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New research on old collections

May 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Below, Isabelle De Groote (left) and Louise Humphrey from The Natural History Museum (London) studying collections at the Logan Museum of Anthropology.

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Why does the Logan Museum of Anthropology keep so much old stuff? Especially that really old stuff, like Paleolithic stone tools thousands of years old? It’s because people are always asking new questions of “old” collections and finding new ways to learn from them.

Beloit’s archaeologists know a lot, but we don’t have specialists in all areas represented by the Logan’s collections. This is why we welcome visiting researchers. Scholars come from all over the world to study our collections, helping us gain information and knowledge that we pass along to our students and that we use in our interpretation of the collections.

Here are highlights from some of the visiting researchers so far in 2011:

Dr. Giuseppina Mutri, from the Sapienza University of Rome (Europe’s largest university), arrived fresh from fieldwork in Sudan and spent two weeks here examining material from Algeria. Collections from two sites—the Ali Bacha rockshelter and the prosaically named Site 10, both excavated over 80 years ago by Logan Museum assistant curator Alonzo Pond’18—hold promise for unlocking the mysteries of cultural succession in the Mediterranean. Giuseppina identified samples from those sites that can be dated by radiocarbon and thermoluminescence to help determine the ages and sequences of Stone Age occupations. While at Beloit, Giuseppina spoke with students in Shannon Fie’s Research Design in Anthropology class about her work in North Africa.

Drs. Isabelle De Groote and Louise Humphrey (see photo), from the Natural History Museum in London, brought along a state-of-the-art 3D laser scanner to record information on a significant series of human skeletal remains from Alonzo Pond’s excavations at Khanguet al-Mouhaad and Mechta-el-Arbi in Algeria. Experts in the field of bioarchaeology (the study of ancient human remains), Isabelle and Louise are looking at problems similar to Giuseppina’s: continuities and discontinuities in the cultures and populations of the Mediterranean between about 20,000 and 7,000 years ago. The newly acquired digital data will enable them to compare the Logan’s collections to those held by other institutions.

Clare Tolmie, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Iowa, is working on Paleolithic material excavated in 1927 in France under the direction of George Collie of the class of 1881, the Logan’s then-curator as well as professor of anthropology and geology. Collie and his student (and future Logan Museum curator) Paul Nesbitt’26 excavated part of the Abri Cellier rockshelter, recovering thousands of stone tools and animal bones. Clare is studying the bones from the Aurignacian (Upper Paleolithic) deposits of the site, dating to ca. 30,000-35,000 years ago. She is interested in the hunting strategies of Europe’s early post-Neanderthal humans.

And this week, world-renowned archaeologist Dr. Bruce Bradley of the University of Exeter (U.K.) will visit on tomorrow (Tuesday) to explore establishing study-abroad opportunities at Exeter and to examine Paleolithic collections from France as well as Paleo-Indian material from North America. These collections tie into the subject of the talk he will present at 4:00 p.m. in Room 150, Center for the Sciences, entitled An ‘Aukward’ Proposal: Origin of the North American Clovis Culture.

Additional fun facts about the Logan Museum’s old, old collections:

  • ·        The Logan Museum houses at least 90,000 ancient artifacts from France, Algeria, and other Mediterranean and European locations.
  • Beloit College students have been studying these collections for over 80 years. For example, Chantel White’03 and Heather Rockwell’07 conducted projects that helped prepare them for their current Ph.D. studies in archaeology at Boston University and the University of Wyoming, respectively.
  • Beads, Blades and Burins: The Paleolithic Era in France, opening this week, is the latest Logan Museum exhibition to feature these collections.