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The ‘everyday:’ an object of intrigue for one anthropology professor

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Everyday objects and everyday people are interests that spurred Associate Professor of Anthropology Shannon Fie’s latest research on manufacturing pipes and their debris.

In the field of anthropology, there is a tendency to concentrate on the objects held by the elite, such as copper objects, rather than more mundane trade commodities, like the pipes and their debris. Fie, however, is interested in looking at objects that were made and used by non-elites—in other words, everyday people.

Fie recently gave a lecture in Rockford on pipes, explaining their origin, history, and role among prehistoric Native American groups, particularly between 50 B.C. and 300 A.D. During this period, pipes were various in designs, with many depicting animals. Some of the pipes are also tiny—small enough to fit in one’s hands. Though the pipes themselves were found throughout Ohio and their source material came from Illinois, the highest amount of pipestone manufacturing debris for this time period is currently found on Gast Farm, an archaeological site in Iowa.

The debris particularly interests her because of the social interactions that must have happened between groups from different areas. There is evidence in the trading of materials and pipes of different groups interacting with one another. For example, Fie is interested in learning how the people who transported the pipe materials from Illinois to Ohio came into contact with one another.

On her sabbatical a few years ago, Fie examined this collection in Iowa City, Iowa. Due to the immense size of the collection—over 600 pieces of artifacts and debris, she was only able to analyze less than a quarter of it. To continue her studies, Fie knew she had to get a grant to either go back to Iowa City or to make her lab a suitable space to borrow the collection.

She took on the role of principle investigator (PI) on a National Science Foundation grant proposal to renovate the basement laboratories of the Godfrey and Logan buildings. Previously, the space did not meet the environmental or security requirements for borrowing collections from other institutions; but now, with the renovations made to the three labs, Fie will be able to borrow the collection of debris.

Once the spring semester ends, Fie plans to retrieve the collection of debris from Iowa. A student, Christine Schultz’14, will work with her to analyze the debris.

“[It’s been] very long and drawn out. The grant-writing, construction…” Fie says. “You just don’t realize sometimes how long it takes when you can’t wait to get started. I still feel like I’m chomping at the bit to get started, [but] it’ll come.”

Source:  Shannon Fie is an associate professor of anthropology. She primarily teaches classes in North American archaeology, theoretical approaches to archaeological data, methods of material analysis, and archaeological fieldwork. Her research interests include the role of exchange interaction in the development and adoption of social practices. Fie also was recently involved in developing the new “Doing Anthropology” curriculum. She can serve as a media resource on topics related to her teaching and research interests.

Shannone Fie