Archaeology Is Family Affair For Husband-Wife Team

Brigitte and her daughter, Caroline, in Guatemala.

Some couples meet on a blind date, or get together through matchmaker friends.

Others connect in in the Guatemalan jungle while studying pre-Columbian ruins.

“Yeah, our story is a little atypical,” laughs Brigitte Kovacevich, Ph.D., who teaches along with her husband, Michael Callaghan, Ph.D., in the Anthropology Department.

The couple became friends as students at Vanderbilt University, then started dating while on an archaeological dig in Cancuen, Guatemala. The story goes that one night Kovacevich discovered a snake in her tent. In the process of killing it, the machete ripped a hole in her tent.

“She needed a place to stay, so I helped her out,” Callaghan says with a smile.

Michael and his daughter, Caroline.

While it was a tent’s tragic death that brought them together, their love for each other and a shared passion for archaeology has kept them together. Most archaeologists they know cannot talk shop with their spouses. But dinner conversations regularly revolve around Kovacevich’s stonework specialty, or Callaghan’s interest in ceramics.

“We’re very aware of how lucky we are to have that,” Kovacevich said.

Soaking up conversations about flint-knapping and pottery sherds are the couple’s two daughters. Kovacevich has introduced their oldest, Caroline, now six, to the joys of excavation work by hiding plastic jewels and obsidian in the sandbox. But Caroline is also fully aware that archaeology — and academia — is often more office work than Indiana Jones.

“When we asked her what mommy does she said ‘Mama works on the computer,’” Kovacevich says with a laugh.

Still, the opportunity for adventure waits for the sisters. Twice Caroline has traveled to Guatemala with her parents. It was nerve-wracking for her parents — protecting an 18-month-old wandering around the top of a pyramid is no easy task — but Kovacevich and Callaghan see summers in the field for both of them.

Exploring a pyramid.

Kovacevich envisions mentoring them in their future career fields, just as she encourages the young women who come to her with an interest in archaeology. She always dishes a reality check on the hardships that come with job, but also an insight into the joy that comes with a job you love.

“We want to show them, especially as women, that they can achieve whatever they want,” Kovacevich says.



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