North Central College - Naperville, IL

Students and faculty collaborate to identify ancient remains

Print Email Share

Amanda Marolf ’13, anthropology major studying archaeological remains
Amanda Marolf ’13, anthropology major studying archaeological remains

During fall term, nine students have been chipping away at archaeological remains as part of their course work in Archaeology in Jordan SOA 390, a new class based on original research conducted by Edward Maher, lecturer in anthropology and the classics.

The course involves classroom work on campus and lab work at Chicago’s Field Museum, where students study archaeological remains from a 2,800-year-old fortress in central Jordan. “We invited students who might be interested in this type of work and could commit to going to Chicago each week to do research,” says Maher. “They spend two-thirds of their class time at the museum.”

The physical remains are animal bones and teeth that were recovered from a fortress at the southeast border of the ancient kingom of Moab. In the Old Testament, the Moabites were enemies of Israel and a monumental inscription found at the Moabite capital authenticates Moab’s conflict with Israel.

As students study each sample, they compare them with modern, complete fragments stored at the museum. Comparing the complete known samples to the fragmentary remains helps identify what the remains are. All the while, students are asking several questions, says Maher.

The questions may include: what kind of animal is it, how was the animal used and conceived, was it young or old, do the bones tell us something about the environment, and what do any modifications in the bones, such as cuts or burning, tell us about the culture? For example, says Maher, “We have evidence of imported marine fish in these samples and this is a desert area we’re looking at. Why is that?”

The students enrolled in the class are anthropology majors Carly Johnston ’13, Amanda Marolf ’13 and Jessica Pantel ’13; Jack Arnston ’14, anthropology and Japanese major; Caroline Clay ’13, English/print journalism major; Taylor Hagen ’13, classical civilization and history majors; Mariel Jomant ’12, sociology major; Rachael Petro ’13, global studies/East Asia and East Asian studies/China majors; and Anika Shain ’12, biochemistry and anthropology majors.

There are many opportunities at North Central College for students to collaborate with faculty in many areas of study. For this course, in particular, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Matthew Krystal says, “This is a good example of institutional and location benefits. North Central readily responds to these opportunities for our students to work in a laboratory setting and we’re located close to centers to do this research.”  

Access to this opportunity arose because of Maher’s involvement in archaeological research in the region since the early 1990s. Since 2007, he’s served as a research associate in the Department of Anthropology at the Field Museum, conducting synthetic archaeological research on faunal remains stored on location. And, since 2003, he’s been an member of the scientific team conducting research at this site in Jordan.

Items from the excavation site in Jordan, Khirbat al-Mudaybi, were shipped to Gerald Mattingly—professor of Bible at Johnson University (Tenn.) and coordinator of the Karak Resources Project—who then sent the collection to Maher in Chicago. With cooperation from members of Field Museum’s Department of Zoology (Division of Mammals) and the Department of Anthropology, students worked to identify the remains at the museum.  

Maher received a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada; an M.A. in Eastern Mediterranean archaeology from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium; and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Photo, above, from left: Amanda Marolf ’13, Carly Johnston ’13, Jack Arnston ’14, Taylor Hagen ’13