July 9—Bob Beck, who has spent his career working in U.S. embassies around the world, has a little retirement advice.
“You want to back out of something, not something,” Beck, 61, said. “And the ‘to something’ doesn’t have to be, you know, earning $70,000 a year; it could be getting into gardening. Whatever. It’s something that you find productive and that will invigorate you.”
After more than three decades in the US Foreign Service, Beck moved to Peterborough two years ago with his wife of 36 years, Meg, from New Hampshire. He soon began teaching foreign policy at Keene State College’s Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning, a program for seniors and retirees.
He spent about two weeks last month helping his daughter, Jess, a bio-archaeologist, excavate a Bronze Age burial mound in the mountains of western Transylvania, and worked similar periods on the project during the summers of 2018 and 2019.
Beck is a member of the board of the Monadnock Summer Lyceum, which organizes lectures, and of the Peterborough Recreation Committee. He volunteers for the State Park System and The Nature Conservancy. He also plays tennis, cycling, swimming, hiking and climbing the peaks of the White Mountains in the Alps.
In a recent interview, he said it’s good to be challenged in retirement.
Working on the burial mound on an isolated ridge in the Apuseni Mountains in Romania falls into this category.
“Archaeology is a field that I knew very little about,” he said. “When you retire, it’s healthy to push yourself into areas you’re not comfortable with.
The digs also allowed him to spend quality time with his daughter, who is on a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard and is leading the dig with a Hamilton College professor and a senior museum-affiliated Romanian archaeologist. .
There was a learning curve for Beck, which helps by sifting through dirt for important objects. Initially, he kept thinking he’d found something useful, and his daughter kept saying, “Dad, that’s a rock.”
Eventually, however, he found bones, and someone else found a complete skeleton in the fetal position in 2019. Pottery remains and a stone arrowhead, possibly from a spear, were also found. been dug up. This year, another skeleton was found, this one missing its skull.
Laboratory analysis can provide clues to diet, climate, and geographic origin of bones and other materials. Ancient wounds or signs of violence can also be discerned on ancient human remains.
Objects found during an archaeological dig can create new questions.
Numerous individual bones were found in an area under rock slabs, but Beck said it’s unclear why these bones were placed there, when the skeletons were elsewhere at the site. It is also not known why a skeleton had lost its skull.
Researchers want to learn more about the people who built the 20-foot-long, 18-foot-wide and 6-foot-tall mound more than 4,000 years ago, and how their lives differed from those who lived in it. the river valley below.
While people at low altitudes grew crops for food, those living in the mountains are thought to have relied more on sheep, he said.
One day while the archaeological team was working, a shepherd moved his flock near the excavation site, something people have been doing in this area for thousands of years.
The current project is being conducted in a beautiful part of the world, Beck noted.
“It’s just a beautiful place, 3,000 feet up in the mountains with a backdrop of 5,000 foot mountains,” he said. “I also liked working as a team. It’s good honest work, and it’s thorough.”
This kind of effort is quite different from the communications work he has done during his career at American embassies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The classes he teaches at Keene State are informed by his international experiences, some of which are heartbreaking.
When he was posted to Iraq in 2010, the embassy came under artillery fire. On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, he was in his office at the US Embassy in Damascus, Syria, when assailants using improvised explosives and gunfire attempted to storm the compound but were repelled.
But there were also lavish assignments, like the years he and his wife, who was also in the foreign service, spent in Paris and Vienna.
Beck grew up in Indianapolis, the son of an Indiana Bell Telephone Company employee and a stay-at-home mom. He entered the Foreign Service after earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in Soviet and Eastern European Studies, after serving in Germany with the US Air Force.
Beck, who holds a master’s degree in international relations from Boston University, understands global politics and has relevant insights into Russia’s war against Ukraine, the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II.
In an opinion piece in the May 31 Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, he noted that the ripple effects of the bloody war include “skyrocketing energy costs, waves of refugees, warnings global food shortages, threats of nuclear war and shifting strategic alliances”.
The conflict has highlighted the struggle between democracy and autocracy and put new emphasis on US relations with China and the long-running dispute between that country and Taiwan, he said.
Heather Jasmin, program coordinator for Keene State’s Office of Graduate and Further Education, said Beck’s classes and talks were very popular.
“He did a unique conference on Ukraine that drew nearly 200 people,” Jasmin said. “He does a very good job of making it accessible and interesting for his students.”
Beck will speak about the Romanian excavations at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12 at the Peterborough Public Library.
Rick Green can be reached at [email protected] or 603-355-8567