by Stacy Drake
I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. My focus of study is in archaeology, with a particular emphasis on human osteology and the ancient Maya. My dissertation research is a bioarchaeological assessment of human burial traditions and life experiences of the ancient Maya throughout time periods and different sites in Northwestern Belize. Outside of my dissertation work, I am also very interested in and passionate about public outreach and education in archaeology. I greatly enjoy working with local and descendant communities and providing educational opportunities in archaeology with students of all ages.
I received Bachelor’s degrees in Anthropology and German from the University of Iowa, and received my Master’s at UT Austin in 2011. I hope to defend my dissertation in 2015. I have 10 years of experience conducting archaeological field work, analysis, and research, and have worked with various Cultural Resource Management firms in Iowa and Texas. My first archaeological field school experience was at a historic homestead in Iowa, and I have since participated in field schools in Texas and Belize. I currently serve as Project Bioarchaeologist for the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project in Belize, and enjoy the joint opportunities to work with human remains from various ancient Maya sites and to also work alongside and instruct field school students in proper burial excavation and analysis techniques.
For the past few months I have enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer in the Human Osteology lab at TARL. For this project I am working with human remains to complete inventories and profiles of the individuals housed at TARL. I utilize basic osteological analysis techniques to identify the bones present within each collection and create assessments of sex, age at death, and any other special characteristics each individual skeleton exhibits (such as diseases and traumas experienced during the life or at the time of death of the individual). This analysis will aid in the creation of a database which will allow researchers to access and contribute to useful information regarding ancient populations in Texas.
The ability to work so closely with well preserved and curated remains has been profoundly valuable for my studies, my research, and my educational and personal pursuits. Since working with these remains, I have improved upon and learned new techniques for osteological analysis. I have developed a better understanding of efficient documentation processes and intend to implement similar methods in my own dissertation work. I have also been exposed to special technologies to which I have not previously had access. In particular, Kerri Wilhelm has been extremely supportive in demonstrating the use of some of these technologies and helping to guide me through particularly difficult specimens. I am grateful to her and Marybeth Tomka for this opportunity and experience.
My experience volunteering in the Human Osteology laboratory at TARL has greatly benefited my current research. Preservation conditions in Belize are not kind to bone, so the ability to study the relatively well-preserved collections at TARL has been extremely beneficial. While bones in Belize are often fragmentary and severely damaged by the natural environment, I have been able to further familiarize myself with characteristics of human bone that are not as observable in poorer preservation conditions. While conducting inventory and analysis on the TARL collections, I have not only improved my familiarity with skeletal analysis, but also with methods and techniques that I intend to implement in my own dissertation research and in the field school’s analysis process in Belize. Finally, my growing ability to identify more uncommon characteristics present in some of the skeletal collections (such as various trauma or pathological conditions or taphonomic processes) is primarily due to the patience and guidance of Kerri Wilhelm, who greets every question I bring to her (and there are many!) with a smile and helpful answer. I look forward to seeing what information will be gleaned from future research on the TARL collections and have personally benefited greatly from my own experiences therewith.