Interview: Terry Madenholm, Archaeologist

Terry Vietnam trip
Terry Madenholm in the forests of Vietnam during her last archaeology expedition.

Terry Madenholm is a Polish-Swedish archaeologist and writer for Haaretz. She has worked on archaeological projects in the Middle East, South America, and the Mediterranean region. On camera, she led an expedition spanning the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. But, when the exploration ends, the research begins. Terry contributed to two post-excavation research projects at the British Museum and a conservation mission at the Natural History Museum. We came across her work a while ago and what caught our eye is that Indiana Jones is also a model. She shot campaigns for Clarins, L’Oréal, Lancôme and Make Up For Ever. We wanted to know more, so we met Terry at Le Fumoir, an out of time restaurant overlooking her favorite museum, the Louvre.

Can you describe your typical day on a dig and tell us what archaeology means to you?

Archaeology has been my longest relationship so far, so you can imagine all the ups and downs! It’s primal. You often excavate away from civilization in places that challenge your resistance and adaptation skills. You dig, you sweat, and you cover yourself in dirt. To make things short, I came to realize that I’m slightly masochistic because nothing else gives me such a hard time and I absolutely love it.

Camping in the South American rain forest

Camping in the South American rain forest

You work with cutting-edge technologies. What are your favorite tools, and how are they transforming your work?

I have a drone as a companion, slightly re-designed for archaeological purposes. It is a powerful tool for identifying features. All you need is a high-resolution camera combined with machine learning or not even. However, the hottest archaeological tools are satellite imagery and Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), which I’m lucky to work with, together with the team at Drone Archaeology. These non-invasive tools give a sense of a laser eye. The use of satellite imagery helps detect indicators of human past activity in often challenging areas, while Lidar creates 3D imagery of ancient remains, even those deeply buried in nature. So flying above difficult to access, breathtaking landscapes like the Amazon never felt more legitimate to me (one of the rare justified additions to the carbon footprint). Both provide more data in a matter of hours than years of surveys.

Terry Pausilipon

Working on one of the archaeology sites

How will technology further shape archaeology in the future?

Virtually unwrapping sites will become a reality. Instead of archaeologists carefully removing one layer at a time to document and analyze sites over the course of years, scanners will virtually enable excavating them in a matter of hours without disturbing the state of the archaeological remains. Eventually we will see legions of tiny bots performing archaeological operations while documenting each step of the process. They would be used to collect samples, for example, for DNA testing without disturbing the integrity of the site. A fleet of autonomously flying small drones equipped with thermal infrared and hyperspectral sensors, programmed to work as a unit, will detect subsurface architecture with unparalleled accuracy in a matter of minutes while producing 3D scans. AI will then create an on-site report based on all the collected data.

Recent expedition in Andes and the Amazon rainforest.

One of recent expeditions

We are in Paris, the most glamorous city in the world, so the obvious question is about modeling. How did you start your modeling career?

I became a model at 21, which by fashion standards is extremely late, but I’ve always been a late bloomer. At the time, I was still a student, an archaeologist in the making. I wanted to be financially independent, finance my studies myself, and travel, so modeling seemed like a great idea. And it wasn’t a total abstraction since my mum used to be a model herself. After completing my second year of studies, I sent a picture to New Madison (my first agency) at a crazy hour, like 3 am, which illustrates my unhealthy sleeping habits at the time. In the morning, I got a phone call and the day later, a one-way flight ticket to Paris, which I took as a good omen. Less than two weeks later, with only one photo in my book, I shot my first campaign.

What was your most memorable shoot so far?

Shooting a commercial for L’Occitane in between my exams. We were in Corsica, which is probably my favorite place on Earth so far. I used to spend summers with family on the island, so it reminded me of my childhood. The scenery was breathtaking. I was in a flower field surrounded by mountains and the sea. 

Shooting for L'Occitane

Shooting for L’Occitane

What is your favorite past-time?

I love sports, especially those connected to nature. Horse riding is the best, and I wish I could ski all year round. But I’m also a big fan of tennis. Otherwise, I enjoy long purposeless walks especially in the evening, and I try to escape to the country whenever I can.

You traveled a lot as an archaeologist and model. What is your dream destination that you would like to visit off-duty?

There’s French Polynesia, Cambodia and Namibia on the top of my list. I’m dreaming of seeing the Skeleton Coast, it looks divine. But in general, I’m fascinated by Africa and the American continent, in particular Central and South America, so the list is very long.

Terry wearing DryTide’s 30L Waterproof Daypack in Vietnam

Terry wearing DryTide’s 30L Waterproof Daypack in Vietnam where she met local NGOs fighting deforestation and protecting biodiversity

You spend lots of time in challenging environments, how important is a good waterproof bag?

Protecting the equipment is crucial, and in general I don’t travel without the bag. Life is an adventure- you never know through which waters it will take you.

Where can we follow your adventures and your work?

You can follow Terry Madenholm on Haaretz  and Instagram @terrymadenholm

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