Professor Michael MacKinnon first started his career at the University of Winnipeg in 2002. He started off in the Department of Anthropology and now teaches in the Department of Classics.
He studies and does research on how animals contribute to the world in Greek and Roman antiquity.
“Some of that certainly encompasses aspects that are related in archaeology, in general, that we can apply to any culture, wherever it may be,” MacKinnon says. “So that sort of fits neatly into the world of anthropology - reconstructing people’s lives, no matter where they are – past, present, globally.”
Over the course of his career, MacKinnon has visited 60 different archaeological sites, including Rome and Pompeii, in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Albania, Turkey and more.
One story MacKinnon likes to tell is a “poignant tale of the care of an animal 2,000 years ago.”
“There’s one dog that we found in a burial ground in Carthage, in North Africa. That burial ground dates to the third, fourth century … And this dog was put in its own grave in a human cemetery, and it’s common they’ll put dogs with humans,” he says.
“But this dog was in its own grave and had more precious grave goods than the humans did,” MacKinnon says. “And the dog itself turned out to be a small little Maltese-type dog with great pathologies.”
He adds the dog lived to an old age, and it must have been fed special food, because it had no teeth left.
“It’s a helpful reminder to humanity that there’s a long trajectory for people, and that maybe understanding more of the aspects of how people operated in different places allows us to pull out the things that bind us to those people,” MacKinnon says.
“Hopefully we’ll appeal to a broader message of tolerance and all those wonderful things that we want to cultivate in societies today.”
What’s one thing you have learned from your students? Professors and students, it’s a mutual environment of learning from them. I’m a bit of a Luddite (someone who opposes new technology) when it comes to technology, so the students are certainly pushing me forward in terms of one who doesn’t have a cellphone to understand that world of social media to a bigger perspective.
What was your worst grade in university? My worst grade was a D in my first year. I got it in one course, but I won’t say which one because it may be the career path I’m doing right now. And I received it because I didn’t go to class as many times as I should have, I didn’t keep proper notes, and I didn’t keep up with the readings prior and subsequent. So I guess three bits of advice.
What’s one of your favourite things about yourself? I think I have a good sense of wit and humour, and those two aspects have been instrumental in my upbringing. My family’s always been one who like to joke around and tell good puns … (and) use humour in a very creative, witty type of way. I’ve always been a big advocate of humour.
Published in Volume 72, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 23, 2017)