Living in the Desert. Review of nine months at the University of Arizona

May 31, 2016. Today is my last day as a Fulbright Fellow. I spent 9 months in Tucson, AZ, performing research on the application of Social Network Analysis in archaeology, under the supervision of Prof. Barbara Mills, in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. I arrived right on time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the School of Anthropology, which was founded in 1915 and has since then become one of the highest ranking schools in the U.S. to purse anthropological studies. It is a dynamic department with students and researchers who share an interest in studying Man in all its diversity, over time and across the world. One can easily perceive the variety of topics researched in the School through the talks and conferences which, several times a week, give the floor to UofA professors, graduates students, and guest speakers – so much so that I had to make tough decisions and careful planning to find a balance between satisfying my curiosity and remaining productive!

OLD MAIN – THE OLDEST BUILDING ON CAMPUS.
OLD MAIN – THE OLDEST BUILDING ON CAMPUS.

I have found life in Tucson very pleasant. The city is located in the Sonoran Desert, less than 100 km from the Mexican border. It has (very) hot summers and mild winters. If it is probably not as vibrant as New York or Boston, Tucson has nevertheless much to offer from the cultural point of view. It has multiple museums for amateurs of art, archaeology, wildlife, natural history, or even aircrafts. Sport events are numerous (Go, Wildcats!), just like concerts and theatre performances, and the annual “Tucson Meet Yourself” festival allows a glimpse into the cultural diversity of the city’s population. But what stunned me the most in Tucson was the environment. The region is gorgeous, and it has amazing fauna and flora. I could not get tired of watching hummingbirds flying around the tree outside my window, and I still find myself stopping my bicycle to observe huge saguaros or blooming prickly pears.

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GIANT SAGUARO AND BLOOMING CACTI.

I came to the University of Arizona to pursue research in Greek archaeology – which some might find odd. Nevertheless, my stay here was an opportunity to learn more about the recent and distant past of the region. Readings and daily interactions with the graduate students with whom I shared an office allowed me to get a little bit more familiar with the Hohokam, the Mogollon, and the Anasazi, for instance. And earlier this month, I was invited by my host professor to join a team of southwestern archaeologists led by Prof. J. Welch (Simon Fraser University) and participate in an archaeological survey in the region of Fort Apache. Over the course of five days, we recorded pottery and lithic tools in the White Mountain Reservation, which was the most perfect way for me to end a fantastic academic year of discovery in Arizona.

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HIKING IN THE SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK, TO THE EAST OF TUCSON

— Dr. Sylviane Déderix, Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Arizona