Archaeologist Mark McCoy: Evidence of first chief indicates Pacific islanders invented a new society on city they built of coral and basalt

SMU Research

Originally Posted: October 18, 2016

New analysis of chief’s tomb suggests island’s monumental structures are earliest evidence of chiefdom in Pacific — yielding new keys to how societies emerge and evolve

New dating on the stone buildings of Nan Madol suggests the ancient coral reef capital in the Pacific Ocean was the earliest among the islands to be ruled by a single chief.

The discovery makes Nan Madol a key locale for studying how ancient human societies evolved from simple societies to more complex societies, said archaeologist Mark D. McCoy, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. McCoy led the discovery team.

The finding was uncovered as part of a National Geographic expedition to study the monumental tomb said to belong to the first chief of the island of Pohnpei.

McCoy deployed uranium series dating to determine that when the tomb was built it was one-of-a-kind, making it the first monumental scaled burial site on the remote islands of the Pacific.

The discovery enables archaeologists to study more precisely how societies transform to more and more complex and hierarchical systems, said McCoy, an expert in landscape archaeology and monumental architecture and ideology in the Pacific Islands.

“The kind of society that we live in today, it wasn’t born last year, or even 100 years ago,” McCoy said. “It has its roots in a pre-modern era like Nan Madol where you have a king or chief. These islanders invented a new kind of society — that is a socially creative achievement. The idea of chiefs, someone in charge, is not a new thing, but it’s an extremely important precursor. We know tribes and bands predate chiefdoms and states. But it’s not a straight line. By looking at these intermediate stages we get insight into that social phenomenon.”

The analysis is the first time uranium-thorium series dating, which is significantly more precise than previously used radiocarbon dating, was deployed to calculate the age of the stone buildings that make up the famous site of Nan Madol (pronounced Nehn Muh-DOLL) – the former capital of the island of Pohnpei.

“The thing that makes this case special is Nan Madol happened in isolation, it happened very recently, and we have multiple lines of evidence, including oral histories to support the analysis,” McCoy said. ”And because it’s an island we can be much more specific about the natural resources, the population, all the things that are more difficult when people are on a continent and all connected. So we can understand it with a lot more precision.”

Nan Madol, which UNESCO this year named a World Heritage Site, was previously dated as being established in A.D. 1300. McCoy’s team narrowed that to just a 20-year window more than 100 years earlier, from 1180 to 1200.

The finding pushes back even earlier the establishment of the powerful dynasty of Saudeleur chiefs who asserted authority over the island society for more than 1,000 years. READ MORE

“Gender Migration” by Dr. Caroline Brettell, Ruth Collins Altshuler Prof of Anthropology, director of the Interdisciplinary Institute

SMU Research

Originally Posted: October 13, 2016

Gender roles, relations, and ideologies are major aspects of migration. In a timely book on the subject, SMU anthropologist Caroline B. Brettell argues that understanding gender relations is vital to a full and more nuanced explanation of both the causes and the consequences of migration, in the past and at present.

Gender and Migration (Polity, 2016) explores gendered labor markets, laws and policies, and the transnational model of migration. With that, Brettell tackles a variety of issues such as how gender shapes the roles that men and women play in the construction of immigrant family and community life, debates concerning transnational motherhood, and how gender structures the immigrant experience for men and women more broadly.

“I have been working on the intersections of gender and migration since graduate school days and beginning with my dissertation research on Portuguese migrant women in France,” Brettell said. “Turning the lens of gender on population mobility reveals dimensions that might not otherwise be visible.”

Brettell is Ruth Collins Altshuler Professor of Anthropology and director of the Interdisciplinary Institute at Southern Methodist University.

The book will appeal to students and scholars of immigration, race and ethnicity, and gender studies and offers a definitive guide to the key conceptual issues surrounding gender and migration.

Anthropologist Brettell is an internationally recognized immigration expert on how the technology boom affects immigration, trends of new immigration gateway cities such as Dallas, Atlanta and Minneapolis and the challenges of women immigrants. Her research focus includes anthropology of Europe; migration and ethnicity; folk religion; and cross-cultural perspectives on gender.

An immigrant herself, Brettell was born in Canada and became a U.S. citizen in 1993. READ MORE

Archaeologist Meltzer Discusses First People in New World

Hamilton College News

Originally Posted: October 5, 2016

Students and faculty nearly filled the Kennedy Auditorium to hear Southern Methodist  University  anthropology professor and archaeologist David J. Meltzer give a talk titled, “The Pleistocene Peopling of the Americas: What We Know, Don’t Know and Argue About Endlessly.”  Morris, the Morris Fellow Visiting Speaker lectured on Oct. 4.

