With roles in major discoveries, GW’s anthropology researchers find success

GW’s digging for success.

The University’s anthropology department and its researchers have played leading roles in major, recent discoveries in the archaeological field, which faculty say has come as funding and hiring for the department has increased over the past few years.

Richard Grinker, a professor of anthropology and international affairs and the chair of the anthropology department, said the recent breakthroughs are regular results of a high-achieving faculty.

He said the department has brought in more than $11 million over the last three years and has tripled the number of faculty members since he arrived as its sixth in 1992.

In the past four years alone, the department’s researchers have been awarded 13 grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health for research in locations ranging from Kenya to the Shiwalik Foot Hills of India. Grant funds from the two organizations totaled about $1,700,000 between 2012 and 2014.

He added that the biggest hurdle the department has faced is making sure that research doesn’t eclipse the amount of teaching faculty want to do.

“Because we’re on the cutting edge, so we feel that we’re better professors because we do the research,” Grinker said. “We don’t want people to think that because we do all this research, it’s taking away. We think that it’s adding, especially when we’re able to get students involved in our research.”

Researchers like Eric Cline, an archaeological expert in Near Eastern civilizations, have used grants to make enormous discoveries. In November 2013, Cline and his colleagues unearthed one of the world’s oldest wine cellars in Israel.

Cline is now under consideration for a Pulitzer Prize for his book “1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed,” and has begun work on a second book. He has participated in digs in Israel since 1994.

David Braun, an associate professor of anthropology at GW, has been awarded grants that have allowed him to be part of major archaeological discoveries. With a NSF grant, Braun was able to work on a team that discovered what is believed to be the oldest fossil of the modern human species, pushing the development of humans 500,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Braun has also been awarded more than $300,000 to study early human behavior in Kenya and South Africa in the past three years.

Other researchers are around the globe, working on projects funded by grants. René Bobe, an associate professor of anthropology, is currently researching in Chile, and Alison Brooks, a professor of anthropology, is in Kenya.

Biological anthropologists in the department have now moved into the Science and Engineering Hall as part of the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology.

Bernard Wood, a professor of human origins who was part of the recent move, said the change in location helped bring researchers closer together and improve collaboration on projects.

“You know, you go and have lunch and you sit down and talk to somebody. We try to do things together,” Wood said. “So now it’s not like it’s the only time we’ve got together. It’s just terrific.”

Jacqueline Thomsen contributed reporting.

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