A Museum Intern Pieces Together History

Student Success Story

Lily Pelekoudas examines ancient shards with Adam Aja, assistant curator of the Harvard Semitic Museum

Lilly Pelekoudas

Master of Liberal Arts, Museum Studies Degree Program '13

Lily Pelekoudas, a graduate student in the museum studies program, applies the knowledge learned in class to the important work she has undertaken during her internship at the Harvard Semitic Museum.

When Lily Pelekoudas was tasked with photographing a collection of bone shards during her internship at the Harvard Semitic Museum, she could not have imagined the puzzle she would eventually piece together.

“I think everyone begins an internship kind of hoping that they’ll figure out that they really love what they’ve been doing or they’ll have to make a change,” she says. “And for me, it began as a jumble and I was determined to see it to the end.”

Adam Aja, assistant curator, says the bone shards were among a collection of ancient objects from a 1960s archaeological excavation in Tell Belata, the biblical city of Shechem, in the West Bank. 

There were boxes and boxes of objects to inventory from the excavation. When Pelekoudas came across the bag of shards with ivory inlay, she had no idea how to photograph them.

Aja told her to try to put together the biggest pieces so they could get a representative shot. “And then she took off. She’s very good at puzzles,” he says. “And it turns out that these hundreds of fragments form several coherent decorative pieces.”

A Form Emerges

Pelekoudas, at the time a degree candidate in the Museum Studies Graduate Program, logged many hours poring over the small inlays. “Once I started making connections they became easier to find,” she says. “And I discovered all these patterns and shapes. ... We found several different patterns, but they all seemed to follow the same general shape, which was straight on one end and diagonal on the other end.”

From the archaeological point of view her work has been important because it will help with the publication and knowledge of the site. And from our museum point of view it's been incredibly important because it provides us with a piece that is worthy of exhibit.

Aja adds, “You can see how the angles would have gone together like the corners of a picture frame. You can imagine how these would have formed what we determined was a small inlay box.”

A selection of the inlays had been published, but the description was incomplete and the full form was unclear. Pelekoudas’ efforts helped turn these fragments into nearly complete objects.

“From the archaeological point of view,” Aja says, “her work has been important because it will help with the publication and knowledge of the site. And from our museum point of view it's been incredibly important because it provides us with a piece that is worthy of exhibit.”

A Career Path Confirmed

Pelekoudas says, “Everything I knew had come from books, had come from classes, so when I came here I was hoping that I would enjoy what was doing. I love collections—I love being able to be one-on-one with the objects. It allows me to still be interested in history and also utilize my museum studies knowledge and practices in museums. And everything runs together in a really kind of unique way I think.”

You can also read Pelekoudas’s story, An Artifact Emerges from Debris, on the Harvard Semitic Museum website.

The Harvard Semitic Museum, as the major repository of all this archaeological material and archives, will be a resource for the ongoing excavations led by the Palestinian Authority. Through the Tell Balata Archaeological Park, the authority wants to rebuild some of the important architectural features and make the site into a tourist destination. 

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