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Dr. Abrams meets Dr. Bindon, who helped develop our Biocultural Medical program and in whose honor the lecture series was started.
Dr. Abrams meets Dr. Jim Bindon, who helped develop our Biocultural Medical program and in whose honor the lecture series was started.

In the fall, we hosted several in-house lectures and workshops and were graced by talks by a few visiting scholars.

On October 8, we were able to take advantage of a visit to Tuscaloosa by Dr. Natilee A. McGruder, Director of the River Region Food Policy Council (RRFPC), who graced us with an Extemporaneous Talk called "The Local Food System: Getting to Know Your Neighbor." On November 6, we inaugurated our new "Biocultural Anthropology and Health Lecture Series" with a talk by UAB Professor of Philosophy Marshall Abrams entitled "Modeling the Development of Sustainable Rice Production and Religious Practice in Bali."

Lynn Funkhouser presented on the history, archaeology, and bioarchaeology of the nations first VA hospital, located outside of Pascagoula, MS for the falls first FABBL.
Lynn Funkhouser presented on the history, archaeology, and bioarchaeology of the nations first VA hospital, located outside of Pascagoula, MS for the falls first FABBL.

Several speakers participated in the FABBL (Friday Afternoon Brown Bag Lunch) series, hosted by the Anthropology Club. On September 25, doctoral candidate Lynn Funkhouser presented "The Mexican Soldiers of Greenwood Island, Mississippi." On October 9, doctoral student Courtney Andrews presented "Finding Culture in Acculturation: Does Cultural Consonance Mediate the Relationship between Acculturative Stress and Health Outcomes among Mexican Immigrants?" On October 23, doctoral candidate Rachel Briggs presented "Public Archaeology in Western North Carolina: Recent Excavations at Spanish Fort San Juan de Joara." On November 6, doctoral candidate Daniel LaDu presented "Interaction Spheres and 'Circle-Maps': Considering the Role that Extra-Regional Exchange Plays in the Process of Culture Change."

On December 4, Dr. David Meek was kind enough to give a department workshop on spatial ethnographic research design.

The line for Bill Nye tickets, day 1.
The line for Bill Nye tickets, day 1.

Finally, the Department of Anthropology is affiliated with the Alabama Lectures on Life's Evolution (ALLELE) speaker series, which hosted four lectures in the fall. On September 28, ALLELE co-hosted a talk by science personality Bill Nye the Science Guy called "The Importance of Teaching Evolution." This was the biggest ALLELE talk to date, with thousands of people turning out for three successive giveaways for roughly 5,000 tickets. Dr. Lynn wrote a summary of the event for the EvoS Consortium ( Geologist Linda Ivany (Syracuse University) gave a talk on October 15 called "The Pace of Life---The (Often) Missing Element in Studies of Evolution Using Fossils." On November 12, historian Ron Numbers (University of Wisconsin-Madison) gave a talk called "Baptizing Dinosaurs: How Once-Suspect Evidence of Evolution Came to Support the Biblical Narrative." And on December 3, evolutionary psychologist Rebecca Burch (SUNY Oswego) gave a lecture rescheduled from the spring entitled "Semen Chemistry: Implications, Innovations, and Controversy."

Our students and faculty also gave talks around the University. Dr. Marysia Galbraith gave a talk about her experience in Poznan, Poland for the Fulbright Scholar Program on September 3 entitled "Memory in Fragments: Reassembling Jewish Life in Poland." On December 4, undergraduate Lauren Pratt presented "Status and Stature in Two Prehistoric Burial Populations" in the Computer-Based Honors Program. (faculty advisors, Drs. Blitz and Jacobi).

On February 12, Charles Darwin's birthday, the UA Evolutionary Studies Club hosted the 3rd annual Darwin Day Colloquium. The event was hosted by the Alabama Museum of Natural History and featured an afternoon of talks from UA students and faculty, in addition to a talk by alumnus Dr. Amanda Glaze and keynote by University of Louisiana at Monroe evolutionary psychologist Dr. Kilian Garvey. Special thanks to the hard work of Club members, particularly Taylor Burbach, who understands why Dr. Lynn recruits students who get as stressed about things as he does---they are the type who get things done, and the result was a smashing success.

