Event Celebrates $1M Gift in Cyber-Archaeology from Philanthropist Norma Kershaw

Friends, supporters and the broader UC San Diego community gathered on May 26 to celebrate the generosity of the late Norma Kershaw, who left a $1 million bequest to establish a new research program supported by the Kershaw Endowment for Cyber-Archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean at UC San Diego.

Archaeologist Tom Levy
“Norma was a visionary who believed in the importance of archaeology for understanding who we are and how we got here,” says Archaeology Professor Thomas Levy, director of the QI’s Center for Cyber-Archaeology and Sustainability.

“Norma was a visionary who believed in the importance of archaeology for understanding who we are and how we got here,” said Archaeology Professor and Qualcomm Institute (QI) affiliate Thomas Levy, director of the QI’s Center for Cyber-Archaeology and Sustainability (CCAS). “For Norma, the aim of creating endowments at leading U.S. universities was her specific love for the archaeology of Israel, and, on a larger scale, to contribute to the greater good of the American society.”

Kershaw, who passed away in September 2020 at the age of 95, leaves a legacy of support for the field. In 2006, Kershaw and her husband, Reuben Kershaw, established the UC San Diego Norma Kershaw Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands, which is currently held by Levy. In addition, the couple endowed a chair at UCLA and the construction of an auditorium at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, among other causes.

Levy recalled that, shortly after he assumed the endowed chair in 2006, Kershaw, who was trained as an archeologist and art historian at Columbia University and was a leader in the Archaeological Institute of America, challenged him to define cyber-archaeology “in plain words.” The answer, according to Levy, is that the discipline brings together archaeology with computer science, engineering and the natural sciences, taking advantage of the Information Technology Revolution “offering 21st century solutions to safeguard the past for future generations.”

Norma and Reuben Kershaw
Norma Kershaw stands with husband Reuben after establishing her first endowment at UC San Diego in 2006.

Studying ‘Deep Time’

Levy’s ultimate goal is no less than to study changes in the climate, culture and the environment of the Eastern Mediterranean region during the last 100,000 years—what he calls a study of “deep time.” Levy says that, as a crossroads of civilizations—from Africa to Asia, Israel and the neighboring lands—the area is one of the best in the world to study these topics.

The new Kershaw Endowment for Cyber-Archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean will help the team create 3-D digital records that can be used for research, to educate future generations, promote tourism and enhance the economy of the region. Ongoing projects with QI, the School of Social Sciences and other campus partners include the use of drones and underwater cameras to capture extensive data about sites on land and under sea. During his presentation, Levy showed images of sites he and his team have worked to preserve using these tools, such as a 3,500-year-old submerged town off the coast of Greece and Mar Saba in the Judean desert, one of the oldest continuously inhabited monasteries in the world.

Thanks to the new endowment, Levy also plans to enhance scientific exchange among Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the United States. 

“On a small scale, the Qualcomm Institute’s work promotes peace in the Middle East through its long-term relationship with KAUST [King Abdullah University of Science and Technology] in Saudi Arabia where, under QI computer scientist Tom DeFanti, the QI built a scientific visualization lab,” Levy says. “Now, with our new endowment, we can help build positive research relations in those places in the Eastern Mediterranean that share some of the Ancient Greek ethos, what a friend calls the ‘Alexander Accords.’”

coastal sediment coring research demo
UC San Diego postdoctoral fellow Gilad Shtienberg (right) explains coastal sediment coring research in Israel to visitor Charlie Steinmetz and Professor Pascal Gagneux in the VRoom. (Photo by Alex Matthews of QI)

Immersive Recreations

During the May 26 celebration, Qualcomm Institute Director Ramesh Rao and Dean of the School of Social Sciences Carol Padden added their words of appreciation for Norma Kershaw’s generosity and the impact of her gifts. Executive Director of University Development Michael Horvat presented Kershaw’s daughters, Barbara Rosenthal and Janet Kershaw-McLenna, with a book co-edited by Levy, “Preserving Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age: Sending Out an S.O.S.” (A video of the proceedings, including Levy’s presentation, is available online.)

The event’s displays continued to draw people from across campus to QI’s Atkinson Hall throughout the afternoon. In addition to reading posters, participants could experience immersive, 3-D recreations of Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean in QI’s SUNCave (hosted by graduate student Anthony Tamberino and Visual Arts alumnus Isaac Nealey) and 3-D images from Iron Age Southern Jordan (recent Ph.D. alumnus Matthew Howland) and Delphi (Technology/Media Specialist Scott Mcavoy) on the Big Wall in the QI virtual room or “VROOM.”

Virtual reality demo
Neil Smith, incoming co-director of the Qualcomm Institute Center for Cyber-Archaeology and Sustainability, demonstrates a cyber-archaeology virtual reality application from the Eastern Mediterranean for a student wearing an Oculus Rift headset. (Photo by Alex Matthews of QI)

Attendees also learned how artifacts could be scanned with structured light so they can be recreated via 3-D printing (hosted by graduate student Jack Reece). They examined sediment cores from the coast of Israel with evidence of an ancient tsunami (postdoctoral scholar Gilad Shtienberg). They also had the opportunity to interact with equipment used in marine archeology (graduate student Loren Clark) and virtual reality headsets showing archeology sites in the Middle East (research scientist and Ph.D. alumnus Neil Smith). Looking toward the future, Levy was pleased to announce that Smith would serve as the new co-director of the QI’s CCAS.

All in all, Levy observed, it was the kind of event Norma Kershaw loved to attend.

Philanthropic gifts, like the bequest from Norma Kershaw, contribute to the Campaign for UC San Diego — a university-wide comprehensive fundraising effort concluding on June 30, 2022. Alongside UC San Diego’s philanthropic partners, the university is continuing its nontraditional path toward revolutionary ideas, unexpected answers, lifesaving discoveries and planet-changing impact. Learn more about the Center for Cyber-Archeology and Sustainability, Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego and UC San Diego’s School of Social Sciences. Information is also available about the many ways to give to UC San Diego.