Looking back at summer 2007, I still cannot believe that the Academy of Achievement meeting was six years ago. Many events, people, and stories I heard are still very much alive in my recollections and have kept inspiring me ever since. Back in 2007, and just after the 46th International Achievement Summit, I finished my M.Sc. thesis at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, in which I presented the earliest evidence for the beginnings of metallurgy in Europe. My data demonstrated that the world’s earliest known evidence for metallurgy does not come from the Near East, as previously thought, but from the Balkans. More precisely, small pieces of the precious evidence, copper smelting slag, originated from a 7,000-year-old village in eastern Serbia that I investigated. These findings opposed the traditional theory on the beginnings of world metallurgy, and as such represented a scientific breakthrough that received significant attention from the academic community, as well as a wider regional and continental audience. The M.Sc. thesis was awarded the highly esteemed Petrie Prize for outstanding research achievement, which led to an offer to conduct Ph.D. research in Archaeometallurgy at University College London (UCL).
The United Kingdom government and the Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Foundation kindly secured more than half of the Ph.D. stipend through my supervisor, Prof. Thilo Rehren. Matching funds were secured through Serbian national institutions, which were approached after a high-impact media campaign I ran to raise visibility for this research. The first research results were published in 2010 in the highly rated Journal of Archaeological Science, and instantly led to cover stories in various magazines such as Science News and BBC History News. For the following two years, it was amongst the most downloaded archaeology papers worldwide. My supervisor and I used this momentum to prepare a grant application for the large-scale investigation of early metallurgy in Eurasia, with a team comprising the world’s experts in archeometallurgy. The UK Research Council granted us more than half a million British pounds to continue research in Serbia, which secured me the job as main project researcher at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. This project is the largest foreign investment in Serbian archaeology to date, as well as the largest archaeometallurgical project in the world today.
I submitted my dissertation in June 2012, and started my job in July 2012. This project will last for three years and produce key publications shedding more light on how and why metallurgy was discovered by prehistoric communities in Eurasia. The earliest copper and tin-bronze artifacts from the Balkans are among the major scientific surprises in the studies of Eurasian metallurgy and archaeology, and have altered the traditional narrative of the development of metallurgy that was once taught to every archaeology and history student.
Needless to say, I am immensely grateful for being able to follow my true passion in life. I feel blessed for the opportunity and unconditional support I keep receiving from my family, friends and colleagues. As a researcher, I am standing on the shoulders of giants, and I can never thank enough those who helped transform my enthusiasm and ideas into scientific pursuit. I feel blessed as well for having been recognized as a young leader by the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. Back in 2007 I felt almost misplaced among peers who were curing sinister diseases, helping impoverished societies, and improving the global economy and communications. The confidence I brought with me from the International Achievement Summit gave me strength and courage to aim higher.
“The worst sin is to be a spectator,” said Ellie Wiesel on that memorable night at the Summit. It still resonates as an inspirational quote that has led me through life’s challenges ever since. These were possible to overcome only with the synergies of many dear people, two of whom have a special place in my life, Catherine and Wayne Reynolds. I humbly thank them for offering me the chance to be part of the Academy of Achievement, and to join the family of the world’s excellence.