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
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
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.