National institute honors UC archaeologist

The Archaeological Institute of America bestows a gold medal to Jack Davis

A national archaeological association will award a University of Cincinnati professor its highest honor at a reception in Washington, D.C., in January.

UC Classics department head Jack Davis will receive the gold medal for distinguished archaeological achievement from the Archaeological Institute of America for his work in the Mediterranean.

Jack Davis

Jack Davis

He is the third UC professor to be recognized by the world’s oldest and largest archaeological association. The award is bestowed each year in recognition of a scholar who has made significant contributions to archaeology through research or fieldwork. The institute recognized Davis’ work on projects in Greece on the island of Keos, in the valley of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea, at the Palace of Nestor at Pylos, and in Albania.

Most recently, Davis and UC archaeologist Sharon Stocker, his longtime research partner and wife, have been excavating at the Pylos site. Here they found the tomb of a man they called the Griffin Warrior, named for the mythological griffin adorning an ivory plaque found in his grave. 

The discovery was hailed as one of the most spectacular Greek finds in two generations. The tomb included armor, weapons and jewelry, including an exquisite agate sealstone depicting mortal combat in such fine detail that Archaeology magazine declared it “a Bronze Age masterpiece.”

The tomb contained more than 2,000 objects crafted by artisans: gold rings emblazoned with leaping bulls, an epic battle depicted on a tiny sealstone and a delicate gold necklace bearing polished agate and faience beads.

“This discovery is already rewriting our understanding of Early Mycenaean Greece,” the institute said in its commendation.

Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker.

UC Classics Department head Jack Davis, left, will receive a gold medal, the highest honor bestowed by America's oldest and largest archaeological association. Here he is pictured with UC archaeologist Sharon Stocker, his longtime research partner and wife.

Davis and Stocker made international headlines this month when they announced their discovery last year of two family tombs near the Griffin Warrior that contained artifacts that could shed light on the politics, economy and daily lives of ancient Pylos. Stocker spent 18 months documenting and excavating the find, which included gold jewelry from Egypt and engravings of mythological figures.

Davis has written more than 18 books and chapters, in addition to numerous online publications, museum exhibitions and outreach presentations.

In his nomination letter, University of Michigan professor Michael Galaty said Davis has conducted pioneering and collaborative work with experts in diverse fields to improve our understanding of the ancient world.

“He helped introduce Aegean archaeology to a wider academic audience, from anthropologists to ancient historians,” Galaty said.

The cover to the book Sandy Pylos edited by Jack Davis.

UC Classics professor Jack Davis has written extensively on the archaeological history of ancient Greece.

But perhaps more importantly, Galaty said, Davis has shared his expertise with generations of students. To date, Davis has supervised 13 doctoral candidates and helped launch the careers of many others.

“I am delighted Jack is being honored on a global stage for his remarkable contributions to the field of archeology. His innovative approach to research and fieldwork using new technologies and sciences is exemplary and has led to amazing new discoveries,” said Kristi Nelson, UC's executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

“I have visited the tomb of the Griffin Warrior and experienced firsthand the wonder and impact of this significant discovery,” she said.

Davis joins the esteemed ranks of other Cincinnati winners, including Carl Blegen, John “Jack” Caskey, UC alumnus Emmett Bennett and former UC professor Brian Rose.

Carl Blegen rides in a Jeep.

The late UC Classics professor Carl Blegen rides in a Jeep while conducting fieldwork. UC's Classics Department has a long, storied history of archaeological achievement. Photo/UC Classics

Carl Blegen smokes a pipe with a camera around his neck and a mosquito net behind him at an excavation.

The late Carl Blegen, former head of UC's Department of Classics, discovered the Palace of Nestor in Pylos, Greece in 1939. Now UC archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker are continuing that proud legacy. Photo/UC Classics

Blegen made a name for UC’s Classics Department, particularly in Greece. He was responsible for two of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological events in the study of prehistoric Greece: the discovery of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos in Greece and the resumption of excavations at Troy.

Blegen was the archaeological association’s first gold medal recipient. UC’s Carl Blegen Library, home to the Classics Department, was named in his honor.

The late Caskey, too, was a UC archaeologist and head of UC’s Classics who directed the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Caskey was both a student of Blegen's and a professor to Davis when he was a graduate student at UC.

“There’s an unbroken line of professor, student, professor, student to be honored,” said Davis, who like Caskey and Blegen also directed the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 

The late Bennett, according to his New York Times obituary, was an expert in reading inscribed clay tablets, dating to circa 1200 B.C., from the Mycenaean period of the Greek Bronze Age. A student of Blegen’s and a graduate of UC, Bennett published “The Pylos Tablets,” contributing to the deciphering of the ancient script known as Linear B.

Rose is a former UC professor who served as head of the Classics Department from 2002 to 2005 before joining the University of Pennsylvania where he works today. He was honored by the archaeological association in 2015 for his work with Roman art and archaeology.

I never would have accomplished so much without my partnership with Shari. She has pushed me to do so much more.

Jack Davis, UC Classics Head

Davis credited the inspiration and support he enjoys from his peers.

“I’ve had wonderful colleagues who have decided to work with me over the years,” Davis said. 

These included his former UC professor, friend and fellow archaeologist Gerald Cadogan, who, among other discoveries, explored an important Bronze Age settlement on Crete called Myrtos-Pyrgos.

Davis said he is pleased the institute’s proclamation recognizes the contribution of Stocker.

Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker pose at the tomb of the Griffin Warrior in Pylos, Greece.

UC Classics Department head Jack Davis and UC senior research associate Sharon Stocker discovered the tomb of the Griffin Warrior in 2015 at Pylos, Greece. Their discovery is considered one of the most significant finds of Mediterranean archaeology in the past 50 years. Photo/UC Classics

She has spent the past 18 months excavating Bronze Age tombs in Pylos, Greece. All told, she has spent more time working at the Palace of Nestor than even Blegen did over his long time there.

“I never would have accomplished so much without my partnership with Shari. She has pushed me to do so much more,” Davis said. “She wanted to work in Albania. She wanted to renew excavations at Pylos. She keeps me going. She encourages me. And she has very bright ideas about what it all means.”

Having a trusted and capable partner who shared his interests made all the difference in his career, Davis said.

“A project like the Griffin Warrior is too much for one person. It demands year-round attention,” Davis said.

Stocker said her husband is deserving of national recognition.

“I’m really proud of Jack. He completely deserves it,” Stocker said. “He’s a phenomenal scholar and a broad thinker. He’s always expanding his view to ask what this all means,” she said. “I’m thrilled for him.”

Jack Davis stands on stage to give an acceptance speech.

UC Classics Department Head Jack Davis accepts a gold medal for distinguished archaeological achievement from the Archaeological Institute of America on Jan. 4 during its annual conference in Washington, D.C. Photo/AIA

UC Classics in the news

The work of UC archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker has fascinated readers around the globe. Their discoveries have appeared in the world's most prestigious history and archaeology publications along with international news media.

Featured image at top: A bas relief sculpture in the UC Classics Department's Blegen Library depicts scholars at work. Photo/Dottie Stover/UC Creative Services 

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