In an era when scientific knowledge among the public is dwindling and science education is under attack, I have developed a commitment to public science education. I share my fascination of biological anthropology and archaeology with the general public by giving public lectures, both in the US and Peru. I give yearly lectures to the Medical Explorers Program, organized by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in which high school students learn about careers in science, healthcare, and related fields. Advanced undergraduates and graduate students in bioarchaeology often assist me in overseeing the osteology lab component of this outreach program. I have also given interactive video lectures to middle school students located far from Vanderbilt’s campus through the Vanderbilt Virtual School.This is a great way to share the wonders of archaeology and biology with curious students, particularly those in rural areas in the southeastern US. In addition to outreach lectures to school children, I occasionally give lectures to the Nashville community, sponsored by such groups as the Rotary Club of Nashville and the City of Nashville, Parthenon Speakers Committee.
If you are also interested in science education for the public, particularly as it relates to the teaching of evolution in public schools, please visit the website for the National Center for Science Education.
Lecturing in Ayacucho
In Peru, I give annual lectures to university students at the Universidad de San Cristóbal de Huamanga in Ayacucho, as well as public lectures to the Ayacucho community, which are organized by either the National Institute of Culture-Ayacucho or Huamanga University. My students and I also give informal lectures to Peruvian school children that visit our osteology lab at the National Institute of Culture in Ayacucho.
Museo de la Memoria
My students and I have also collaborated with volunteers and staff at the Museum of Memory in Ayacucho.
The region of Ayacucho ( Huamanga ) was the center of a violent conflict between Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Peruvian military in the 1980s to 1990s. Sadly, that conflict led to the death of tens of thousands of peasants and Ayacucho city dwellers, and many of those victim’s bodies are now being recovered by human rights groups staffed with forensic anthropologists. Our bioarchaeology team sometimes confers with those forensic investigations, sharing resources and consulting on cases to identify skeletal trauma.
Many of the women in Huamanga who lost loved ones have come together to build the Museo de la Memoria (Museum of Memory) para que no se repita (so that these [violent events/injutsices] won’t be repeated (see photo above). My former student Ella Wilhoit wrote her Senior Honor’s Thesis about this museum. She is now an anthropology graduate student at Northwestern.
I also participate in science outreach for girls and young women in Middle Tennessee, such as the TWISTER event organized by the Adventure Science Center in Nashville (TWISTER- Tennessee Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Research). The event encourages young women to pursue higher education and consider majors (and careers) in the sciences. My graduate students and I often participate in this exciting and rewarding event.
The most comprehensive and far-reaching public outreach I have done involved a television series on the Discovery Channel entitled, “Mummy Autopsy”. These investigations were aimed at showing the general public how bioarchaeological and forensic research is conducted. These studies were undertaken with four excellent colleagues: James Murrell, Ken Nystrom, John Schultz, and Heather Walsh-Haney.
I was involved in 12 different bioarchaeological investigations that examined the various cultural contexts of the deaths of ancient peoples, and when possible, we documented the mechanism of death (e.g., lethal blunt force trauma and/or stabbing wounds on a skeleton). Some of the bioarchaeological case studies inlcuded analysis of the following: a skeleton of a Macedonian soldier; a group of Tiwanaku era adult and child burials recovered from a cave in the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia; a presumed sacrificed man from the site of Cajamarquilla in Lima, Peru; a traumatic death of a post-Wari adolescent male from the site of Beringa in Majes valley, Peru; Nasca trophy heads recovered from the site of Cahuachi; 19th century burials from the Pacific War between Peru and Chile; an Anglo-Saxon burial group in Canterbury, England; and a skeletonized frontiersman from 19th century Wyoming.
The executive producers of “Mummy Autopsy” were Kate Botting and Ruth Sessions—an amazing pair that were superb ‘quick studies’ of bioarchaeology.
See the web photo gallery of shots that were taken during the various months of filming in 2004 and 2005.