NAME: Rachel Brody, 30
HEBREW NAME: Ita
CURRENTLY LIVING IN: Cambridge
ALMA MATERS: Marblehead High School ’07, Bryn Mawr ’11, Boston College (master’s degree ’16, PhD expected in ’23)
JOB: Field archaeologist
FAVORITE FOOD: My latest good food memory comes from a road trip between Denver and Albuquerque. I got an excellent stuffed sopapilla at a food truck.
FAVORITE MUSIC: Anything that is being performed live. In the summer, I enjoy going to the local pubs in the village where I excavate, they perform great traditional Irish music.
FAVORITE BOOKS: Jane Austen, Viking sagas
FAVORITE MOVIES: “Indiana Jones,” obviously!
FAVORITE TV SHOWS: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Game of Thrones,” “Top Chef”
FAVORITE TRAVEL DESTINATION: Malta. They have fantastic megalithic temples that are older than the pyramids.
PLACE YOU WANT TO GO TO NEXT: I have yet to make it to France. I would love to see Mont-Saint-Michel and Carcassonne.
FAVORITE JEWISH PERSON NOT IN YOUR FAMILY: Pati Jinich (host of “Pati’s Mexican Table”)
FAVORITE JEWISH HOLIDAY: Purim
WHAT WAS YOUR JEWISH BACKGROUND GROWING UP?
I went to Temple Israel’s Hebrew school and had a bat mitzvah and then obviously grew up at the JCC and the summer camps, so it definitely played a big role in my childhood. Since then I haven’t been really too involved, but it’s definitely something I’d like to get back into eventually.
HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN ARCHAEOLOGY?
I always loved archaeology growing up – this romantic idea of going off and traveling and finding new things and cultures … So when I was 16 we did this family trip to England, and my mother and I volunteered on this excavation on a second-century Roman villa, and it was maybe a weeklong excavation, and I just absolutely loved it and knew that was what I wanted to do.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
Now I’m in a PhD program at Boston College. I’ve worked in Ireland for the last four years and I’m getting ready to go back this summer for what’s probably a 10-year project called ‘Castles in Communities,’ which is a field school and research project. I’m a supervisor on this excavation, so I’m there teaching college students and volunteers how to excavate and in addition it’s also a research project, so what we’re producing at this excavation – some of it will enter into my dissertation work [regarding] the Norman Conquest into England, and then Anglo-Norman movement into Ireland. The project that I’m involved in is an exploration of Ballintober Castle. We know that the castle was built before 1315, and we know that it was built by the Anglo-Norman Richard de Burgh, but that’s kind of all we have.
HAVE YOU FOUND ANY JEWISH ARTIFACTS?
When I was excavating in Philadelphia, they were uncovering foundations to houses and their privies as well, and most of them date from about the 1840s and one of the privies – the privy is where you throw all your trash, and you can really learn a lot about people through their trash – so one of those privies actually had this plate with a Jewish nursery rhyme or something like that. That was really interesting – it might be something from the Old Testament and the fact that it was in this person’s trash, and most of the people in the neighborhood I was excavating were immigrants coming from Ireland or the UK, so they were all probably Christian, but still referring to these early stories and having that iconography on a plate was really interesting. I took a picture because it said “Jew” on it.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ON A DIG IN ISRAEL?
I’ve never been to Israel, and it’s something I’d love. I think the best way to experience another country and its culture is to engage with the community. And by doing archaeology, you’re engaging with the community and the community’s past and history, so it’s a really amazing way to see another country, so if I ever go to Israel I would definitely love to jump in on an excavation and explore that part of my cultural history.
HOW ABOUT EASTERN EUROPE?
That area of the world is in many ways closed off to archaeologists – there’s not a lot of work being done there, but I think there’s a lot of interesting things, especially in the medieval period. My family’s from Russia, Minsk, Lithuania, and Ukraine, and I think along the Danube [River] there’s some really interesting sites. The Khazar Empire had elites that converted to Judaism in the medieval period. I was reading an old Soviet archaeology report, and they actually dug up a Khazar site, and there was a Jewish star carved in stone.