Meet the Team: Maria O’Leary

Our last “Meet the Team” post featured our Project Manager Dr Aaron Hershkowitz. Today, we’d like to introduce another integral member of the Krateros Team: Squeeze Digitization Assistant Maria O’Leary.

Maria comes to us from a scientific background: she graduated from the University of Hertfordshire in 1994 with a first class honors degree in Applied Biology with Pharmacology. She spent the early part of her career in drug discovery research at GlaxoSmithKline and British Biotech, before becoming an application scientist. She traveled across Western Europe and the US for her work, helping clients to develop and implement investigative lab procedures using cutting edge technologies. Maria found the regular traveling less appealing as her career progressed, so she returned once more to discovery research in the field of agrochemicals. Following a move from the UK to USA and having children, Maria took a prolonged career break, when she developed a love of photography and began a small part-time portrait business. Her self-taught skills in image processing, combined with her life-long love of ancient history brought her to IAS as a squeeze digitization assistant. What was a temporary one-year assistantship has continued and she is now in her fourth year on the team.

Maria’s hard work (and her photographic talents!) play a critical role in the day-to-day running of the Krateros Project, so let’s get to know her better!

What does an average day look like for you?

I am currently dividing my time between cataloging the collection and compiling metadata that will accompany the inscriptions when uploaded to the online repository. 

Cataloging involves assigning a unique IAS identification number to each squeeze, checking that the physical squeeze matches the photoshopped image, ensuring that the inscription in the image is clear and not obscured by any folds in the paper, and recording the physical condition of the squeeze. Next, I record the corpus entry number for each inscription, the location of the original stone and the inventory number, and any other information that may be written on the squeeze. In some parts of the collection, details have been directly written on the squeeze but in other parts there may be nothing at all on the squeeze.  If that is the case, I identify the squeeze through searching online databases and publications, or by conducting research in the IAS library.  

Compiling the metadata involves collecting and digitally recording specific information about the inscription, such as the language, the hypertext links to the key online databases such as AIO (Attic Inscriptions Online) and PHI (Packard Humanities Institute), the general and specific date of the inscription, and the category of the inscription (e.g. decree, dedication, milestone). All this information is recorded electronically ready for upload to the Krateros digital repository

What is your favorite aspect of working on the Krateros Project?

Apart from the fact that I get to admire some of the beautiful reliefs and lettering (my favorite is a relief depicting a moth!), I really enjoy trying to identify the unlabeled squeezes that I described above. This has taken me on so many research pathways and I always learn so much, not only about ancient culture and public life, but also about the characters who made the squeezes and worked on the excavations at the start of the 20th century such as David M. Robinson.

Our scan of Maria’s favorite squeeze: IG II² 7402 (IAS Squeeze No.7064).

What skills from your scientific career have been most useful for working on the Krateros Project? 

Keeping good written records when tracking lots of samples and data, and batch processing of tasks has been critical in digitizing the squeezes. The task of identifying inscriptions also taps into my keen eye for details, and experience with using logical yet creative approaches. My determination to never give up helps too! Another key aspect of scientific research is never disregarding the “outliers”, because that’s usually where you find the most interesting information. The same is true of squeezes.

Since joining the team, you’ve also begun learning ancient Greek! How have you found this process, and do you have tips for others who are interested in learning the language?  

I have been thrilled to begin learning ancient Greek! It was as if I had suddenly broken a code and what were once just shapes on a squeeze became readable, understandable, and relatable. My top tip is to immerse yourself with the language daily, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. Also, don’t only read Homer! Look for ancient texts that reflect real ancient life, like those on our squeezes.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of the “Meet the Team” series, coming soon.

Photo credit: Maria O’Leary Photography.

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