This annual event is open to anyone interested in promoting cross-disciplinary evolutionary studies in Alabama and the Southeast region. This includes students of ALL ages, teachers, and those with a personal but abiding interest in improving science-based integrative education. Neither Charles Darwin nor Alfred Wallace (the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection) were academics!

In fact, next year, the University of Alabama and its Evolutionary Studies program will host the first annual SouthEastern Evolutionary Perspectives Society meeting February 12-14, 2016. Proposals for academic and creative presentations are being accepted through July 31, 2015. Email Amanda Glaze ( or Steve Platek ( to submit your proposal or for more information. Please consider joining us!

On January 29 the Anthropology Department and Evolution Working Group hosted biomolecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern for an ALLELE (Alabama Lectures on Life's Evolution) talk from his book, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcohol. The event included a meeting with the ANT 150 "Evolution for Everyone" students, dinner with Anthropology students, EVOWOG members, and Wendi Schauffer from UA Press, the ALLELE talk, and an Ancient Ales tasting after the talk at Druid City Brewing.

Special thanks to the Evolutionary Studies Club for organizing the tasting and Druid City for hosting and to our students who helped with the logistics. Dr. Pat's work is endlessly fascinating and will be included in a new spring 2016 course on the "Anthropology of Drugs." Master's student Cassie Medeiros, whose research focus is the archaeology of alcohol, particularly evidence of moonshine stills in Alabama, was particularly thrilled to be a part of the event.

Becky Read-Wahidi and her committee: Dr. Bill Dressler, Dr. Jason DeCaro, Dr. Michael Murphy, Dr. Kathy Oths, and Dr. Mariana Gabarrot, who skyped in from Mexico
Becky Read-Wahidi and her committee: Dr. Bill Dressler, Dr. Jason DeCaro, Dr. Michael Murphy, Dr. Kathy Oths, and Dr. Mariana Gabarrot, who skyped in from Mexico

On Tuesday, October 7, Becky Read-Wahidi successfully presented and defended her dissertation, titled "A Model Guadalupan: Devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe and Psychosocial Stress Among Mexican Immigrants to the South." This was the first Anthropology Department Defense this academic year.

Becky began her presentation with some historical background on the Virgin of Guadalupe, who appeared to Indian peasant Juan Diego in 1531 with instructions to build a church in her honor. The Virgin of Guadalupe has been officially recognized by the Catholic Church, and has her own festival occurring on December 12. She is indigenous to Mexico, and is seen as a resistance to social injustice. Becky focused on the idea that the Virgin of Guadalupe could be a Mexican master symbol.

Becky then presented her cultural research in Scott County, Mississippi. She performed a cultural domain analysis, which included a consensus analysis and a consonance analysis, to place the idea of the master symbol within the context of immigration and to determine if the Virgin of Guadalupe is a "collective representation." She focused on the biocultural aspects of the immigration experience, particularly the physical and psychological effects of stress, in order to evaluate the Virgin of Guadalupe as a coping mechanism. She developed her own scale for the consonance analysis, which included variables such as years in the US and Mississippi, comfort speaking English, and birthplace of children. The effects of stress were measured by participants' reported health and life satisfaction, illness in the past month, and a comparison of life satisfaction now and before arrival in the US.

Becky's research and analysis demonstrated that devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe was not buffering stresses. She did determine that there was a higher consonance with the more children a participant had, as well as higher perceived stress scores, which could potentially be linked to the Virgin of Guadalupe being seen as a mother figure and a complex family model, respectively.

Congratulations to Becky Read-Wahidi on her successful defense!

Photo by C. Madeiros
Jessica Kowalski presented FABBL #3. Photo by C. Madeiros.

Our third FABBL of the Fall 2014 semester occurred on October 10 with Jessica Kowalski's presentation "On the Mississippi Mound Trail: A Report on Two Field Seasons of Excavations."

Jessica discussed her work under the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which contracted three different universities to perform excavations over two summers for a public highway project, with the intent of building tourist signs. Her particular area included 9 sites with 14 mounds over 13 weeks of field work. The historical period covered ca. 1200-1500 AD; and her presentation focused on research issues, political economy, mortuary practices, and changes in iconography during this period. The largest problem encountered during field work was how to formulate a research design for testing about 30 mound sites.

