Rutter wins top award for archaeology work
By James Peng, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 3, 2012
After over 30 years at the College, classics professor emeritus Jeremy Rutter will receive the Archaeological Institute of America’s 2013 Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement. Rutter, who has been a professor at the College since 1976, retired from his teaching position at the end of Spring term.
The Gold Medal is awarded at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual January meeting to a scholar who has “made distinguished contributions to archaeology through his or her fieldwork, publications and/or teaching,” according to the AIA’s website. Rutter will receive the award at the AIA’s meeting in January 2013.
“It came as a huge surprise to me,” Rutter said. “To have this happen is a dream come true.”
Rutter, who is an archaeologist specializing in pottery from the Bronze Age, has worked on dozens of excavations in Greece since arriving at the College and has published numerous works on Minoan and Mycenaean pottery.
Rutter’s research involves synthesizing ancient civilizations’ histories from thousands of pottery fragments found at excavations, he said.
“It’s like a gigantic multi-dimensional crossword puzzle,” Rutter said. “You can only see bits and fragments and you are never going to find all the pieces.”
Much of the information from the Bronze Age, which lasted from 3200 to 1000 B.C., is based on a researcher’s individual interpretation because there is not enough evidence to confirm all the facts, according to Rutter.
“The more you know about a particular period, the less freedom you have to reconstruct things,” he said. “The further you go back in time, the more your imagination can grow.”
The unknown can be frustrating for some archaeologists, however, since they have to make inferences without a lot of evidence.
“You just have to take a lot of educated guesses,” Rutter said. “Clear answers to complicated questions are hard to come by.”
Rutter, who knows English, Latin, Greek, French, Italian and German, said the necessity of understanding multiple languages in order to communicate with other archaeologists can be “annoying” to people in the field.
The field of archaeology appeals to him because he never knows what artifacts he can expect to find in an excavation, Rutter said.
“The appeal of archaeology in the larger population is that we all have been kids and have experienced playing in a sandbox, running around and finding something cool in the dirt,” he said. “Some of the stuff you find in archaeology is amazing.”
He cited an occasion when one of his students was digging on an excavation site where experienced archaeologists had already worked for several months. Immediately after starting, the student discovered a perfectly preserved gold ring dating from around 1500 BC.
Rutter, who coordinated the classics Foreign Study Program to Greece several times during his tenure at the College, said he has always enjoyed working with and teaching Dartmouth students.
“I’ve never been educated on how to teach, so basically I just tried to imitate what struck me as great teaching,” he said. “I tried to get students to play the role of archeologist. I never want students to memorize a great deal of information, but instead give them a research problem, and with a little bit of training, get them into it and start working on it.”
Elizabeth Neill ’13, who will complete a thesis next year under Rutter, said that his teaching is different from that of most professors at the College.
“You definitely have to be prepared for class, and it’s not a lecture class,” she said. “He will ask a question and expect someone to respond, which is great because you actually have to think.”
Neill participated in the classics FSP to Greece with Rutter and said that conversation topics with him would range from “Greek archaeology to the different types of meatballs on a menu,” she said.
Classics professor and department chair Roger Ulrich ’77, one of Rutter’s first students, said that Rutter is a very hard worker and compared working with him to “running a marathon and taking notes while you’re participating.”
“Everyone knows of Jerry and his work, and I can’t imagine a more worthy person to get this award than him,” Ulrich said.
Rutter graduated from Haverford College in 1967 and obtained his PhD in classical archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974.
This fall, he will work in the Peloponnesian province of Achaea, Greece researching a historic site called Aigeira with an Austrian archeological team.
“I never had to get out of the sandbox,” Rutter said about his career. “I’m still there, finding amazing stuff, and it’s a thrill all the time.”