Shout Out: Kathryn Bard, archaeologist and Park Ridge native
The Park Ridge Public Library's copy of "An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt" includes a handwritten dedication from its author, Kathryn Bard.
"To the Park Ridge Public Library — where I first read about ancient Egypt (1958)," Bard wrote on the title page.
A professor of archaeology at Boston University, Bard says her fascination with ancient Egypt extends back to her childhood in Park Ridge, where she attended schools that included Merrill and Field elementary. Having made exciting discoveries about ancient civilizations through archaeological excavations — a 2009 Boston University article on her work warned not to compare this "real deal" to the fictional Indiana Jones — Bard still remembers the first time she saw Egyptian history up close: during an elementary school trip to Chicago's Field Museum.
Q: What are your memories of reading about ancient Egypt at the Park Ridge Library?
A: All I remember is that when I was about 12, I took out every children's book on ancient Egypt that I could find and I read them.
Q: What about that topic appealed to you so much?
A: As a child I was fascinated by things from tombs, including this small statue of a cat and two kittens that I saw. I had cats when I was growing up, so I was fascinated by ancient Egyptians making statues of cats and worshipping cats.
Q: Is there a specific area of study that is particularly interesting to you now?
A: I became interested in origins of civilizations and how civilizations arose in Egypt in the fourth millennium. More recently I excavated a 4,000-year-old harbor on the Red Sea. We found parts of ancient ships, and those excavations are mentioned in my text book.
Q: How many archaeological digs have you participated in?
A: I have directed two major projects in Egypt and Ethiopia. The harbor project I worked on from 2003 to 2011. In Axum, the capital of an early African civilization, I worked from 1993 to 2002. And when I was in graduate school I also worked on different projects in Egypt and Algeria.
Q: What was your most exciting find?
A: Definitely the 4,000-year-old harbor on the Red Sea. We found ropes that were used on actual expeditions, and they looked like they were coiled and placed in a storage area a week ago! We also found hieroglyphic texts there related to the expeditions …. We are putting together all this information about how the ancient Egyptians conducted these long distance seafaring expeditions on the Red Sea [which not a lot of people know about].
Q: What is the process of excavating like?
A: It's hard work and very boring. [Laughs]. It's long, tedious hours recording minutia.
Q: So why do you do it?
A: Because it opens up the world of the past. It's incredible to find something significant from 3,000, 4,000 years ago and try to understand it.
Q: What else would you like to share about your work?
A: It's been a wonderful adventure. When I was excavating in 1998 in northern Ethiopia, a war broke out, so we had to get out of there. I saw a bomb dropped one night. That's not what archaeologists want interrupting their search.
Q: You spent a lot of time at the Park Ridge library growing up. What are your other memories of it?
A: I loved it. It was a wonderful resource for children. When the new library was built [in 1958 at 20 S. Prospect] they got a lot of children to physical move books from the old library to the new. I remember doing that.