Temple Magazine

Earthly Treasures

The Department of Anthropology makes history from mystery in its research space on Main Campus.

Story by Maria Raha

One need not decode a mysterious map to unearth treasures on Main Campus.

From intricate early-20th-century dioramas to a collection of 18th-century chamber pots to mid-20th-century Peruvian tribal regalia, the approximately 200 collections housed in the Anthropology Lab—overseen by Director of Laboratories Muriel Kirkpatrick, CLA ’78—not only submerges its visitors in cultural pasts, but also provides students with inspiration for research projects; gives students and faculty a place to analyze the finds of their fieldwork; and houses museum collections and landmarks of the department’s significant research about Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley and beyond.

Located in Gladfelter Hall, the laboratory houses display cases that exhibit intriguing headdresses, tools, pottery, statues, carvings, artwork, skulls and other bones, and much more. Most of its walls are lined from ceiling to floor with wooden drawers containing meticulously dated, archived and organized artifacts.

The Anthropology Lab is the center of activity for the Department of Anthropology, established in the College of Liberal Arts in 1965. As a discipline, anthropology and its four subgenres—archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology and sociocultural anthropology, all of which can be studied at Temple—add to, and often revise, established beliefs about people, culture, history, social customs, behavior, language, technology and more. Through scholarship, fieldwork and laboratory research, students question and explore local, regional and global history using the resources provided by the lab.

For decades, Temple researchers and students have focused on fieldwork in Latin America. With the help of the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and under the leadership of Professor of Anthropology Anthony Ranere, Temple archaeologists have helped excavate 25 major sites in Central Panama. By utilizing a method pioneered in part by Temple graduate students—studying plant fossils called phytoliths—they have been able to measure that humans in the tropical lowlands of Panama added gardening to hunting and gathering 9,000 years ago.

Another, similar research project by Ranere, Associate Professor of Anthropology Patricia Hansell, CLA ’75, ’79, ’88, Dolores Piperno, CLA ’79, ’83, and an archaeological team has revised the generally accepted idea that the domestication of maize began in Mexico approximately 6,200 years ago.

The team recently challenged that notion when they discovered evidence that maize was domesticated in the country’s lowlands nearly 9,000 years ago. As a result, their research has revised the field’s general belief about when the crop was domesticated. (Also see “Dolores Piperno: Unlocking the Past” in the spring 2011 issue of Temple Review.)

Hansell specializes in using digital applications that aid in the analysis of archaeological sites, regions and materials, and is continuing that work in Colombia with Ranere.

This slideshow illustrates some of the pieces housed in the Anthropolgy Lab. Photos courtesy Betsy Manning, SCT '87, CLA '08.

Other Temple archaeologists uncover evidence that is virtually buried right under their feet. Associate Professor of Anthropology R. Michael Stewart focuses on research in the Delaware Valley, contributing to a comprehensive history of Native Americans in the region. Current excavations in the Lehigh Gorge have uncovered remains of stone tools of the area’s first Native Americans approximately 12,500 years ago.

“Reconstructing the landscapes and environments of the past is critical for understanding human behavior,” Stewart explains. “The sediments and soils of archaeological sites, and landscapes in general, are the product of the natural and cultural processes that contributed to their formation and deposition. Temple archaeologists, in cooperation with environmental scientists, are working to better understand the physical nature of the premodern world and native people’s interaction with it.”

Across the Delaware River, in New Jersey’s Burlington County, Temple students are collaborating with Westampton Township, community members and historians to unearth an African-American settlement predating the U.S. Civil War. Known as Timbuctoo, the area was settled in the mid-1820s by free African Americans who sought to establish a place where they could own their own land, build homes and open churches, schools and businesses.

And though Philadelphia’s rich history has been sifted through by tourists and historians alike, Temple researchers continue to make new, intriguing finds. Another excavation revealed a collection of 18th-century chamber pots from beneath the site of a Society Hill home, where the city’s first municipal almshouse once stood. In Valley Forge National Park, not far from the Washington Memorial Chapel, students are exploring an area inhabited by a Continental Army brigade from 1777 to 1778.

“The Anthropology Lab at Temple introduces students to scientific approaches used in the analyses of artifacts and gives them hands-on exposure to materials and objects from different cultures,” Director Muriel Kirkpatrick says. “The lab gives students a vision of where anthropology can take them.”

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