Bio: Sydney Hunter, Fulbright Scholar at the University of Liverpool

Posted on: 12 November 2019 by Sydney Hunter in 2019 posts

During the academic year 2019-20 we are very happy to welcome to the department Fulbright scholar Sydney Hunter, who is pursuing an MA in Archaeology. The prestigious Fulbright program allows the exchange of knowledge and cultural experiences between the United States and the other participating countries. It is a life-changing opportunity that helps build stronger career profiles, and provides students with new connections to other scholars in the field and access to different approaches to research.


I am originally from Ellicott City, a small historic town in Maryland, and recently graduated summa cum laude from Boston University with a BA in Archaeology. For my BA at Boston I focused on Environmental Archaeology, investigating how societies in the past interacted with their environments and the landscape. Specifically, I focused on Archaeobotany, the study of charred plant remains (representing mainly food and fuel waste) recovered from archaeological sites. I found Archaeobotany interesting because it offers archaeologists an avenue to study a wide diversity of human experiences ranging from past landscapes, agricultural strategies and diets to economic practices and social status within communities.

For my senior thesis, I studied phytoliths (microscopic plant silica bodies) to investigate environmental change and agricultural production at the site of Sim-Ata in the region of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan. Although phytoliths offered an exciting window into local environments and plant use, they are nevertheless limited in their capacity to capture a representative range of the plant species found in archaeological contexts. For my Master’s degree, I wanted to continue my studies in archaeobotany and learn more about how we can reconstruct ancient environments through the study of macroscopic plant remains.

One of the most important and exciting prospects for my decision to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Liverpool was the opportunity to conduct primary research in the Liverpool Archaeobotany Laboratory. The lab is well known to the archaeobotanists I worked with in Boston for the innovative research produced there, and its unique concentration of world-class expertise and laboratory facilities supporting research on anthracology (the study of archaeological charred fuel wood remains).

Upon applying, I spoke with the lab lead, Dr Eleni Asouti, who is now my MA supervisor, about my desire to work for my dissertation project on an archaeological wood charcoal assemblage from the Middle East. Eleni is leading a specialist Master’s course (ALGY668) on anthracology, where I have had the opportunity to learn wood anatomy and apply this skill to the microscopic identification of wood charcoals alongside learning the theory, methods and practice of anthracology. She will also support my thesis research through a program of research reading and weekly tutorial sessions during the spring term, designed to enable the in-depth exploration of the palaeoenvironmental and archaeological context of my dissertation project.

In applying to Liverpool, I was also interested in courses that focused on the archaeology of the Middle East, as this is an area I am particularly interested in but was not able to study extensively during my undergraduate degree, as well as spatial analysis (GIS). The Liverpool Archaeology MA program generally provides a wide variety of classes including both theoretical, area- and period-specific, and practice-based options, which provides a unique opportunity for the development of diverse research skills. I have also enjoyed the opportunities provided by seminars to discuss and work through ideas for my thesis with other MA students. Both my undergraduate experience and my time in Liverpool so far have convinced me that peer feedback is an invaluable resource.

Comment by Dr Eleni Asouti:

It is really exciting to have Sydney in the Archaeobotany lab during this academic year. She is an excellent student, with a well-rounded knowledge of environmental archaeology, a testament to the high-quality education she received in Boston under the guidance of my colleague Jon Mac Marston. Sydney has a natural curiosity and a superb capacity to absorb new knowledge and skills. I am certain that we will do great work together that will lead to furthering existing links between the Liverpool and Boston Archaeobotany laboratories.

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