Laura Tedesco grew up in Atlanta before attending Emory University. In her freshman year, to fulfill a science requirement, she took an Anthropology 101 class. This sparked a passion in Archaeology and would lead her into her future career. A summer in Cyprus assisting on an archaeological excavation cemented for her the decision to pursue a post-graduate degree in Archaeology, which she would take at NYU under the guidance of Professor Emerita Rita Wright. A further summer was spent in Armenia soon after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, where she helped excavate a Urartian fortress on a joint American-Armenian expedition. She received a PhD in Anthropological Archaeology with a thesis on copper metallurgy in the Bronze Age, and she worked for a period at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a fellow, educator, and editor, through which she participated in a Met-sponsored dig in Syria, first in 1998, then in 2000.
Speaking French, Armenian, Russian, and Arabic, in 2010 she began working for the State Department, and was dispatched to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. This period was the peak in US military deployment, diplomacy, and funding in the region, and Tedesco lived and worked there for 16 months, housed in a renovated shipping container as her apartment. Laura was hired to help guide cultural preservation projects on behalf of the State Department, a wide-ranging and ever-evolving task as highlighted by the projects she was involved with.
Encompassing both tangible and intangible heritage, Laura travelled across the country, overseeing the preservation of archaeological sites, artifacts, monuments, and museums; two famous minarets in the city of Ghazni, dating from the 11th to 12th centuries, were laser scanned in 2010 as a resource for future preservation efforts; alongside Mr. Omara Khan Masoudi, the general director of the National Museum in Kabul, Laura helped support the Afghan government in the international competition to design the new museum building; as well as restoration and preservation efforts in Mes Aynak, an incredibly rich Buddhist archaeological site that is also the world’s second largest copper deposit, the Noh Gonbad Mosque in the historic city of Balkh (maybe the oldest mosque in Central Asia), and the Herat Citadel, a legendary example of Timurid architecture.
She arranged and organised the publishing of ‘Afghanistan’s Heritage: Restoring Spirit and Stone’, a book intended for free circulation throughout the country. And with the financial support of the State Department, she supported the University of Chicago in progressing in their project reconstructing shattered Buddha heads destroyed in the National Museum of Kabul shortly after the obliteration of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001. Found at the site of Hadda, in Nangarhar province, the shards and fragments were quietly collected by the museum’s staff after their destruction, and it was only decades later that there was a team ready to painstakingly restore them, piece by piece.
She has since made more than 45 trips to Afghanistan since 2010, as well as working in Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Since the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, she has been involved with projects in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. In the latter, she has been helping coordinate an effort between the State Department, the Getty, and the National Museum of Turkmenistan to conserve a Buddha head that is 1,500 years old. Laura continues to be involved with the cultural heritage work of Afghanistan, maintaining contact with the many Afghans she worked with over the years.
In July 2021, a documentary podcast called “Monuments Woman” premiered, with Dr. Tedesco speaking with her long-time friend George Gavrilis about her career and experiences working in Afghanistan. An intimate and thought-provoking listen, it can be found on all major podcast listening platforms.