Their design looked at the project goals, time, and resources to determine chronology and construction techniques. The methods included LiDAR, mapping with GPS, exploratory testing through split spoon cores and bucket augers, and test unit excavation. The methods were updated slightly during the second season. Jessica then presented some sites that worked well with these methods, and some that yielded disappointing results with these methods, before focusing on the site that is the main focus of her dissertation research. The overall project yielded a chronology for dating mounds: Coles Creek Settlement 900-1200 AD, Winterville phase ca. 1200 AD, Late George Phase ca. 1400 AD. The Late George Phase sees a mound building explosion.

Jessica's dissertation research focuses on Arcola, which has 3 of the 6 original mounds still standing. The first season encountered some problems relating to identification. They cored and augured Mound A, and excavated a test unit in which they found mound erosion, Late George phase and Protohistoric ceramics, and Winterville phase ceramics. During the second season they excavated Mound C, with a cut face on the summit. They found a burn floor surface and radiocarbon dated it to between 1435 and 1490 AD. Mound C has the potential for intact mound surfaces, and is a Late George phase site. During the presentation, she also discussed how to date a mound, including problems with balanced testing of mound fill and finding surfaces and the differences in the materials mounds are built on. Mississippi mounds are built of levee silts and sands for expedience, while Coles Creek mounds had a core and finish - the focus is on whether the mounds are built up or out and the sociopolitical implications of how the mounds were built. Jessica plans to continue research within the Arcola site.

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Greg Batchelder presenting FABBL #2. Photo by C. Lynn

Our Fall FABBL series continued September 26 with Greg Batchelder's presentation "Estibrawpa: Ecotourism in the Bribri Village of Yorkin. Celebrating Tradition and Improving Health."

Greg's presentation focused on his summer 2014 research in Costa Rica, where he learned about Estibrawpa, an ecotourism program created by the women of Yorkin, a village of about 200-250 people. Most of the men there worked on banana plantations, and therefore had to travel and remain away from home for long periods of time. This caused depression and lower health in the community, and the women in the village decided to organize an ecotourism company, in coordination with ATEC,  to create an alternative to wage labor on plantations. Men now work as guides, construction workers, organic farmers, and canoe captains to facilitate tourist visits to the village. The community has also been able to build schools in order to teach these trades, native language, and the Bribri historia---their own collection of creation myths and legends. The village also has a medical clinic, but it was closed during Greg's visit.

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Photo by C. Lynn

Greg traveled to Yorkin by canoe and stayed for a week in the home of the Morales family. Houses in the village typically house many generations---8 members of the Morales family lived in the house---and the Bribri are a matrilineal/matrilocal society. The houses are on stilts with storage area underneath for chickens, ducks, pigs, and horses. There is also a communal area in the house, which includes the kitchen/dining area, where they have spring gravity fed water and some solar paneled electricity---although there can be a lack of sunlight at times. Families also usually grow their own corn, and there was possibly a shared community garden. The women also focused on organic coacoa production, which they sell in the village of Bambu. Family life is very important, and a more permissive and communal style of parenting seems to be practiced.

Greg was able to observe many of the benefits from the creation of Estibrawpa, including the resurgence in the community of an interest in traditions from the younger generations. While there is not much outside influence---the village is currently trying to get internet---the younger generations are becoming more interested in learning the native language and historia in order to be more successful in the ecotourism opportunities they have. He was also able to discern a perceived improvement in health from all members of the community, and intends to study this further. He plans to use blood pressure as a biomarker and potentially gain access to past health records in the clinic. The CESD depression scale will also be used. He plans to return next summer and to continue to collaborate with the community in Yorkin and possibly find a natural control group in order to provide further evidence of the improved health benefits of the ecotourism project.


The Department's Friday Afternoon Brown Bag Lunch (FABBL) talks commenced this semester on September 12 with Erik Porth's presentation: "Some Preliminary Results from the 2012 Fall Field School Mound P Excavations."

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Erik Porth presenting FABBL #1. Photo by C. Lynn

Erik started the presentation with an overview of Moundville's ceramic chronology and archaeological phases, then focused on Late Moundville (post-1450 AD) excavations at Mound P. The Late Moundville period is of particular interest because of the archaeological evidence it exhibits and lacks. Excavations at Mound P have provided the first assemblage from the entirety of the Moundville III phase, 1400-1520 AD.

