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From the President: Honoring a Rare Team Volume 59 Number 2, March/April 2006
by Jane C. Waldbaum

Joe and Maria Shaw awarded the AIA's Gold Medal

At its Annual Meeting in January, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) presented its highest award--the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement--to the remarkable husband-and-wife team of Joseph and Maria Shaw, who together have made a lasting mark on the field of Aegean archaeology. Each has achieved distinction--Joe as a specialist on Bronze Age and Greek architecture, Maria as an expert on Minoan and Mycenaean wall painting and Aegean-Egyptian connections. Their crowning achievement, however, is their joint leadership of the excavations at Kommos, on the south coast of Crete, where they found a Minoan town that was a major emporium for trade between the Aegean and other cultures from Sardinia to Egypt, and an Iron Age sanctuary that was a link between the Phoenician and Greek cultures. Since 1976, from digging through final publication, their work on the site has served as a model for how to do things right.

From the beginning, the Shaws established excellent relations with the local people of Pitsidia, the village nearest the site, staying in a "dig house" right in town. Joe, in Kommos: A Minoan Harbor Town and Greek Sanctuary in Southern Crete, his new popular account of the excavation (reviewed on, notes: "Instead of living in splendid isolation in an English-speaking compound of some type, we joined the present community which still belongs to the land." The Shaws' concern for the people, the long-term impact of the excavation on the surrounding region, and the responsible conservation and development of the site for tourism earned them such high regard that they were made honorary citizens of Pitsidia!

The Kommos project also functioned as a training ground for many students and younger scholars. "The best of mentors, colleagues, and friends, [the Shaws] set a tone of tolerance and inclusiveness in their professional work and their field leadership," says James Wright, himself a veteran of the Kommos excavations and now a professor at Bryn Mawr. "The impact of their work and of their good temperaments is easy to reckon merely by listing the number of practicing archaeologists currently among the ranks who worked with them at Kommos." The excavation staff included not only archaeologists but also specialists of all types--geologists, botanists, faunal experts, photographers, draftsmen, and architects--and, over the years, at least 300 villagers, some the children and grandchildren of the original workers. The international staff proved so compatible that at least six marriages (and no divorces) have occurred among them.

The final product of excavation is publication, and here too the Shaws set a high standard, shepherding five large and meticulous multiauthored final volumes through Princeton University Press. "They belong to that rare breed of scholars," says colleague Michael Cosmopoulos, those who have the skills "to not only describe but also meaningfully and thoroughly interpret the archaeological record."

Jane C. Waldbaum is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

* See all letters from Jane C. Waldbaum and past president Nancy C. Wilkie.

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© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America