Skip to main content Skip to navigation
College of Arts and Sciences Anthropology

CAS leads top 20 WSU research stories of 2017

From rising inequality and declining Monarch butterfly populations to a particle with negative mass, news coverage about the College of Arts and Sciences research reached millions of people last year.

News outlets carrying the stories ran the gamut of the nation’s most popular media, including CNN, The Washington Post and National Public Radio, as well as specialty science publications like Science and all the region’s major news vehicles. » More …

2018 CAS faculty award recipients

CAS logo on white with borderEvery year, the College of Arts and Sciences recognizes faculty excellence in teaching, service, and career achievement. Congratulations to our 14 awardees for 2018: » More …

Nicotine identified in ancient dental plaque

A 1945 picture of a Yokuts Native American woman smoking a pipeA team of scientists including researchers from Washington State University has shown for the first time that nicotine residue can be extracted from plaque, also known as “dental calculus”, on the teeth of ancient tobacco users.

Their research provides a new method for determining who was consuming tobacco in the ancient world and could help trace the use of tobacco and other intoxicating plants further back into prehistory.

“The ability to identify nicotine and other plant-based drugs in ancient dental plaque could help us answer longstanding questions about the consumption of intoxicants by » More …

A mother’s microbial gift

Illustration by Colin JohnsonOld assumptions about human breast milk are giving way to new thinking about microbes in milk and their role in children’s health and our immune systems.

It happened again, most recently at a conference in Prague. After she gave her talk, a scientist came up to Shelley McGuire, a pioneer exploring the microbial communities found in human breast milk, and told her, You don’t know how to take a sample. Your samples must have been contaminated. Human milk is sterile. » More …

Master’s student blends overseas research, local outreach

Amanda TheilPassionate about plants and nearing graduation with a master’s in cultural anthropology, Amanda Thiel has traveled overseas for her research and educated elementary school children about botany.

Thiel went to rural Guatemala in the summer of 2016 to research ethnobotany, the study of how people use plants in their region. During her two-month stay, she interviewed Q’eqchi’ Maya villagers about the type of plants growing in their gardens, and used the information » More …

Charting wealth inequality across millennia

Researchers at Washington State University and 13 other institutions have found that the arc of prehistory bends towards economic inequality. In the largest study of its kind, the researchers saw disparities in wealth mount with the rise of agriculture, specifically the domestication of plants and large animals, and increased social organization.

Their findings, published this week in the journal Nature, have profound implications for contemporary society, as inequality repeatedly leads to social disruption, even collapse, said Tim Kohler, lead author and WSU Regents professor of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology at WSU. » More …

Challenging notions about cultural transmission

handheld chopper rockEvery day students, faculty, staff and administrators throughout Washington State University process a vast torrent of messages. Between lectures, reading assignments, tweets, texts, emails, advertisements, news stories and casual conversations, they’re processing countless discrete pieces of socially transmitted information. Much of this information is so advanced that Cougs can go on to breed new species of grain, track unappreciated sources of greenhouse gas and study the winds on Saturn.

Anthropologists call this process cultural transmission, and there was a time when it did not exist, when humans or more likely their smaller brained ancestors did not pass on knowledge. » More …

CAS students receive Carson, Auvil undergraduate research awards

portion of the cover of printed programA total of 10 College of Arts and Sciences students received two types of awards from the WSU Office of Undergraduate Research.

Recipients of the Carson and Auvil awards will work with faculty mentors throughout the 2017-18 academic year on research, scholarly and creative projects that advance or create new knowledge in a specific field. » More …

The people’s plants

hat woven from long leavesThe Dominican boy had a leaf draped over his head, secured with a length of vine. Anthropologist Marsha Quinlan was intrigued.

“I asked him, ‘Is that a hat?’” she recalls. “And he explained that, no, he woke up with a headache and the leaf makes your head feel better. And I thought that was so cool!”

Quinlan was a graduate student at the time, on her first trip to the Caribbean island of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic). And that was the moment she realized she had to delve further into ethnobotany. » More …

Holy smokes

smoke in the air over mountainsFor thousands of years, coyote and other types of wild tobacco have provided what many consider a versatile healing remedy and meditative, spiritual channel to the Creator. Much of the botanical lore was muddled, however, with the arrival of Europeans and subsequent cultural upheaval.

WSU researchers Shannon Tushingham and David Gang ’99 PhD are using a combination of archeology and high-end molecular chemistry to help identify and restore wild tobacco and other indigenous smoke plants used by Northwest Native groups.

» More …