In her long and distinguished career as a field archaeologist, Sharon Herbert has learned that “even the best laid research plan doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find what you thought you were going to find.”

That was the case with an excavation that the Charles K. Williams II Distinguished University Professor of Classical Archaeology undertook in 1999 at an ancient Graeco-Phoenician site in northern Israel, called Kedesh.

Photo of Sharon Herbert
Sharon Herbert

She and a University of Michigan team expected to find a small village or fort at the site. But instead they discovered a massive archive holding more than 2,000 seal impressions from delicately carved personal rings. The discovery sheds important new light on the Hellenistic era.

In her upcoming Distinguished University Professor lecture, “Snowflakes and Quicksand: A Survey of Hellenistic Sealing Practices,” Herbert will elaborate on the discoveries at Kedesh and place the archive in the context of the 20 other known archives of its type in the world.

“The archives all share similarities, but they’re also each unique — hence the ‘snowflakes’ in my title,” Herbert says.

The talk will take place at 4 p.m. today in Rackham Amphitheatre. The lecture and the reception that follow are free and open to the public. A Distinguished University Professorship is the highest professorial honor bestowed on U-M faculty.

Herbert, who also is a professor of classical archaeology and of Greek, and a research scientist and curator at LSA’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, specializes in Hellenistic Egypt and the Near East, and in ancient ceramics. She has directed archaeological excavations in Israel, Egypt, Italy and Greece.

She is a past chair of the LSA Department of Classical Studies and director of the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology. From 1997-2013, Herbert served as director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Her current research involves identifying the continuing traces of Phoenician culture in the material record of the Hellenistic era. This work is centered on the excavation and publication of sites in northern Israel, including Kedesh of the Upper Galilee, thought to be the southernmost outpost of the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre.

Herbert now is working with archaeologist Andrea Berlin of Boston University on the publication of their excavations at Kedesh.

Herbert named her professorship for the eminent American archaeologist and architect Charles K. Williams II, who from 1966-96 directed the excavations at ancient Corinth for the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

She worked with Williams at Corinth from 1969-73, and credits him with having taught her “how to dig and how to publish.” Her doctoral dissertation and first book stemmed directly from her work with Williams. Now retired, Williams continues to advise students and fellow archaeologists, and to teach portions of trips offered by the American School of Classical Studies.

Herbert holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and Ph.D. in classics from Stanford University, and is a past fellow of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

In addition to the Distinguished University Professorship, she has received awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was the 2008-09 Norton Lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America. In 2012, Herbert received a lifetime achievement award for her contributions to Galilean archaeology.