University of Victoria
The Ring - The University of Victoria's Community Newspaper

June 5, 2003 · Vol 29 · No 9

OlesonWorld-renowned archaeologist joins distinguished professor ranks


by Robie Liscomb


Dr. John Oleson (Greek & Roman studies) has been awarded a UVic Distinguished Professorship, the highest academic honour the university bestows on a faculty member.


Distinguished professorships honour faculty members who have achieved great distinction in teaching and scholarly research and have made substantial contributions to the university and the wider community. The professorship is awarded for a five-year period, renewable once for a second five years, and comes with a salary stipend and annual research allowance.


The first two UVic Distinguished Professorships were awarded last year to Dr. Larry Yore (curriculum & instruction) and Prof. Gerry Ferguson (law).


"Dr. Oleson is a superb teacher and an internationally renowned scholar, and it's terrific that we're able to acknowledge and honour his contributions in this way," says vice-president academic and provost Jamie Cassels.


Oleson, who came to teach at UVic 27 years ago, is one of the world's foremost experts in ancient hydraulic technology and underwater archaeology. Oleson has pioneered the use of current advanced technology in the study of ancient technology.


Since 1987, he's directed excavations at Humeima, the most important settlement in southern Jordan from 80 BC-700AD. The dig revealed a sophisticated water supply system that supported life in the desert settlement. Oleson's team has also unearthed the remains of a Roman fort, Byzantine churches, a bath, and the home and mosque of the politically important Abbasid family.


During the most recent excavation season, Oleson partnered with a geophysicist to pioneer the use of ground-penetrating radar to identify areas of interest for further excavation.


In 2000, Oleson was a key scientific advisor on an expedition using a U.S. Navy research submarine and a remotely operated vehicle in the Mediterranean that discovered the largest concentration of ancient shipwrecks ever found in the deep sea.


Most recently, he's begun archaeological studies of Roman hydraulic concrete. The use of this concrete, which can be poured and cured underwater, made possible the construction of harbours for the massive food shipments that supported the urban populations of the Roman empire. Using specialized coring devices and chemical analysis of concrete samples, Oleson is elucidating this technology and mapping its ancient use.


Oleson is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and one of the few humanists to have held a prestigious Killam Research Fellowship.


"A major goal of university research is the involvement of students," says Oleson, who has included more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students in his excavations in the Middle East.


He's served his department for three terms as chair, been a council member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, contributed his expertise to the National Geographic Society, the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, and several BBC television productions about the ancient world, and held the presidency of the board of the Friends of the Royal British Columbia Museum.


And as if all this were not enough, Oleson is an avid airplane pilot who has been performing aerobatics for the past several years.

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