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Stefanie Elkins Associate Professor of Art History Interviewed by Kelly Lorenz
As a university, Andrews places a strong emphasis on research at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Not only are students involved in research, but professors, in addition to teaching, are involved in ongoing investigations in their respective academic fields. I spoke with Stefanie Elkins, who has been teaching at Andrews University for twelve years, to learn about the research she is conducting for her PhD dissertation in Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology from the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.
How would you describe your current research? My current research project is based off of my dissertation that I am currently working on, which is on model shrines. Model shrines are miniature buildings, temples or holy cultic niches that were typically made out of clay. While they’re found all over the world, I’m focusing on ones that are found primarily in the country of Jordan, and they date mostly to the Iron Age (around 1,000-700 BCE). I’m interested in the iconography and the figures that are sometimes attached to these model shrines.
What would they be used for? There’s a lot of speculation. We truly don’t know, because there’s no written record that mentions their use. We know what cult stands were used for, (they’re in the same category); they’re even mentioned in the Bible as being used within temples as a place to burn incense, to give libations, or to offer offerings. Model shrines and cult stands seem to have a similar purpose; they both had a religious purpose. Model shrines probably functioned as symbolic houses for the gods. They could also represent a holy place where a person could pray to the gods. If they couldn’t go to the shrine themselves, they had this little repository that they could use as a substitute.
What does your research involve? It has involved traveling to Jordan several times in order to see these artifacts in person, to take them out of their cases, photograph them, measure them and do color analysis. I’ve also been able to bring some of them back to Andrews University for restoration. Once I’ve done that, I categorize all the data and compare them to each other from site to site. I determine whether all of the fragments from one site have anything in common, and I also note where they’re found on the site. At one site most were found concentrated in one area that we now associate as being an open air sanctuary, so that makes sense—they would be found near the religious site. Then it’s just a matter of typing up my findings, writing everything down and doing a lot of research.
When you’re done with your project, about how much time will you have spent on it? Probably four years, but I’m also teaching full time. A dissertation can take anywhere from two to 10 years; it depends on the program.
What path did you take to get to this part of your research/career? I have been doing archaeology for 25 years. On my first dig, I was 19 years old, and I’ve been going regularly since then. A good background in archaeology is required, as well as in ancient art history. That is art history looking at art artifacts from the Prehistoric Era up to at least the Roman period; the Islamic period helps, too, if you’re doing research in this part of the world. Another skill needed to do this kind of work is writing and research skills. You need to be good writer, editor and good at researching.