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Legendary Anthropologist Walter Klippel Retires

Walter KlippelWalter Klippel devoted his life to the study of animal remains from archaeological sites in order to understand past human behavior and the way in which archaeological remains are preserved over time.

Over the past 40 years, Professor Klippel has been an essential part of archaeology at UT, building its strong national reputation in southeastern prehistory, historical archaeology, and subsistence and taphonomic studies focused on zooarchaeology. These fields attract many high-quality undergraduate and graduate students who have gone on to careers in academia, museums, government, and cultural resource positions.

An internationally recognized authority in zooarchaeology, Klippel’s research covers prehistoric and historic sites in the Southeast and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States, the Caribbean, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. Klippel was the primary person overseeing training in the identification and analysis of animal remains within the department, using technical methods and equipment critical to modern research. Over the years, he has trained hundreds of our archaeological and biological anthropological students, including in the area of forensics.

Bones in a drawerWorking with the Forensic Anthropology Center, Klippel served on many graduate student committees and used the anthropological research facility for many of his taphonomic experiments. In a lasting contribution to forensic anthropology, Klippel discovered that evidence for squirrel gnawing can be used to help estimate time since death because squirrels do not gnaw on bones for at least a year after death. He also showed that raccoons, rats, squirrels, and opossums all leave distinctive, recognizable signatures.

Among his other contributions to the anthropology department, Klippel oversaw and expanded the extensive research collection of animal bones (first established by Paul Parmalee) now curated by others in the anthropology department and housed at the McClung Museum. The collection, which spans early prehistory to the 20th century, enriches the training of UT students and attracts visiting researchers from around the country and the world. The zooarchaeological materials in the Department of Anthropology, including over 11,000 skeletons in excellent condition, are regarded as one of the finest comparative research collections in Eastern North America, continually in use by students and outside researchers, and for TBI, FBI, and NCIS training in association with the Forensic Anthropology Center.