Ancient aliens

SunWatch lecture series explores spirituality through archaeology

By Sarah Sidlow

Photo: Michael Fuller analyzes a 1,000-year-old ice skate blade made from bone; photo: Michael Fuller

SunWatch Indian Village is preparing to launch its latest lecture series – one that will venture into the realm of the spiritual, and maybe the mystical.

Sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the series’ theme this year is Archaeology and Spiritual Context and aims to discuss not only religious topics, but also what archaeology can teach us about contemporary and past religious expression.

Lectures will be held the second Saturday of each month, beginning in January and running through April. The series brings speakers to Dayton from all over, eager to share their research.

“I think the most unique thing about our series is the chance to hear specialists from across the U.S., and in some cases the world, come to Dayton to discuss their work and research … and it’s free,” SunWatch Indian Village site manager Andrew Sawyer said.

The kick-off lecture will be Saturday, Jan. 11, when Dr. Michael Fuller (St. Louis Community College at Meramec) will present “DaVinci Code, Templars and Archaeology.” Fuller’s work, examining the tangible evidence, archaeological sites and artifacts, gives a perspective for thinking about the popular culture ideas surrounding the Templars.

“Audiences will learn about the specific landscapes selected, and avoided, by the Knights Templars; their art and architecture are very distinctive,” Fuller said. “My interest in Crusader archaeology began 30 years ago – before the book and film – when I discovered and recorded archaeological sites and artifacts related to the Crusaders in Jordan.”

Fuller has visited and recorded Crusader sites in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Cyprus. His background includes the excavation of a large medieval town in Syria – Tell Tuneinir – and military castle Markovi Kule in the Republic of Macedonia. Currently, Fuller is working with the analysis and interpretation of Crusader burials excavated by a colleague in the early ’70s from the site of Caesarea.

“Surveys and excavations involve the use of GPS technology to record sites and features within sites,” Fuller said. “The excavation of a large site, such as a town or castle, requires the selection of specific portions of the site for sampling, since it would take more than a lifetime to totally excavate a large site.”

The other lectures in this year’s series include “Death, Ritual and Symbolism in Imperial Rome” (Dr. Dorian Borbonus, University of Dayton; Saturday, Feb. 8); “Looking with Soft Eyes: Excavating the Invisible Institution” (Dr. Rory Johnson, Miami University; Saturday, March 8); and “4,000 Years of Andean Gold” (Dr. Mark Aldenderfer, University of California at Merced; Saturday, April 12).

An archaeological examination of spiritual themes, like those presented in the AIA/SunWatch lecture series, is intrinsically more interesting to the general public, Fuller said, but they are also more subject to interpretation and debate than those archaeological studies which examine issues like diet and technology. On the whole, the study of archaeology, and the pursuit to understand the human experience, is an important one, which unfortunately may often be overlooked by the hustling-bustling masses.

“I think history and archaeology in general can help us understand where we stand in contemporary societies and help us recognize the events that have helped shape who we are as individuals and society in general,” Sawyer said.

What’s more, the pseudoscience/infotainment approach can be a double-edged sword, engaging viewers in the subject matter, as well as the subject of archaeology, but inevitably leaving them with unreliable understandings of both archaeological practices and findings.

“Unfortunately I think a lot of the public gets too much information from unreliable sources, and I am thinking specifically of TV,” Sawyer said. “There are several shows on TV these days that simply sensationalize history and archaeology and really get across not only a very inaccurate depiction of what we do, but they also present a rather distorted and inaccurate view of the past.”

SunWatch, then, in partnership with the AIA, offers the perfect remedy: hand-picked specialists, an intimate learning environment and an unbeatable price – free. While the lectures may bring visitors to SunWatch, there’s plenty to explore once they’re there, including the museum and reconstructed village.

“Of course, as part of this, I certainly hope people take the time to visit the museum and reconstructed village here at SunWatch so they can see what we have learned about the pre-contact inhabitants of the Dayton area as well,” Sawyer said. “Hopefully, they will come back for other events we host throughout the year.”


The Archaeological Institute of America “DaVinci Code, Templars, and Archaeology” will be presented at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 11 at SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park, 2301 W. River Rd. For more information, please call 937.268.8199 or visit

 Reach DCP freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at Sarah


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