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

Dale Winkler, Shuler Museum of Paleontology, featured in a series of essays on the Trinity Project, published on Frontburner

D Magazine, Frontburner

Originally Posted: October 11, 2016

In addition to Pioneer Cemetery, there’s another quiet space in Dallas that holds the bones of ancestors: the Shuler Museum of Paleontology, located on the SMU campus. The Shuler Museum has no fully assembled skeletons of prehistoric carnivores on premises or other dazzling displays (though the day I visited, there was a stack of giant turtle shells in plaster jackets in the hallway, outside the entrance). For one, the museum is a shoebox of a space located on the basement floor of the Earth Sciences building. There isn’t the room for that sort of thing. Second, the fossils here function as teaching and research collections. A casual visit from a non-expert like me requires an appointment and a great amount of patience from the host, which I received in abundance from vertebrate paleontologist and museum director Dale A. Winkler.

The museum is arranged library-style with mastodon tusks and similar large bones laid out neatly on gray industrial shelving, while smaller specimens — teeth, small bone, shell, scute, and more — are held in cabinets with pullout trays lined in soft material and organized by collection. The occasion for my visit was to view those specimens described by Bob H. Slaughter and others in the 1962 report “The Hill-Shuler Local Faunas of the Upper Trinity River, Dallas and Denton Counties, Texas.”

My questions, then as now, are basic: what kinds of animal roamed the area now known as the Great Trinity Forest? What kinds of plants and trees were present? What was the climate like? How was the Trinity River floodplain formed?

Answers to these questions can be supplied in part because there’s a fossil record, thanks to the efforts of Winkler, Slaughter, and Ellis W. Shuler, the person for whom the museum is named. Shuler was hired by SMU in 1915, the year it opened, to teach geology and related courses. He served as head of the Geology Department and Dean of Graduate Studies until his retirement, in 1953.

As a researcher, Shuler often wrote about subjects close at hand: dinosaur tracks at Glen Rose, geology of Dallas County, terraces of the Trinity, and vertebrate fossils in river deposits. In a 1934 report, he posited, “The industrial use of sand and gravel in the City of Dallas has uncovered almost daily over a period of 50 years bones of fossil elephants.” That’s because, according to Shuler, “the best preserved fossils are found in the sand terraces along the Trinity river about 50 feet above the present floodplain.”

He did more than observe Dallas’ “fossil elephants” (or more precisely, mammoths); he convinced the operators of local quarries, who routinely tossed fossil remains “aside on the dump heap,” to allow him to excavate. That’s no small task, getting a business to stop the wheels of progress to dig for fossil elephants. This is especially true for sand and gravel operations, which have been a lucrative enterprise in the Dallas area since at the early 1840s. Sand and gravel, then as now, provide the essential ingredients for building a modern city — roads, runways, structures, pipelines, culverts. A Dallas Morning News headline from 1946 says it all: “No Oil on Your Land? Then Try for Gravel.”

In the late 1950s, Slaughter continued the tradition Shuler had begun. He was given permission from Dallas quarry owners to excavate fossil-rich zones. Two of those quarries — called the Moore pit and the Wood pit — were located 700 yards apart in an area off South Loop 12 (now called South Great Trinity Forest Way). A third site, called Pemberton Hill, was situated 400 yards to the northwest of the Moore pit.

Labor at these three locations unearthed evidence of: ancient camel, bison, armadillo, sloth, saber-tooth cat, mastodon, mammoth, wolf, tapir, turtle, crocodile, eagle, a variety of horses, vole, mink, hare, and more.

During excavation at the Moore pit, one of the numerous clay balls regularly encountered in the sand was inadvertently sliced open. Inside was a coprolite (fossilized dung) that contained the hard parts of insects, later identified as: beetle, ant, bee, wasp, stink bug, leaf bug, cockroach, cricket, millipede, and centipede.

Slaughter and colleagues dated the alluvial deposits where specimens were found in excess of 37,000 years, or late Pleistocene. For an age comparison, the city of Dallas received its town charter a mere 160 years ago.

Once the Moore and Wood pits had been depleted of sand and gravel, and excavation stopped, another enterprise emerged in the early 1980s for which the citizens of Dallas continue to pay. The giant holes from mining were filled with trash — illegal, hazardous trash over a long period of time.

What Slaughter called the Wood pit, a mining operation located at the south end of Deepwood Street, was at the heart of Herman Nethery’s notorious Deepwood landfill. In 1997, the massive landfill caught fire and burned for 52 days. After an extensive environmental cleanup on the city’s dime, the site became the Trinity River Audubon Center in 2008.

Not all municipalities treat their mammoth sites the same way, and at least one North Texas gravel pit owner has reached out to paleontologists with an invitation to dig, rather than the other way around. The “fossil-rich alluvial terrace deposits” of Shuler’s and Slaughter’s time are of our time, too. What will we choose to do with the resources under our stewardship in the name of progress? 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

Research: Women hit harder by the pressures of elite academic science

SMU News

Originally Posted: October 12, 2016

We find that the fixed view of the ideal scientist has a significant impact on the ability of both women and men to stay in and succeed in academic science.” — Lincoln, Ecklund

Work life in academia might sound like a dream: summers off, year-long sabbaticals, the opportunity to switch between classroom teaching and research. Yet, when it comes to the sciences, life at the top U.S. research universities is hardly idyllic.

