Meet the Team

Marike van Aerde is our team leader and research supervisor. She is currently a Lecturer at the Archaeology Faculty of Leiden University. Her doctoral research was focused on connectivity between ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean, and has since expanded to include trade networks across the Indian Ocean, all the way from Egypt to India. Two of her current focus points are Egyptian sea ports and the study and preservation of rock carvings in the Karakorum mountains.

Her previous fieldwork included campaigns in Greece and on the Palatine Hill in Rome. She is now actively collaborating with researchers in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for new fieldwork and transregional studies. She has gathered this team of young archaeologists to develop her new project.

During her studies, she has lived in Rome and London, where she also worked as stage manager and writer for various theatre productions, and exhibited original artwork. She has campaigned for the preservation of global biodiversity and cultural heritage. And she is pretty good at folding origami.


Sam Botan is our ceramics specialist. He has extensive fieldwork experience in the Near East and knows his way around a museum.  As part of our team, he is researching ancient trade connections between East Africa and India.

He loves talking about archaeology and games - something he can be seen doing in Leiden's many cafés. You may hear about the time he was excavating in Iraki-Kurdistan and had to tread around landmines to get to the site (while at the same time taking pictures with the army commander).


Rishika Dhumal specializes  in ancient port sites and trade centres across  India, her home country, and Sri Lanka. She began her research as an MA graduate from Leiden University, and is now expanding her work as part of our team, with ongoing excavations and collaborations in India.

Marvel comics make her nearly as enthusiastic as finding Aksumite pottery in Gujarat. And one of her long-term dreams is finding the next 'Rosetta Stone' - so that the ancient Harappan script may  finally be deciphered.


Abdul Ghani Khan's expertise is the study of ancient rock carvings, especially Buddhist carvings, from northern Pakistan, his home country.  He completed his MA (Gold Medal) and MPhil at Hazara University, and as part of our team he aims to continue his work by means of the latest scientific methods, so that people worldwide can access and benefit from the research. He has much experience conducting excavations and surveys - and enjoys reading books, playing indoor games and cooking in his spare time.  


Alex Mohns is the team's fieldwork coordinator. He can usually be found out in the field exploring opportunities to excavate or survey, and tackling the practical sides of archaeological research. No wonder he likes to call himself a "Silk Road Scout".  Like the rest of the team, his passion for archaeology runs deep. At home, his adventures continue in the kitchen and the bouldering hall. It is moments like seeing the Jordan fortress of Qasr Al Bashir in the empty desert that keep drawing him to the field.


Beatriz Gomez de Silva is the team's freelance digital archaeologist. She creates Geo-referenced (GIS) maps for many of our data analyses and publications, and knows her way around all kinds of digital research tools, including 3D modelling.

She is also an energetic field archaeologist: she unearthed a medieval grave in Leiden, and has epic memories of excavating in Cyprus. She is a passionate skateboarder and writes and directs her own theatre plays.     


Lenneke de Lange is our PR agent. She collects the stories of the team and makes them available to the public. She manages this website, along with the team's Twitter and Instagram accounts (do check them out!). 

She is a fervent gamer and Lego-lover, both preferably with an archaeological twist. She is still thrilled by the time she was believed to be an American spy when returning from fieldwork in Turkey.