Unearthing Excitement

Indiana Jones has nothing on Susan Stevens.

Susan Stevens The Randolph College classics professor shares Dr. Jones’ double life as a mild-mannered professor and successful field archeologist, and they’re both fascinated with early Christian history, but the similarities pretty much stop there (no run-ins with Nazis or extensive whip collections, for example).

Unlike Dr. Jones, when Stevens goes off on a dig, she takes her students with her.

In the summer of 2006, two Randolph students and two alumnae joined Stevens and an international team of archeologists in Tunisia (ancient Carthage). A year earlier, Stevens and a colleague used a device called ground-penetrating radar to make a remarkable discovery: ten feet below an ordinary olive grove were the ruins of a 4th-5th century Roman catacombs and possibly the ruins of a church.

With the help of the students, Stevens and her team painstakingly uncovered an entrance to the catacombs, a series of underground caves and burial chambers unexplored for over 1,600 years. What they found next took Stevens’ breath away. It was a room containing 17 different bodies, the entire floor covered with intricate, intact mosaics. Each tomb included the individual’s name and when exactly he or she died.

Making such a discovery, says Stevens, is “very, very rare.” Even better, Randolph students were there to share in the excitement.

“I think it’s extremely important for students to get overseas and to get involved in research,” says Stevens, no matter what field they’re in. “Archeology is a wonderful way of getting right into that.”

Ancient mosaics, like the ones her team unearthed in Tunisia, happen to be Stevens’ specialty. In 2005, Stevens and art professor Kathy Muehlemann team-taught an International Study Seminar on mosaics and frescoes. Stevens handled the art history and Muehlemann took care of the hands-on: creating actual mosaics. The semester-long course was capped off by a ten-day Spring Break trip to Rome to see some of the world’s most famous frescoes and mosaics.

Not only were the seminar and trip an eye-opening experience for her students, but they included a first for Stevens as well. “The mosaic and fresco thing was such a treat for me, because I got to take [Kathy’s] course,” says Stevens. “I’ve studied mosaics all my life, but I had never made one.”

Although Professor Stevens’ name has yet to launch a Hollywood franchise, she’s not a bit camera shy. Her reputation as an expert on Northern African archeology recently landed her a spot on an upcoming episode of the History Channel’s Digging for the Truth . They even flew her out to Tunisia for the four-day shoot. No word yet on the action figures.

Find out more about Professor Stevens , the Classics Department , and Randolph’s unique International Study Seminars .