The Smiting KingBy Michelle Salzman
April 22, 2012
Minor: Digital studies
Student funding source: Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR)
Lynn Swartz Dodd
A month into Grant Dixon’s freshman year, he stumbled on a curious terracotta figurine in the Archaeology Research Center at USC Dornsife.
It depicted a bearded Roman emperor striking down his enemy in what’s known as the “smiting king pose.” The motif, symbolizing a king’s power and strength, is deeply rooted in ancient Egyptian religious iconography. So why was this Roman figure appropriating 3,000-year-old Egyptian imagery, and who could he possibly be?
Dixon, who had selected USC Dornsife’s archaeology program for its focus on undergraduate research, decided to tackle the mystery with an independent study project.
“I have always been fascinated with history,” Dixon said. “I’m the type of person who goes out and loves to learn more about the past.” Last summer, through USC, he participated in an archaeological dig in Rome led by Professor of Art History and History John Pollini, excavating materials dating back to 300 B.C.E. This summer he will return to the same site as part of another excavation team.
Under the guidance of Lynn Swartz Dodd, archaeology lecturer in USC Dornsife and curator of the Archaeology Research Center, Dixon scoured international museum archives and discovered that the statuette was rarer than previously thought. While Egyptian terracotta figurines are abundant, he found only three examples that blended Roman classical aesthetics with this particular Egyptian pose.
Dixon and Dodd are also collaborating with David Scott, founding director of the Getty/UCLA Conservation Graduate Program, to analyze traces of paint on the figure. “We’re able to start identifying the paints, which lets us reconstruct ancient craft practice,” said Dodd, whose own research focuses on material science and ancient innovation and technology.
Using the comparanda and paint analyses, Dixon has been able to narrow down one possible identity for the figurine: Hadrian, one of Rome’s first emperors to wear a beard. During his reign, Egypt was a province of the Roman Empire and Hadrian had often travelled to the region.
Dixon, who received an honorable mention at the 2011 USC Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work, hopes to publish his findings in an academic journal.
“What I enjoy about this most is that I’m doing research on something that nobody else has done before,” he said.
He aspires to attend graduate school in preparation for a professional career as an archaeologist. Dodd said Dixon’s experience at USC Dornsife should give him a leg up.
“Grant’s research is not only meaningful for him during his undergraduate years, but it’s launching him into the next phase of his life.”