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Luke Donohue and Kelsey Herndon with advisors John Blitz and Keith Jacobi.
Luke Donohue and Kelsey Herndon with advisors John Blitz and Keith Jacobi.

This past spring, five students came closer to completing their journeys to master's degrees by presenting the results of their thesis research at our March and April colloquiums.

On March 6, archaeology student Luke Donohue presented "Group Mobility and Lithic Resource Use in the Archaic to Woodland Transition at the Morrow Site." Bioarchaeology student Kelsey Herndon gave her talk on "The Embodiment of Status in the Mississippian Component of the Perry Site." Both students graduated in May. Luke and Kelsey are currently working for Environmental Corporation of American as Project Archaeologists, based in Alpharetta, GA. They are responsible for visiting sites all over the Southeast and the rest of the U.S. and performing archaeological and environmental surveys.

Lessye DeMoss and advisor Bill Dressler.
Lessye DeMoss and advisor Bill Dressler.
Johnna Dominguez and advisor Chris Lynn.
Johnna Dominguez and advisor Chris Lynn.
Kareen Hawsey and advisor Ian Brown.
Kareen Hawsey and advisor Ian Brown.

At our April 24 colloquium, Kareen Hawsey, another archaeology student, presented "Vessel Morphology and Function in the West Jefferson Phase of the Black Warrior River Valley, Alabama." Lessye DeMoss and Johnna Dominguez are biocultural medical students. Lessye presented "A Cultural Model of Life Goals for Young Men in the Roanoke Valley," while Johnna gave her talk called "'Nice Ink, Man': A Biocultural, Mixed Methods Approach to Tattooing as Costly Honest Signaling Among Southern Women."

Kareen and Lessye plan on sticking around for a while and have been admitted to our Ph.D. program. Kareen will be working with Dr. Brown to study the terminal Woodland in central Alabama. Lessye will continue her studies in the Biocultural Medical track with Dr. Dressler, studying cultural models of life goals in Alabama, how life goals are to be achieved, and affects on health when unable to manifest evidence of achieving widely shared goals (for example, not being able to buy a home or have nice clothes). Johnna is the Administrative Assistant at Seeds of Hope, the food justice ministry at the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in California where she is working to turn unused church yards into community gardens and improve community access to fresh vegetables. She aspires to continue to integrate her training in medical anthropology with the outreach ministry of the Episcopal Church.

We're very proud of our students, who continue to earn numerous accolades for their efforts in advancing anthropology. In the spring 2014, there were numerous award winners.

Paul Eubanks was the winner of the 2014 Bob Work Award for Scholarly Excellence in Archaeology for a paper entitled "The Timing and Distribution of Caddo Salt Production in Northwestern Louisiana."

Dr. Jason DeCaro with Honors Day 2014 awardees Francois Dengah, Paul Eubanks, Clay Nelson, Erik Porth, and Rachel Briggs
Dr. Jason DeCaro with Honors Day 2014 awardees Francois Dengah, Paul Eubanks, Clay Nelson, Erik Porth, and Rachel Briggs

Kareen Hawsey and Paul Eubanks were the 2014-15 co-winners of the David and Elizabeth DeJarnette Endowed Scholarship, which is awarded at the annual spring DeJarnette barbecue at Moundville Archaeological Park. David DeJarnette, a southeast archaeologist, was the first anthropologist at the University of Alabama. The DeJarnette Scholarship is awarded each year to support graduate research about Moundville or Moundville-related topics.

Adviser Bill Dressler with Best Dissertation Award winner Francois Dengah
Adviser Bill Dressler with Best Dissertation Award winner Francois Dengah

Lauren Marsh, a 2014 graduate in anthropology, won a Fulbright Award from the U.S. State Department to serve in Sichuan Province, China as an English Teaching Assistant and conduct research on the Nutrition Literacy of Infant Caregivers during 2014-2015.

Max Stein, a PhD student currently conducting fieldwork in Peru, was the 2014 winner of the Allen R. Maxwell Endowed Anthropology Scholarship. This scholarship honors the late Professor Allen Maxwell, who was a pioneer anthropology of Southeast Asia and a longtime and much admired faculty member of our department. Professor Maxwell dedicated his career to the kinds of ethnographic and linguistic research that this scholarship is designed to support.

During Honors Week (March 31 - April 4), numerous Anthropology students were recognized for excellence. A committee of faculty emeriti selected Dr. Francois Dengah for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis. Elizabeth Wix, Lessye Demoss, Luke Donohue, and Paul Eubanks were recognized as Graduate Council Fellows. Kareen Hawsey was awarded a National Alumni Association License Tag Graduate Fellow, which is given to a resident of Alabama with potential to make an outstanding contribution to the people of the state. Brass Bralley was recognized as a McNair Graduate Fellow, which are awarded to low income, first-generation college students, or members of a group traditionally underrepresented in graduate education.

