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@dirtdiaries_ | A Discussion with Tenn Kellenbarger PhD.

This week's guest is an Archaeologist and Art Historian, specializing in Ancient Weaponry and Iconography. You might already know Tenninger (Tenn) Kellenbarger from her viral TikTok videos on the latest archaeology discoveries, or you may have encountered her on the Styx & Bones podcast, where she is a Ghost Host.

Tenn aims to make ancient art and history accessible to everyone by regularly uploading fully informative and immersive content regarding Archaeology News. As she herself says: "I realized I wanted to make archaeology, art history, and ancient history accessible to others as well. That was when I really began to focus on delivering content that sparked interest while educating on the topics!" Surely that particular field of studies is hard to come across, especially for individuals interested in these immaculate topics but do not have other access to them.

I had the honor of having a conversation with her on these universal matters and I hope that you will enjoy this interview as much as we did.

Tenninger Kellenbarger PhD.

How did your interest in archaeology and art history develop?

I was always interested in art from a young age, but I can say that the desire to learn more

about the realm of art history came from going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

City as a child. My mom would take my sister and I there when we would be on the East Coast

visiting her family. I instantly fell in love with the ancient sculptures and artifacts in the Egyptian

and Ancient Near East galleries. Around the age of 12, our history class began focusing on

ancient history as well as mythology. Once I learned what the jobs of archaeologists and art

historians were, I knew I had found what I wanted to pursue with my studies and career.

Can you describe yourself in five words?

Versatile, dedicated, enthusiastic, research-focused, and educator. These words

summarize exactly what I hope to achieve through my work both online, in the classroom, and

elsewhere. Versatility and enthusiasm are two key ones for me as I strive to convey my own

knowledge in an engaging way that allows people to become excited to learn more!

What sparked your interest in specializing in ancient weaponry and combat


This actually occurred after I was on an archaeological excavation in Cyprus years ago

during my undergrad program. During the dig, some metal objects were uncovered that were

very similar to hatchet heads in the museum in Nicosia. From that summer on, I was instantly

drawn to weaponry, from how it was crafted, the specific metals used, and how the ancient

peoples would have used them in practice. My MA Thesis allowed me to continue researching

weaponry as I focused on the creation of early swords in the Aegean during the Bronze Age.

During this process, the imagery of weapons in the corpus of Aegean art stood out to me,

especially concerning how the figures depicted were engaging with weapons in scenes of

interpersonal combat. From there, the rest is history, as it became my dissertation topic.

What was the inspiration behind your TikTok page, and how did you decide

to pursue it?

I began writing my dissertation in 2021, and coming out of COVID-19, digital

accessibility to the artifacts I was researching was a key component to the completion of my

project. At the end of 2022, I realized I wanted to make archaeology, art history, and ancient

history accessible to others as well. That was when I really began to focus on delivering content

that sparked interest while educating on the topics! In Fall 2022 into Spring 2023, when I was

finishing my dissertation, creating short educational content on topics outside of the project I was

working on allowed me to break up my research and stay up to date on current findings and

studies being published in the field. It was during this time that I saw a lot of feedback from

viewers along the lines of “I always wanted to be an archaeologist,” “I wish I could go back to

school for this,” and even “I’d love to study this, but it's not accessible for me.” It was responses

like these that made me want to continue what I do today!

The year 2023 was remarkable for archaeology. What is your favorite

archaeological discovery from the past year?

This is hard as there were so many incredible finds in the field of archaeology! Some of

my top archaeological finds include the oldest runic inscription of the god Odin, a statue of the

Goddess Hekate being discovered in Türkiye, the “Tomb of Cerberus” found right outside

Naples, the first word deciphered by AI on the Herculaneum scrolls, 5000-year-old wine from

the tomb of Merneith in Egypt, and of course swords! A bronze age sword was found in

Germany, and four swords were discovered in a cave on the Dead Sea which dates to the Roman


One of the finds that spoke to me the most was the discovery of 2000-year-old makeup

being found in Türkiye. Seeing different make-up shades preserved thousands of years later in

shell containers served as a reminder that people were always people. Women were buying

makeup in the market like so many of us do today with our friends.

What challenges do archaeologists and art historians face today?

Additionally, what advice would you offer to young aspiring art historians

and archaeologists?

Some of the biggest challenges concern the preservation of cultural heritage and

transparency within the realm of museums. During times of conflict, archaeological sites,

museums, and historical monuments may be targeted, looted, or destroyed. For example, when

ISIS bombed Palmyra in 2015, thousands of objects were moved to secret locations and other

museums to ensure their protection until they could be returned. While many objects were able to be rescued, others were looted and then appeared on the art and antiquities market. Ultimately

the market is driven by demand. This also affects the topic of transparency within museums

concerning how artifacts were acquired. Provenance may be hard to trace especially when

paperwork can be forged.

Outside of the aforementioned challenges, another is accessibility, both to programs and

available field schools. During my undergrad, we were required to have completed a season of

archaeological field school. The great part about my undergrad was that they had ties to multiple

digs, one in Pennsylvania, one at the site of Megiddo in Israel, and the other at the site of Idalion

in Cyprus. Many digs are done on a volunteer basis, and when there is no funding available, it

can be stressful for students to be able to afford not only the season expenses, such as room and

board, but also the flights.

The best piece of advice I can give someone interested in looking into either archaeology

or art history is to ask yourself, “What do you want to do with the degree?” For me, because I

wanted to focus on the art of ancient history, I decided to follow the path through art history,

which my M.A. and Ph.D. are in. I also found that many archaeologists whom I have had the

pleasure to work with have their backgrounds in both with their higher education degrees in Art

History which allows for inter-disciplinary research to flourish. Another piece of advice is to

look into who you will be working and studying under if you are choosing an MA or Ph.D.

Why? Because you will be working with them as your advisor for a few years! And finally, if

you find that you love a certain topic or aspect, do not let anyone talk you out of it! Trust me

when I say the amount of time you will spend on your topic will have you knowing it inside and

out, so love what you do!

Could you share a significant moment or event that stood out in your

career or research?

A massive moment actually came while I was writing my Master’s thesis. I noticed the

combat imagery of the victor was similar to the pose of the smiting Pharaoh seen throughout

Egypt. I didn’t know what I had, in terms of research, when this moment occurred, but years

later, it came together in my dissertation. This little thought I had back in 2016 ended up being

the focus of my doctoral dissertation and current projects and publications. This was my “ah-ha”

moment, and I know everyone out there will have their own!

What are your next steps and goals in your career?

My next steps include a forthcoming publication that looks at the evolution of the Aegean

smiting pose during the Bronze Age (ca. 3000–1100 BCE) as an image of power to the elites and

proposes iconographic qualifications for the figural image. I am currently an Adjunct Professor

at Temple University, where I teach ancient art history courses, and hopefully, I will be back in

the field this upcoming summer to see where my research takes me next! My goals are to

continue to publish my work and to continue teaching for as long as I can, as I love sharing what

I know with anyone, whether it be a student in my class or someone on the other side of the


Thank you, Tenn, for being with us this week!

Do not forget to follow her on TikTok and Instagram and check out her podcast "Styx and Bones with Chelesea and Tenn."


Photographs copywrites belong to Tenn Kellenbarger.

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