For more than a decade, WSU molecular anthropologist Brian Kemp has teased out the ancient DNA of goose and salmon bones from Alaska, human remains from North and South America and human coprolites—ancient poop—from Oregon and the American Southwest.
His aim: use genetics as yet another archaeological record offering clues to the identities of ancient people and how they lived and moved across the landscape.
As head of the team studying the DNA of Naia, an adolescent girl who fell into a Yucatan sinkhole some 12,000 years ago, he has now helped illuminate the origins of the first people to inhabit the Americas and their possible connection to native people today.
“It’s incredible to make such a discovery,” said Kemp, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Anthropology. “It is an honor to be able to use the skills I have acquired to address classic questions about the entrance of humans into the Americas.”
Thirty-nine awards were presented recently to 45 WSU students—many in the College of Arts and Sciences—at the third annual Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) 2014.
The work of 192 students University-wide was detailed in 11 oral and 145 poster presentations open to faculty, staff, students, and guests. More than 100 judges evaluated the presentations. The judges included WSU emeriti faculty and retirees, faculty, staff, and post-doctoral students as well as experts from companies outside of WSU.
While many students from urban campuses traveled to participate, SURCA was made available to two place-bound students thanks to web conferencing provided by the Global Campus. A Pullman student studying abroad in Mexico and a WSU Vancouver student who was unable to attend SURCA in person talked “live” to their judges who were in the senior ballroom of the Compton Union Building.
When disease strikes in the developing world, like the current Ebola outbreak in Guinea, doctors, nurses and epidemiologists from international organizations fly in to help.
So do anthropologists.
Understanding local customs—and fears—can go a long way in getting communities to cooperate with international health care workers, says Barry Hewlett, a medical anthropologist at WSU Vancouver.
Otherwise medical efforts can prove fruitless, says Hewlett, who was invited to join the Doctors Without Borders Ebola team during a 2000 outbreak in Uganda. There are anthropologists on the current team in Guinea as well.
Before the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders started bringing in anthropologists, medical staff often had a difficult time convincing families to bring their sick loved ones to clinics and isolation wards. In Uganda, Hewlett remembers, people were afraid of the international health care workers.
“The local people thought that the Europeans in control of the isolation units were in a body parts business,” he says. “Their loved ones would go into the isolation units and they would never see them come out.”
Richard Daugherty expected to spend a few months excavating Makah Tribe artifacts uncovered by a storm in 1970. Instead, he spent 11 years helping the Makah uncover their history at the Ozette village site, leading one of the most well-known and nationally significant archaeological discoveries of the last century.
“Doc” Daugherty, as he was known by many of the Makah, died Feb. 22 in Pullman of bone cancer, at age 91.
The artifacts he helped to unearth — which were buried in a landslide and preserved for hundreds of years in wet clay — are on display at Neah Bay, on the Makah Reservation on the Olympic Peninsula. An additional 50,000 artifacts are in storage, in the tribe’s possession.
“He did a beautiful job of bringing ancestors to life for the people of today,” said state archaeologist Allyson Brooks. “His work was also foundational as far as our understanding of Pacific Northwest Native American history.”
Remember playing “The Oregon Trail” computer game in middle school? As a pioneer leading your family westward in a covered wagon, you hunted virtual deer, rabbits and bison—but not too many. You had to leave enough game animals alive to sustain your party until you reached Oregon. And along the way, you were subject to chance events such as snowstorms and snakebites, and the most dreaded fate: “You have died of dysentery.”
Yes, the game was delightfully unrealistic. But controlling the use of finite natural resources and adapting to changing conditions have been central to human survival in the American West for ages. In fact, WSU archaeologist Timothy Kohler and his partners in the Village Ecodynamics Project are using computer models to better understand the processes that affected prehistoric societies in the Southwest.