With insight, clarity and even some humor, Meltzer discussed issues surrounding the people of the Americas, drawing on both archaeological and genetic data to guide the audience through competing theories meant to answer persistent ruminations about Pleistocene people. Early in the lecture, he posed a few questions, including but not limited to: “Who were the first Americans?” and “Where did they come from?”

Initially, archaeologists were skeptical that people could have come to the New World before Clovis times. While Meltzer was sincere in conceding that there is much we still do not know because of insufficient data, he asserted, “What we do know is that Clovis is really the first significant presence in the New World, which does not preclude the possibility that people came earlier.”

In order to arrive at this conclusion, Meltzer suggested that archaeological evidence and genetic evidence complemented each other. Inferences from mutation rates, for example, show that people have been present in the New World before Clovis times. But, for Meltzer, “this is a problematic inference to make.” Although “genetics tells a huge part of the story,” he cautioned, to confirm this theory, “we needed an archaeological site,” which was eventually obtained with the discovery of the Monte Verde site in southern Chile.

Throughout his lecture, Meltzer also examined persuasive evidence to support the following additional findings: the archaeological community is “reasonably confident” that the first Americans came from Asia and finds it “very unlikely” that large mammals like mammoths were hunted to extinction by the Pleistocene people who migrated to North America. Rather, while the introduction of people to North America was accompanied by the extinction of over 30 genera, this is largely coincidental.

Thanks to his highly informative talk, audience members walked away with a better understanding of the current status of Pleistocene research as well as our own human ancestors, who came to this continent well over 10,000 years ago.

Meltzer received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle, ultimately earning degrees in both anthropology and archaeology. Since then, the results of his research have been published in over 150 publications; some of his published books include The Great Paleolithic War: How Science Forged an Understanding of America’s Ice Age Past, First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America and Folsom: New Archaeological Investigations. READ MORE

In Memoriam — Victoria Lockwood

Originally Posted: October 4, 2016

From the SMU Office of the President:


It is with great sadness that we inform you that Victoria Lockwood, Associate Professor of Anthropology, passed away today.  Arrangements are pending at this time.  We send our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Professor Lockwood.

Gifts in honor of Dr. Lockwood may be mailed to the Anthropology Department, c/o Tiffany Powell, P.O. Box 750336, Dallas, TX 75275-0336 

CLICK HERE to make a gift online.


Professor Brettell presents on U.S. immigration policies

Daily Collegian

Originally Posted: September 28, 2016

29938937146_3485a818cf_z-e1475029963414Anthropologist Caroline Brettell, a professor at Southern Methodist University, presented the lecture “Gender and Migration of U.S. Immigration policies” on Tuesday, Sept. 27 in the Campus Center. In her lecture, hosted by the department of anthropology, she talked about the relationship between gender and the causes and consequences of migration.

Brettell began the lecture by introducing a story about a woman from India whose husband worked in Texas, went back to India to marry her, and brought her back to the United States. Although the woman was educated in the U.S., she was unable to continue working due to her visa status.

Required to start over, the woman went to classes at the local community college. She succeeded in getting a job, and a green card along with her husband, but stopped shortly after the birth of her child.

Brettell went on to talk about gender biases and the gender dimensions of the late 1800s. During this time, there were many regulations set up for Chinese immigrants. Around this time, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed, and it prohibited all Chinese immigrants who were labor workers.

Brettell also spoke about how different genders played a role in the United States’ immigration policies. For example, the Page Act of 1875 restricted the immigration of Chinese women. “Men’s efforts to bring their wives to the U.S. were generally met with hostility,” added Brettell.

She referred to the years that followed as an era of restriction. The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed into the U.S., for example. Brettell also discussed the preference quotas of The Immigration Act of 1965.

Brettell closed on the topic of illegal immigrants, looking at the present and to the future. She also discussed two recently signed immigration acts, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.

Brettell tied in the recent presidential debate and her disapproval of the symbolism of the wall that Trump proposes to make Mexicans build along the border of the U.S. and Mexico. After Brettell’s lecture, she opened up questions and comments from the audience.

Emiliana Cruz, a member of the audience and an assistant professor of anthropology, asked how much revenue the U.S. Embassies make in regard to visa requests. Brettell responded that she has “never seen anything” relating to that issue. Brettell did say that many undocumented immigrants come into the U.S. with a tourist visa, but they overstay that visa, presumably because the U.S. is so restrictive when it comes to giving out work visas, green cards, and citizenships.

