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New Beginnings for Fall 2017

ALEX BENTLEYThis fall, faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Anthropology begin a new semester in a new, state-of-the-art building – Strong Hall. Our department, located on the fourth and fifth floors, shares the new facilities with the Division of Biology and the Departments of Chemistry and Earth and Planetary Sciences. It is a landmark move for a department that has been in the bowels of Neyland Stadium since the early 1970s.

Archways from the original Sophronia Strong Hall tie a small portion of the history of the first women’s dormitory on campus to the present-day science facility. If you have yet to see the new building, I invite you to visit. It is an astounding structure filled with light and state-of-the-art lecture halls and laboratories. Display exhibits in the atrium will include live updates from a Martian rover mission in the future. An exquisitely landscaped setting with trees, pedestrian walkways, and two outdoor labs in the form of wildflower and rock gardens complete this unique, academic masterpiece.

“I’m settling into my wonderful new office and lab area,” wrote Associate Head David Anderson in an email to me this summer. “The department’s new facilities are fabulous…I can’t believe how fortunate we are to be in this building. I thought I would miss the stadium, but don’t at all!”

Strong Hall is a resounding success, but it also provided archaeological opportunities between the cottage and the new building near White Avenue — not quite above the Civil War trench of General Longstreet’s army while trying to retake Knoxville, but nevertheless a great deal of historical architecture of the early dormitory.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the new building, with great thanks to Benjamin Auerbach, associate professor, who helped design it and oversee the move, is the laboratory space. Nearly every faculty member has an individual lab across the hall from her or his office. This means separate historical and prehistoric/contact period archaeology labs, an ancient DNA lab, forensic anthropology labs, isotope archaeology labs, and more. Collection storage areas include sets of moveable shelving, which are centrally located near the offices and labs. These collections include the faunal research collection developed by Professor Walter Klippel, which is one of the most exhaustive collections of archaeological animal bones in the country and widely used by visiting researchers.

This year is also a year of considerable transition in faculty. One big piece of news is that after 40 years of service to the department, Professor Walter Klippel is retiring. Read more about his legacy in this article. After 10 years of service as associate head, Professor David Anderson will hand over this role at the end of the fall semester. He generously offered to stay one last semester to help this new department head get his feet! I am thrilled and honored to start this year as the new head of the department after two years at the University of Houston and 14 years in anthropology and archaeology departments at British universities. UT is a place I remembered fondly ever since I interviewed here in 2002 for a junior faculty position. I never gave up the dream! I inherit a well-oiled machine from previous heads Jan Simek, Andy Kramer, and Bill Bass, as well as a collegial, all-star faculty. I gather it helped at my job interview to point out I would not try to “fix what ain’t broke”! Finally, Associate Professors Trish Hepner and Ben Auerbach are on research sabbaticals this year.

I look forward to welcoming you in 2017 when you visit Knoxville for a football game or just to reconnect with your old college town and alma mater.

Alex Bentley
Professor and Head

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