Mike Galaty with his wife, Sylvia Deskaj, and their son Dardan, atop the Prizren Castle in Kosovo during a 2016 visit. Fieldwork in Kosovo will commence in 2018.

In July, the new director of the U-M Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, Michael Galaty, moved to Ann Arbor from Mississippi to take up his post. Although moving is stressful, relocating north in midsummer has its benefits, he says.

“The weather is definitely a lot more pleasant here,” he laughs. “At MSU [Mississippi State University] we could always tell the new faculty because they would show up at meetings covered in sweat.”

Leaving Bulldog territory for the Wolverine den with his wife Sylvia Deskaj, also an archaeologist, and son Dardan (Danny), 2—son Liam, 13, lives in Mississippi with his mom—is just the first in a series of moves facing Galaty. In his five years as director, he will supervise parts of three UMMAA moves: this year, the ongoing move of the Museum’s artifacts to the off-campus facility now called Research Museums Center (RMC); in 2018, a temporary move of Museum faculty, students, and staff to the School of Education; and four years later, a permanent move into the Chemistry Building.  

And that’s not all. Galaty’s plans for the next few years include changes of other kinds—upgrades of the Museum’s web and social media presence, a renewed focus on publications, and increased capacity for archaeological science research. In addition, he’ll continue writing up fieldwork on a previous project and make plans for a survey project in Kosovo next summer.

A gold mask

The Museum’s new director spent two decades in the South, at Millsaps College and Mississippi State University, but he grew up a Packers fan in Green Bay, Wisconsin. His grandfather set him on the path to archaeology by taking the young Michael to see the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. 

“I was too short to see into the case, and my grandpa picked me up so I could look in,” says Galaty. There was the gold death mask of the young Egyptian pharaoh. Looking at it, the seven-year-old realized he wanted to be an archaeologist.

“That was when I knew,” he says. “That stuck with me the rest of my childhood.” 

As a grad student at the University of Wisconsin, he focused on Greek prehistory and archaeological science. He did his dissertation on the chemical analysis of Mycenaean pottery. After Albania opened its borders in 1991, Galaty was one of the first American archaeologists to start working there.

“It was very much a Third World country in continental Europe,” he recalls. 

Over the next 20 years, he worked at three sites in Albania—in central Albania at the Greek colony of Apollonia, in the Shala Valley in north Albania, and on the plains near Shkodra Lake, the largest lake in the Balkans. His research in the Shala Valley resulted in a book, Light and Shadow: Isolation and Interaction in the Shala Valley of Northern Albania, which won the Society for American Archaeology’s Scholarly Book Award in 2014.

During this time, Galaty also worked for five seasons on the Diros Project, near the famous Alepotrypa Cave in southern Greece.

Next year, he’ll begin a project on the Kosovo plateau, an area that has never been intensively surveyed. Through a combination of survey and targeted excavations, he hopes to find out more about the trajectory of social change in the region.

“We will try to get a handle on the chronology,” he explains.

He is most interested in periods of late prehistory (Late Neolithic to Iron Age)—a time of rapid change. He expects it will be interesting and enlightening to compare Albania to Kosovo. One thing he didn’t find in Albania was evidence for state formation.

“You see the rise of complex societies,” Galaty says, “[but] the state never forms in Albania…even though they’re in contact with states to the south.”

Charting a course

As director, Galaty won’t be stepping into entirely unfamiliar shoes. At Mississippi State University, he was head of the anthropology department and director of the Cobb Institute of Archaeology. He led strategic planning processes for both the department and the institute, and he hopes to lead a similar process here.

“This museum has been around for almost 100 years, so there’s a lot of history,” he says. “The Museum’s at a critical moment, where charting a course for the future is necessary. I would hope in the coming months that we will start a strategic planning process. It’s also an opportune time to do that because we’re moving.”

He adds: “We are in very good financial shape. Finances aren’t a major concern. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be planning for the future.”

Despite the need for action at UMMAA, he wants to approach the process with caution. He considers the first few months to be a “fact finding period,” during which he’ll be meeting with faculty, students, and staff at the Museum. 

He points to archaeological science as a good example: there are questions around whether to expand the Museum’s capacity in archaeological science and how much to invest.

“People don’t necessarily like to do this,” he says. “But you really do need to sit around the table and talk about where you’re going. It’s important to build consensus around goals.”

The legacy

Galaty is well aware of the responsibility that comes with his position at U-M.

“The archaeology program here is a great program,” he says. “Michigan has always been at the forefront of archaeological history. My goal as director is to build on that legacy and to bolster that legacy for the next 100 years.”

To do this, he must consider the needs of the Museum’s various groups, from students to donors to curators, as well as the health of the Museum itself and its place in the community.

“We want to do the best job we can for both our graduate and undergraduate students,” he says. “It’s a national trend that undergraduate numbers in anthropology are slipping. I would like to see those numbers turn around. I see that as part of our responsibility to the public.”

One piece of that puzzle, he knows, is a strong social media presence. “If we don’t pop up at the top of the list when someone searches on ‘archaeology’, then we are losing the battle. Archaeologists can provide much needed historical perspective on important issues of the day, whether the dramatic expansion of social inequalities or climate change—we can say how humans responded to these things in the past and predict how they will respond in the future.”

Unfortunately, Galaty says, archaeologists don’t often take the time or make the effort to explain and publicize their work.

“It’s often people who are non-archaeologists who are making the case for archaeologists,” he says. “U-M needs to take the lead in making the case for archaeology.”

He sounds like a Wolverine already.