Based on surveys of over 2,000 junior and senior scientists, both male and female, as well as in-depth interviews, “Failing Families, Failing Science” examines how the rigors of a career in academic science makes it especially difficult to balance family and work.

SMU sociologist Anne Lincoln and Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund paint a nuanced picture that illuminates how gender, individual choices, and university and science infrastructures all play a role in shaping science careers, and how science careers, in turn, shape family life. They argue that both men and women face difficulties, though differently, in managing career and family.

“We spoke with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows about their professional and personal aspirations — their thoughts about entering academic science, as well as the struggles they face in trying to obtain an academic science position while starting a family,” write the authors. “We spoke with those who have ‘made it’ in science by obtaining positions as professors, asking them about the hardships they face as they try to balance devotion to work and family, and what kinds of strategies they use to overcome the difficulties. We also examined their potential to change the institutional infrastructure of science. Through our interviews, we were able to dig into some deeper issues.”

Numerous women the authors interviewed indicated they had to hide the fact they had children until they were confirmed for tenure, said the authors.

But they also found that family issues had an impact on career, and were a cause of concern, for men also.

” … many of those who are parents noted that their family commitments often negatively affect their opportunities for career advancement,” write the authors. “They say senior male scientists subtly and overtly sanction them for devoting themselves too much to their families — for example, criticizing them for not being fully devoted to their work when they take time off after the birth of a child.”

While women are hit harder by the pressures of elite academic science, the institution of science—and academic science, in particular—is not accommodating, possibly not even compatible, for either women or men who want to raise families.

Perhaps most importantly, their research reveals that early career academic scientists struggle considerably with balancing their work and family lives. This struggle may prevent these young scientists from pursuing positions at top research universities—or further pursuing academic science at all — a circumstance that comes at great cost to our national science infrastructure. — NYU Press. 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

NPR: How Domestic Violence In One Home Affects Every Child In A Class


Originally Posted: September 26, 2016

NPR journalist Gabrielle Emanuel covered the research of SMU government policy expert Elira Kuka for an All Things Considered segment on NPR as part of its series on “The Mental Health Crisis In Our Schools.” The segment examined the impact on an entire school classroom when one student is victimized by domestic violence at home.

Kuka, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Economics, and her colleagues found that new data shows violence in the home hinders the academic performance not only of the student who is abused, but also of their classmates, too.

Kuka’s research focus is on understanding how government policy affects individual behavior and well-being, the extent to which it provides social insurance during times of need, and its effectiveness in alleviation of poverty and inequality.

Her current research topics include the potential benefits of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, the protective power of the U.S. safety net during recessions and various issues in academic achievement. READ MORE

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

Special DPS – SMU Lecture! October 4

Tuesday, Oct 4th, 7:30 PM, 153 Heroy Hall, Southern Methodist University

Dr. Barbara Seuss of Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, will speak on “The Buckhorn Asphalt Quarry – An upper Carboniferous ‘Impregnation Lagerstätte’ “. In the Arbuckles near Sulphur, Oklahoma, a Pennsylvanian asphalt seep preserved aragonitic shells, tiny larvae and protoconchs, and delicate ornamentation and microstructure of many species. The deposit contains the best preserved Paleozoic molluscs in the world. Dr. Seuss will discuss the geology of the deposit, its facies and fauna, isotopic analyses, and bio-erosion and predation observed in some of the fossils. SMU faculty, students, and DPS members and friends are invited to this free lecture. Parking will be free in the lot just W of Heroy Hall.

For more information:
Dr. Bonnie Jacobs, Professor
Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences SMU

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

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Campus carry in Texas: At what cost?

The Star Telegram

Originally Posted: September 18, 2016

The predictions last year were ominous.

Allowing concealed handguns on Texas college campuses could create conflict and cost around $50 million over the next few years.

But now, more than a month since campus carry became law, the only real cost — just a fraction of the original projections — has been to put up signs on college campuses statewide letting people know where licensed Texans may not carry concealed guns.

“This has been much ado about nothing,” said state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, who authored campus carry. “When I laid the bill out, one of my arguments was that there’s no justification that this could cost that much money.”

Officials say there haven’t been any problems with campus carry, which went into effect Aug. 1, although there was one incident recently where a gun accidentally discharged in a Tarleton State University dorm. There were no injuries.

As for the overall cost, statewide totals aren’t available.

But a Star-Telegram survey of colleges in Tarrant County shows that officials spent less than $20,000 putting the new law in place locally.

“With campus carry costs, it was a policy debate,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Each side gave the furthest edge number that would support their position.

“Those who had reservations about campus carry in general estimated high on the cost,” he said. “It was an attempt to get the Legislature to think seriously about this and back off or give campuses more flexibility.” READ MORE