Tuesday night’s event was part of the Social Science Matters series from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Brettell presented her lecture as part of this year’s series theme, “Perspectives on Migration.” READ MORE

Ron Wetherington, Anthropology, standards for teaching evolution still a battle

My Statesman

Originally Posted: September 26, 2016

A state committee has drafted preliminary recommendations that would no longer require Texas public high school biology teachers to teach theories that challenge the scientific understanding of evolution.

The State Board of Education has tasked a 10-member committee of school district officials and scholars to whittle down the state’s biology curriculum standards, also called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The streamlining comes as teachers have long complained that the amount of material the state requires them to teach in all subjects is too voluminous to cover in a school year.

At its July meeting, a majority of the biology committee took a preliminary vote to remove, among others, four curriculum standards that some members say challenge the theory of evolution.

Skeptics of evolution say the standards in question — out of 58 total biology standards — are meant to spur students’ critical thinking on scientific evidence that evolution can’t readily explain. Evolution proponents say the four standards promote the teaching of creationism and intelligent design.

“I don’t advocate for any kind of creationism to be taught in the school. That does not belong in the TEKS. I’m simply concerned about the fair representation of the evidence for evolution,” said Ray Bohlin, one of two committee members who opposed removing the four standards. Bohlin works for Probe Ministries in Plano and holds a doctorate in cell and molecular biology.

Fellow committee member Ron Wetherington, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University, said he and others voted to remove the standards because they are redundant and irrelevant.

“How can we improve the TEKS by paring it down and giving you more time to teach what you need to teach? For the most part, we were looking at duplications, non sequitur and grammatical problems, and other structural problems in the TEKS that made it difficult to interpret,” Wetherington said.

He said he believes the standards he wants to remove promote creationism and intelligent design, but that wasn’t the primary reason he’s in favor of striking them. READ MORE

SMU students earn fellowships to conduct research during summer of 2016


Originally Posted: August 10, 2016

For five SMU students, the summer of 2016 wasn’t a walk on the beach. It was an international research adventure instead.

Benjamin Chi, Abigail Hawthorne, Sara Jendrusch, Katherine Logsdon and Yasaman Sahba traveled far and wide this summer conducting research on topics ranging from diabetes in China to performance anxiety among musicians thanks to prestigious Richter Research Fellowships earned through SMU’s University Honors Program. In conducting their research, they joined fellow students Preksha Chowdhary and Anthony Jeffries, who embarked on their projects earlier this year as SMU’s 2016 Richter Research Fellows.

SMU is one of only 12 universities that offer the competitive fellowships, which are supported by the Paul K. and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Funds. To qualify for a Richter grant, a student needs to be an honors student in good standing.

“My research this summer has been a life-changing experience for me,” says Richter fellow Hawthorne.   “Mental health – and opinions of self-worth often so closely connected to professional artists’ careers – is rarely discussed, and I am hoping my research will help to change some of the negative stigmas associated with experiences of anxiety.”

Details about each student’s project can be viewed below:

Benjamin Chi in Harbin, China

“Diabetes among Rural Immigrants moving to Chinese Cities”

During the summer of 2016 Chi traveled to Harbin, China, to conduct original research on diabetes in China, where it is reaching epidemic proportions. The problem appears especially acute among the migrant populations who have moved in great numbers from the country’s rural villages to its largest cities, such as Harbin. Mentored by a medical professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chi observed patients at a medical clinic and conducted interviews and surveys in a search for causes of the spread of diabetes. With this original research Chi had the chance to contribute significantly to the study of diabetes and its potential causes.

Abigail Hawthorne in Durango, Colorado

“Performance Anxiety among Classical Music Players”

Abigail traveled to a summer music festival to interview classical music performers and gauge their level of performance anxiety. Combining her double majors of music and psychology, this project allowed her to investigate an issue that she herself has often struggled with. In addition to the qualitative interviews, Abigail also distributed a set of written questions so she could develop preliminary quantitative data as well. With the mentoring of her professor in the Psychology Department, Abigail intends to seek publication for the final results of this study.

Sara Jendrusch in London,

Prostitution in the United Kingdom & the United States: A Comparative Study”

Sara traveled to London to further her research into prostitution in modern society. Having pursued the American half of her comparative study here in Dallas, Sara volunteered in a handful of British shelters that assist women and men seeking to leave prostitution. She also conducted informal interviews with current prostitutes as well. Her research project asked the question: What is the life of a prostitute like today in these two countries? Are conditions better or worse than in past historical periods? And how has an increase in human trafficking world-wide impacted prostitution?

