Earthwatch Scientist Miriam Stark, Ph.D.

Miriam Stark, Ph.D.

Director
Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Professor in the Department of Anthropology
University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

Project Co-Director Miriam Stark is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Miriam studies Southeast Asian archaeology with a focus on Cambodia’s Greater Angkor region.

What do you enjoy most/what do you find most interesting about your research topic?

During my youth, I spent my summers at my grandparents’ horse farm in Ohio. I loved being outdoors, working with animals, and meeting physical challenges that farm work required. I had no idea that the pasture where our horses grazed was also a prehistoric archaeological site! Nor did I fully appreciate archaeology until I spent the summer after my sophomore year in college on an archaeological survey project in southern Ohio, seeking remains of Woodland settlements, where I worked with incredibly motivated graduate students from the University of Michigan. That summer hooked me on archaeology and its combination of physically demanding work and intellectually meaningful field research.

How does citizen science support your research?

Citizen science is fundamental to our archaeological work: we depend on public support globally, and citizens deserve to see how it’s done. The fact that many people find archaeology intrinsically interesting is helpful for protecting the world’s endangered archaeological heritage. Citizens become better stewards for our shared archaeological past by experiencing it directly. Archaeological fieldwork also requires many hands: we must work as a team to explore the ancient past, and Cambodia is a wonderful place to do such work. We have excellent Khmer colleagues with whom to collaborate, and a spectacular research subject. Angkor was Southeast Asia’s largest preindustrial empire, and we work in its epicenter. Our work contributes to an international, interdisciplinary research program that is reshaping how we view the rise and fall of ancient states and their urban centers across the ancient world.

What is one of your favorite moments in the field?

Each field season I direct takes me out into one of the world’s most beautiful archaeological landscapes, so life in the field is rich with favorite moments. One particularly memorable time on this project occurred at the start of 2010, toward the beginning of our first season of fieldwork at Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest religious monument. We asked local Buddhist monks and religious elders to come bless our excavations before we began to dig. As we sat on tarps surrounded by offerings, incense wafted across the group, and their chants sought permission from the local spirits for our work. Khmers built Angkor Wat more than eight centuries ago, and our ritual acknowledged the temple’s sacred nature. It was a wonderful first field season for our project, and our work at several Angkorian sites since then has deepened our understanding of how Angkorians lived. Our current work at the Angkorian temple of Prasat Basaet in Battambang has only deepened our curiosity about Cambodia's past.

Education
  • Ph.D. University of Arizona
  • M.S. University of Arizona
  • B.A. University of Michigan
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