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An Exciting First Year

Visiting the site on Edisto Island, South Carolina, excavated by Thaddeus Bissett and Martin Walker of the PhD program.

Alex Bentley, Professor and Head, visiting the site on Edisto Island, South Carolina, excavated by Thaddeus Bissett and Martin Walker of the PhD program.

Greetings UT anthropology community! It has been an exciting year for me as the new head of anthropology. What a year! My family and I love Knoxville and have been to see half a dozen different Vols sports – suffice it to say I have never sat in a stadium with 100,000 people before! I also attended two wonderful UT graduation ceremonies – winter and summer – and noted anthropology students listed among the very top students in the college, among other many anthropology student accolades you’ll read about in this newsletter.

When I think back on the past academic year, I also vividly recall the news of Hurricane Harvey. Two of our newest professors, Caela O’Connell and Raja Swamy, got NSF grants to do anthropological study of the societal after effects of Harvey – their studies are ongoing and will reveal the challenges that people face in the long term recovery after a natural disaster.

The archaeology in the department is an amazing legacy to inherit. The local cave art discoveries being made by Jan Simek, and recorded in 3-D detail by his colleague Stephen Alvarez of National Geographic, promise to be astounding in the years ahead as they are revealed through scholarly publication and journalism. Consulting with Cherokee and Chickasaw leaders, Ellen Lofaro and her staff have quietly made consistent progress in the process of repatriating prehistoric human remains excavated since early last century. Barbara Heath is beginning to make game-changing archaeological discoveries at Coan Hall in Virginia, documenting one of the earliest colonial settlements in early 17th century North America.

In biological anthropology, I was astounded by all the Forensic Anthropology Center achieves in the classroom, the Anthropological Research Facility and the laboratory. It is a well-oiled machine. In other forensic research, Richard Jantz, Graciela Cabana, and doctoral student Frankie West have very likely identified Pacific Island the crash site of Amelia Earhart, 80 years after this mystery began. This project has been funded by National Geographic and I am guessing there may be a new feature program in the near future!

Ben Auerbach and doctoral students are publishing in the highest journals of science and receiving grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation. At Monash University in Australia last fall, Auerbach and colleagues made CT-scans of hundreds of marsupial skeletons, yielding the largest database of its kind. This digital anatomical database will be used to document marsupial evolution in unsurpassed detail and complexity.

In all these activities are our students. I have taught at a half dozen universities, in two countries, and yet I have never encountered students with such passion, creativity, and focus as here at UT anthropology. They are, of course, inspired by a passionate, creative, and highly productive group of faculty and staff here in the anthropology department. This newsletter barely scratches the surface, so I hope you will come by and see for yourself sometime in our new home in Strong Hall!

Alex Bentley
Professor and Head
Department of Anthropology