Finally, the January 2014 round of the Graduate School Research and Travel Awards, which is available several times a year, was particularly tough, with 16 submissions. This is testimony to the efforts students and professors are giving to producing excellent proposals. We are delighted that all proposals submitted by the Department to the Graduate School received some funding. January 2014 awardees include doctoral students Rachel Briggs and Lynn Funkhouser and master's students Achsah DorseyEmma Koenig, and Elizabeth Wix.

Figure 1: The 2013 Crew of the Actuncan Archaeological Project
Figure 1: The 2013 Crew of the Actuncan Archaeological Project

The Actuncan Archaeological Project directed by Dr. Lisa LeCount conducted summer excavations funded by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration at the ancient Maya site of Actuncan in Belize, Central America.  Using the corporate-network leadership model, the Project evaluated material and symbolic resources found in two elite households and an E-Group (a commemorative astronomical civic complex) to determine if corporate leadership persisted into the Classic period (AD 250 to 1000) at the site after network-based leadership arose in other polities, such as Tikal.  The 2013 field season was one of the largest so far with six graduate students and four Ph.D. researchers supervising 26 Belizean men and women in the field and lab.  University of Alabama personal included Dr. John Blitz, Luke Donohue, Borislava (Bobbie) Simova (now in the Ph.D. program at Tulane), and Emma Koenig, as well as others from Washington University in St. Louis, University of South Florida, and University of Mississippi (Figure 1).

Figure 3: Emma Koenig & Amirto Uck excavating the apron molding of Str. 23-1st.
Figure 2: Emma Koenig and Amirto Uck excavating the apron molding of Str. 23-1st.

To test the nature of early Maya leadership, the Project conducted excavations at two elite households, Strs. 29 and 73 that, based on their size and location, are likely candidates for an early ruler's residence at Actuncan.  Investigations at the site’s E-Group also examined the nature of early Maya leadership.  Studies have shown that the onset of dynastic kingship, and accompanying transition to network-based authority, was marked by a shift in caching and burial practices at civic monuments. Initially, ritual practices revolved around the placement of caches in sacred monuments, but later, rulers' ancestors were interred in them to fuse human and divine realms allowing living kings to claim descent from divine ancestors.  However, the timing of these practices is site dependent, presumably tied to the timing of the shift from corporate to network-based authority. 

Figure 3: Bobbie Simova excavating the apron modling of Str. 73a.
Figure 3: Bobbie Simova excavating the apron molding of Str. 73a.

Excavations at the two elite structures found that occupants of these houses occupied a similar social status, conformed to an architectural style canon, and displayed a uniform identity.  During the height of the center’s authority, each house sported an apron molding (Figure 2).  This façade style has pronounced top and bottom edges that frame a central register made by stacking and tenoning limestone blocks, which were ultimately covered in stucco and painted red.  Apron moldings are not unusual in the Maya lowlands, but they have not been reported for this area.  At Str. 73, the apron molding is substantially larger than that at Str. 29 or any other elite house at Actuncan, measuring at least 2 m high (Figure 3).  The amount of labor required to build Str. 73 would have far exceeded that of other elite houses indicating its construction required extra-household labor.  Structure 73 also is auspiciously located given that it is the closest house to the Triadic Temple Complex.  For these reasons, Dr. LeCount suggests that Structure 73 is likely the early king’s house.  Nonetheless, this house does not display a significantly different layout nor does it appear to be substantially wealthier in material possessions than other elite households.  These findings confirm that early leadership strategies at Actuncan were corporate in nature.

Figure 4: Four eccentrics from Structure 26.
Figure 4: Four eccentrics from Structure 26.

E-Groups are monumental complexes containing an eastern platform and a western radial pyramid, which are thought to function as solar observatories and locations for Preclassic agricultural rituals.  Excavations at Actuncan’s E-Group, directed by Luke Donohue, began in front of the central pyramid on top of the eastern platform.  After locating the central staircase, he discovered caches and artifacts associated with rituals performed on these stairs.  Staircases were the location of many activities including feasting, dancing, performances, presentations, offerings and sacrifices.  At Actuncan, Donohue found features associated with many of these, including a staircase cache, a termination deposit, a staircase block burial, and chert eccentrics.  Eccentrics are large formally shaped lithics used as offerings to ancestors, deities and sacred places (figure 4). Their position on top of the collapse suggests that they were placed there after the building had fallen apart.  These practices are consistent with other instances of revisitation and veneration of sacred houses and monuments found at the site.  On the summit of the pyramid, stacked stone represents the remains of a late altar. The pyramid itself was built of alternating cobble and sterile sand fill, and in one layer, many large bifaces interpreted as agricultural hoes were found.  These ritually cached hoes indicate that the construction of this pyramid was tied to agriculture or annual cycles.  

This summer’s excavations lend evidence to suggest that early kingship at Actuncan was more corporate than exclusive in nature.  Research in the summer 2014 will continue excavating to date the earliest levels of the E-Group, and also be directed at completing two Ph.D. research projects.