Katherine Logsdon in Amsterdam, Netherlands

“Pain in Childbirth: Exploring Pain Management Techniques and Perceptions of Childbirth Pains in Dutch Women”

Katherine traveled to Amsterdam this summer for her second trip studying the Dutch society where almost 50 percent of children are still born at home using traditional childbirth techniques. Despite its status as a highly industrialized and western society, the Netherlands has chosen not to turn to the modern methods used in the United States and other industrialized societies, where the vast majority of births are performed in hospitals. Katherine’s work contrasts the pain management techniques used in more traditional midwife practices with those employed in American hospitals. Her field work included shadowing four Dutch midwives as well as conducting numerous interviews with their patients. Katherine has now been at work on this project for three years and the final product will serve as her Honors or Distinction thesis in her health and society major. Katherine also is working with her faculty mentor, Professor Carolyn Smith-Morris, to submit an article for publication in a scholarly journal.

Yasaman Sahba in Llojlla Grande, Bolivia

“Rural Electrification in Bolivia”

Yasaman traveled to the small village of Llojlla Grande in Bolivia, where the country’s government and international NGOs are involved in a project to establish dependable and affordable electrical service. Bolivia is a rich area for this work, as it is currently sponsoring a number of such efforts throughout the country, mostly in rural areas. Yasaman will not only work as a volunteer on this project, but will observe and record her own notes on the relative success of the project – or lack thereof – for the local population.   

Anthony Jeffries in Washington, D.C.

“A Tragedy of Timing: An Examination of the Chief Justiceship of Roger Brooke Taney”

Pursuing an Honors or Distinction thesis in History, Anthony used his Richter Fellowship funding to travel to the Library of Congress, and the National Archives to research the decisions of Chief Justice Roger Taney – author of the now-infamous Dred Scott Decision of 1854 – that helped push the United States toward the Civil War six years later. Preliminary work and secondary source readings have led Anthony to the conclusion that Taney is not simply the notorious figure we remember him as today, but was rather a victim of his time. Anthony concluded few justices could have weathered the difficulties Taney faced.

Preksha Chowdhary in Rajasthan, India

“Information and Resources for Victims of Domestic Violence”

Preksha worked with Rick Halperin, director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, to put together generic care packets for abused women in an Indian city. Then, working within two local shelters for victims of domestic violence, Preksha interviewed a series of women who found themselves forced to leave their families to seek safety from abuse. The primary focus of the research is to determine how and when a woman decides that violence can no longer be endured. With an eye toward possible preventative strategies in the future, Preksha gathered as much pertinent information on these vulnerable women as possible. READ MORE

Anthropology professor David J. Meltzer profiled in the latest issue of Mammoth Trumpet

Mammoth Trumpet

Originally Posted: August 2016

SMU anthropology professor David J. Meltzer has been profiled in the latest issue of Mammoth Trumpet published by the center for the Study of First Americans at Texas A & M. Congratulations!




Dedman College Undergraduate and Health and Society Major, Lauren Zabaleta, Receives Panahellenic Scholarship

Redlands Daily Facts

Originally Posted: July 4, 2016

Lauren Zabaleta, a graduate of Redlands High School, is a senior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She is a member of the inaugural class of the health and society major at SMU, an interdisciplinary program that combines biology, chemistry, psychology and anthropology. Her minor is business administration.

She is vice president of member education for her Kappa Alpha Theta chapter. Zabaleta works in the SMU Office of Undergraduate Admissions as a student ambassador and tour guide.

Her experiences as a volunteer and intern for Prevent Blindness Texas have inspired her to become an optometrist.

She was a member of SMU NCAA Division I cross country and track team and club soccer team manager and has received All-American Athletic Conference academic honors.

Redlands Area Panhellenic Association was founded in 1949.

Since 1982, it has awarded 83 Panhellenic scholarships to young women who are initiated members of National Panhellenic Council sororities and who are from the greater Redlands area.

Next year’s scholarship applications, requirements and information are available READ MORE

Dr. Susan Harper, Feminist Witch, Invokes Goddesses to Show Women the Power in Themselves

Dallas Observer

Originally Posted: June 28, 2016

Dr. Susan Harper isn’t the first woman to be called a “feminist witch.” She’s just one of the few who don’t mind. Why should she? She has traveled far, spiritually and geographically, to earn the title.

 Professionally, Harper is the graduate reader at Texas Woman’s University, editing and offering guidance to graduate students completing dissertations. Her own, which earned her a doctorate in anthropology from SMU, was about paganism in Texas. READ MORE