Illustration by Mary Crooks
  • Fred is an archaeologist. He mostly studies ancient trade routes, such as the Silk Road, a network that stretched from China to Europe. He also leads underwater archaeology projects, such as searching for evidence of prehistoric settlements on land that is now beneath the Black Sea.

    Another part of Fred’s job is putting together exhibits of archaeological discoveries for museums and other venues.

    “I am lucky enough to have two interesting jobs,” Fred says. “I’m a field archaeologist as well as a museum curator.”


    Fred has a strong background in both archaeology and education. After earning a PhD from Harvard University, he spent 10 years as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the National Geographic Society as its archaeology fellow.

    Although Fred’s early work mostly focused on trade routes, he has since studied civilizations and artifacts from places as diverse as Lake Titicaca, Peru; Athens, Greece; and Kabul, Afghanistan.


    “Being an educator.”


    Fundraising and “making a sales pitch to a general public that has now decided that science isn’t interesting.”

    One of Fred’s projects for 2012 involves studying the ancient Maya. Many people immediately react to the “doomsday” Mayan calendar date of 2012 instead of the rich, varied culture, he says.

    “That’s a misreading of the calendar, by the way! The Mayan calendar doesn’t end, and there is no doomsday. But the reality is better!” Fred says.


    Fred defines geography as the ability to identify regions and put them in context—in terms of conflict, history, and culture.

    “The need for geographic literacy is one of the reasons I left U-Penn. In October 2001, I gave a map quiz on Central Asia in my seminar on the Silk Road. I realized a lot of my students couldn’t find Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. Here we [the U.S.] were in two major conflicts, and these smart college kids didn’t know where these places were.

    “I felt like I was wasting what I know. I realized this needs to be an educational experience for the public.”


    Fred is enthusiastic about bringing educational experiences to the public, and doesn’t limit himself to traditional venues like schools or museums.

    Fred explains one recent exhibit that brought rare treasures to Singapore and Oman.

    “We just finished a small exhibit on the maritime Silk Road in Arabia and Asia. Well, a lot of people don’t go to museums in Southeast Asia. So we have this self-contained exhibit in malls and parking lots! Thousands of people go to malls in Singapore, and so thousands of people were able to see this marvelous exhibit.”

    Fred also worked with Lucasfilm, the film studio of Star Wars and Indiana Jones producer George Lucas, to develop the exhibit “Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology.” The exhibit links the fictional quests of Indiana Jones to real-life archaeological sites and discoveries. Lucasfilm provides video clips of the swashbuckling archaeologist hero, as well as movie memorabilia. National Geographic and the Penn Museum provide the archaeological treasures, including gold artifacts from the royal cemetery at Ur; intricately decorated bowls from Nazca, Peru; and one of the world’s oldest winemaking presses, unearthed in Armenia.

    “An entire generation was inspired to take Archaeology 101 by Indiana Jones,” Fred says.

    Even though he has discovered valuable artifacts, Fred is quick to note, “We don’t actually search for treasure. We search for knowledge—that’s our real gold.”

    That search for knowledge is the other part of Fred’s job—field archaeology. It has taken him all over the world. His most well-known exhibit is probably “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul.” Fred did most of his archaeological work in Afghanistan in 2003, during a lull in the conflict there. “I could actually walk to work,” he remembers.

    Fred has gone from walking across deserts to diving hundreds of meters beneath the Black Sea in search of ancient civilizations. Fred and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Robert Ballard worked together to compare topographic and bathymetric maps of the coast and seafloor. Doing underwater research, they were not surprised to find evidence of shipwrecks. “We found this shipwreck down there. We thought it was the wreck of a modern boat, but it ended up being Byzantine!” Fred says. “The structure was so similar, that really surprised us.”

    Fred has also worked on underwater projects in Lake Titicaca, Peru, and Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan. His newest proposal has taken him to Greece, where he’s developing an exhibit with the government.


    “There is a lack of broad generalists in our field,” Fred says. He strongly encourages students to have a liberal arts background.


    Fred encourages families to visit museums, outdoor parks, and historic exhibits or demonstrations.

    Archaeologist: Dr. Fredrik Hiebert
    Fred Hiebert is an archaeologist.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    archaeological Adjective

    having to do with the study of ancient people and cultures.

    archaeologist Noun

    person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.

    archaeology Noun

    study of human history, based on material remains.

    Encyclopedic Entry: archaeology
    artifact Noun

    material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Artifact
    bathymetric map Noun

    representation of spatial information displaying depth underwater.

    Byzantine Adjective

    having to do with the Eastern Roman Empire (also called the Byzantine Empire), which flourished from 476-1453.

    cemetery Noun

    place for burying the dead.

    civilization Noun

    complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Key Components of Civilization
    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    context Noun

    set of facts having to do with a specific event or situation.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    curator Noun

    person who designs, assembles, and manages an exhibit at a museum or other cultural center.

    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    diverse Adjective

    varied or having many different types.

    doomsday adjective, noun

    date on which a disaster or the end of the world is predicted to take place.

    education Noun

    process of acquiring knowledge and critical-thinking skills.

    enthusiastic Adjective


    evidence Noun

    data that can be measured, observed, examined, and analyzed to support a conclusion.

    exhibit Noun

    display, often in a museum.

    Explorer-in-Residence Noun

    pre-eminent explorers and scientists collaborating with the National Geographic Society to make groundbreaking discoveries that generate critical scientific information, conservation-related initiatives and compelling stories.

    fiction Noun

    media, such as books or films, that are imaginative and not true stories.

    film studio Noun

    industrial center where movies are filmed and produced.

    general public Noun

    large population, not identified by demographic factors such as skills, income, or ethnicity.

    generation Noun

    group in a species made up of members that are roughly the same age.

    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    history Noun

    study of the past.

    Indiana Jones Noun

    series of movies (named after the main character).

    intricate Adjective

    very detailed and complex.

    liberal arts Noun

    wide-ranging course of study including the arts and social sciences.

    lull Noun

    calm or still wind.

    map Noun

    symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: map
    maritime Adjective

    having to do with the ocean.

    marvelous Adjective


    Maya Noun

    people and culture native to southeastern Mexico and Central America.

    memorabilia Noun

    souvenirs, or objects associated with a specific collection or set of memories.

    museum Noun

    space where valuable works of art, history, or science are kept for public view.

    National Geographic Fellow Noun

    experts who provide the National Geographic Society with consultation on projects, education and outreach, and environmental and public policy.

    National Geographic Society Noun

    (1888) organization whose mission is "Inspiring people to care about the planet."

    PhD Noun

    (doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.

    prehistoric Adjective

    period of time that occurred before the invention of written records.

    professor Noun

    highest-ranking teacher at a college or university.

    rare Adjective

    unusual or uncommon.

    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    Robert Ballard Noun

    (1942-present) oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

    royal Adjective

    having to do with a monarchy.

    seafloor Noun

    surface layer of the bottom of the ocean.

    settlement Noun

    community or village.

    shipwreck Noun

    remains of a sunken marine vessel.

    Silk Road Noun

    ancient trade route through Central Asia linking China and the Mediterranean Sea.

    swashbuckling Adjective

    daring and adventurous.

    topographic Adjective

    having to do with maps based on natural and human-made features of the land, and marked by contour lines showing elevation.

    trade route Noun

    path followed by merchants or explorers to exchange goods and services.

    venue Noun

    location of an event.