Old World Archaeology: Timothy Kaiser

Lakehead anthropologist Timothy Kaiser sheds light on the rituals of the ancient Illyrians who populated the Balkan coast
by Katelyn Weel
Dr. Timothy Kaiser

Dr. Timothy Kaiser is truly passionate about his work as an archaeologist, and brings to the classroom more than 30 years of experience in teaching, research, and public education. He is an associate professor working out of Lakehead's Orillia campus, where he has taught since it opened in 2006.
Kaiser's love of history began when he was a child, growing up among the ruins in Europe. Although he was born in Washington, D.C., his father worked with the foreign service and the family moved every two to three years. They spent time in many different places around the world, including Yugoslavia, Germany, Austria, Poland, and South Africa. He saw how the past is still alive in the castles and museums, and realized that history is not confined to dusty old books.
As a high school student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., he was taught by Richard ("Scotty") MacNiesh, a famous archaeologist who discovered where corn was domesticated in the New World. It was his class that inspired Tim to become an archaeologist, studying at Harvard University for his master's degree and the University of California, Berkeley, for his PhD.
Like many aspiring archaeologists, early on in his career he thought he was going to work in Greece, but soon realized that Greece was crowded with archaeologists. Instead, he went north to the Balkans, where, eventually, he made an incredible discovery.
While working in Croatia, Kaiser and his team came across a cave filled with extraordinarily well preserved artifacts surrounding a phallic stalagmite at the centre of the cave. Nakovana Cave was apparently sealed 2,000 years ago, and the findings inside offered the team an unprecedented insight into the lives of the Illyrian people.  Says Kaiser: "To be the first person to see a cave that nobody had seen for 2,000 years, and then to find that inside this cave was not just ordinary archaeological stuff, but special archaeological stuff...it was unbelievable."
Since that excavation began ten years ago, he has been working out the many puzzles that were presented by the findings. In the future he hopes to return to Croatia and do more excavations in that area, if he can get funding.
Research in archaeology is funded by government, foundations, or private donors. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) provides some funding to research projects in this field, but the Council's support for overseas archaeology is limited. Other foundations, such as the National Geographic Society, sponsor these types of projects as well.
In Kaiser's case, however, his research in Croatia was funded by small sources at the Royal Ontario Museum, but mostly by the generous donation of David and Audrey Mirvish, for which he is extremely grateful. David Mirvish, who is the producer of major musical theatre productions in Toronto, wanted to do something for the Royal Ontario Museum other than buying an item or endowing a wing, so he decided to fund a research project. For five years, Dr. Kaiser's work at Nakovana was made possible by the generosity of the Mirvish family.
Dr. Tim Kaiser's advice to students who are considering a career in archaeology is to study everything, because there is no limit to the range of subjects that apply to this discipline.Kaiser himself speaks five languages and has published in two of them. He has organized museum exhibitions at the Royal Ontario Museum and has contributed to many radio and television programs in the United States, Britain, France, Croatia, and Serbia. He has also acted as a consultant to museums in Saudi Arabia, Croatia, and Switzerland.
When asked what he loves most about his career, Kaiser says it is the "thrill of the chase." In archaeology, he says, there are no definite solutions to any question. There is no certainty, and there will never be an end to the questions.