood filled with lots of people.
How does citizen science support your research?
On the one hand, an archaeological project requires a lot of hands on deck and citizen scientist support allows us to get more done. More importantly, however, I think it is important for people to learn about archaeology by doing it. Many people are interested in archaeology, but might not fully understand how it works. Citizen-scientists come away with a better understanding of how archaeology is done and how archaeologists make interpretations from the data they gather, and they in turn can help their friends and family understand this process too. Archaeological sites are a non-renewable resource that are constantly under threat. The more people who understand the importance of archaeological research, the better able we are to help preserve archaeological sites in the future.
What is one of your favorite moments in the field?
It’s so hard to pick a single moment! One that comes to mind are the many macaques that live around Angkor Wat who are frequently very curious about our lunch. After a few close calls where they almost got away with our food, several of our team members started carrying slingshots – not to hurt the monkeys – but to help scare them away. After awhile, we started taking turns practicing our sling shot skills during lunch, shooting handmade clay balls at trees and water bottles (turns out, I’m not a very good shot). Another happy memory was from our 2015 field season, when we discovered a nearly complete vessel buried under a possible floor surface. It’s always exciting to find something intact, because so much of what we usually find are small ceramic sherds. After a lot of careful digging, we were able to pull out the whole vessel and I have some great photos of our field crew members, especially one long-term crew member named Pov, proudly holding this beautiful pot.
- Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison
- M.S. University of Wisconsin-Madison
- B.S. Oberlin College