Erik then presented the questions that this assemblage may be able to address: Why do the symbols change or stay the same? Does mound construction really halt during Moundville III? Do they stop producing ceremonial bottles? Is there a shift in non-local exchange networks, or do they disintegrate? And, what changes occurred with ceremonial object production and consumption?

Erik also provided an overview of the excavations of Mound P, starting with CB Moore in 1905 and ending with the latest excavations during the Fall Field School in 2012 overseen by Erik and Dr. John Blitz. It is the largest mound on the western plaza periphery, is one of the latest occupied mounds, and is not fully understood yet. The goals set forth for the 2012 Fall Field School were: to mitigate the impact of the new staircase connecting a viewing platform on Mound P to the Museum, to determine the location of midden deposits and recovery of representative artifact samples from Moundville III, and to understand the timing of mound deposits and construction phases.

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Photo by C. Lynn

Some of Erik's preliminary results include identification of several different ceramics found at the west flank trench and an analysis of the bucket auger assemblages. He wrapped up the talk with the goals for his research, which were to locate and date mound midden deposits and to assess the building sequence of mound layers, and how he plans to compare the Mound P assemblage with the current phase system expectations for Moundville III. Erik's presentation was a great start to our FABBL series this semester!

As evidence of the transparency of the Talladega Study & socioeconomic disparities, in 1951, when the study was conducted, only 1% of "colored" families received sanitation services.
As evidence of the transparency of the Talladega Study & socioeconomic disparities, in 1951, when the study was conducted, only 1% of "colored" families received sanitation services.

Image (35)As part of our new "Extemporaneous Talks" lecture series, Dr. James Hall from New College gave a talk about a particular history of segregation in Alabama.  His talk reviewed a period of UA & Anthropology Department history that resonates to this day but about which we are scarcely aware.  Solon Kimball, who received in Ph.D. from Harvard in 1936, was hired at UA as professor & chair in 1948 to inaugurate UA's new dual program in Sociology & Anthropology & sociology. He remained here until 1953, when he moved on to Columbia University's Teachers' College.

While at UA, Kimball was instrumental in developing & administering the Talladega Study, which was a study of community morale that led to the establishment of the town's public health program.  Among the aspects of the study that made it unique was that it was what we today call "participatory action research," wherein the community has an investment in the study, helps develop the methodology, & administered the study itself with the assistance of outside experts.

What was also important about the Talladega Study is that it highlighted a painful aspect of academia at that period of time with regard to segregation.  Dr. Hall spoke of how Kimball & his collaborators appear to have been anti-segregationists but could not convince the Talladega community to allow African-Americans, who constituted 1/3 of the town's population, to participate in the study. Kimball made arrangements for the African-American community to conduct their own separate study, but volunteers declined to come forward.

The methodological shortcoming of biasing the sample toward the white demographic of the community & representing it as The Talladega Story: A Study of Community Process, in retrospect, calls into question the findings of that study.  What Hall finds remarkable is the attitude of Kimball & others of the period, who, just 18 months shy of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, did not understand why African-Americans would utilize passivity, silence, & non-action as a form of resistance. Nonetheless, Kimball's work in Alabama earned him the label of "academic radical," & may have had something to do with his departure before The Talladega Story had even been published.

Of note, Kimball was also a founding member of the Society for Applied Anthropology, created in 1940, president of the American Ethnological Association, & was instrumental in the formation of the Council on Anthropology & Education. In 1978, he helped establish the Zora Neale Hurston Fellowship Award Fund to honor outstanding African-American graduates in anthropology. The Kimball Award is issued every other year by the American Anthropological Association to an anthropologist who effects change in public policy.

Though Kimball's presence in our department is not part of the living memory of any current faculty members, Dr. Jim Knight, who grew up in the Talladega area, recalled taking an undergraduate course with Dr. Kimball when he had moved on from Columbia to the University of Florida. For better & worse, this is a fascinating chapter in Alabama, UA, & our department's history.  We appreciate Dr. Hall stopping by & look forward to learning more.

Read our department history for information about Solomon Kimball & other UA anthropologists from years past.