Clarksville, TN – On a sweltering afternoon in Tallil, Iraq, a U.S. Army soldier named Elizabeth Wilcox paused on her way to the gym to examine what looked like seashells on the desert floor.
Centuries ago, the Euphrates River had flowed through the area, surrounding a nearby stone structure some scholars believe was the Tower of Babel, but that channel of the river had long since turned to dust.
“Today, it’s a desolate desert,” Wilcox said. “There were no signs of large bodies of water nearby. I knew the history of the place, but the shell brought to life this history.”
In that moment, Wilcox became curious at how geology can reveal history’s lost secrets. Now, as an Austin Peay State University senior, studying Latin, Classical Civilizations and geology, hercuriosity is taking her to Romania, where she’ll analyze soil at the site of an ancient Roman province.
Wilcox is able to participate in this ground-breaking fieldwork because she recently won the Classical Association of the Middle West and South’s (CAMWS) Dr. Peter Knox Award. The prestigious $2,000 award, named for the former president of CAMWS, is presented each year to one undergraduate student, one graduate student and one teacher.
Wilcox, the undergraduate winner, will use the monetary award to attend an excavation field school in Romania. She will spend six weeks learning how to use Ground Penetrating Radar while she assists the excavation of the Roman site.
Hundreds of students from some of the top archeological programs in the country applied for the CAMWS Award, but the awarding committee was impressed by Wilcox’s proposal to conducting phosphorus analysis of the site’s soil.
“The thing about Liz is she had a very specific interest in the discipline, so I thought she stood a better chance,” Dr. Tim Winters, APSU Classics professor, said. “But still, that’s a lot of students at a lot of top universities applying. I’m impressed. I’m very proud of her.”
When Wilcox left the army after 14 years of service, she enrolled at Austin Peay with the intention of studying biology. But then she took a Latin class and “fell in love” with the subject.
“Reading Virgil and Cicero made me fall in love with the culture and love it more,” she said. “And then I went to Greece last summer with Dr. Winters.”
During her weeks in Greece, Wilcox met some of Winters’ close friends, including Dr. Guy Sanders, director of The American School of Classical Studies in Athens’ excavation at Corinth.
“These Dacians were nothing to be messed with,” she said. “When they went to war, they had bill hooks that would slice off people’s limbs.”
When she finishes her stay in Romania, Wilcox hopes to continue her research as a graduate student at the University of Kent in Canterbury England, and she credits any success she may have in this field to her undergraduate program at Austin Peay.
“I never thought anything like this would ever happen,” she said. “I would have to say the Classics program—Dr. Winters, Dr. (Stephen) Kershner, Ms. (Mary) Winters—was such an asset to my learning here.”
For more information on Classics at Austin Peay visit www.apsu.edu/classics or contact Winters at