Category Archives: Anthropology

3D Modeling Rock Shape: Archeological Research of the Earliest North Americans

At age 17, like a lot of teenagers, Samuel Burns wanted to go to college. Unlike most college-bound 17-year-olds however, Samuel didn’t have a high school degree. Today, Samuel is a first-year master’s student in Applied Anthropology, within the School of Language, Culture, and Society, and the Department of Anthropology. Also, this is his second master’s degree.

Samuel in the field in the Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania. Photo by Samuel Burns.

Samuel works with Dr. Loren Davis to investigate the earliest archeological sites in North America, and there are two big questions to answer: when did humans first arrive in North America, and by what route did the earliest humans arrive? Traditionally, humans are thought to have entered North America through the Rocky Mountains, but more recent evidence suggests that maritime cultures may have arrived first, finding North America via the ocean. The oldest fish hooks in North America are somewhere between ~11,300 to 10,700 years years old and were discovered off the coast of Baja California, Mexico on Cedros Island.

Cedros Island is just one of two archeological sites of interest for Samuel’s research group, and while he has been to Cedros to conduct fieldwork, Samuel’s work focuses on artifacts from one pit in the second site: Cooper’s Ferry in Cottonwood, Idaho, near the Salmon River. From Cooper’s Ferry, seemingly interesting artifacts are brought back to the lab where they are sorted, confirmed to be artifacts, and studied.

L-R: Loren White (OSU), Steve Jenevein (Oregon State Parks), and Samuel Burns on board the flight from Cedros Island, Baja California, Mexico after a successful field session in January, 2019. Photo by Samuel Burns.

Samuel is able to take the artifacts, make 3D scans of the object, and input this information into a computational program. The computer converts the 3D scans into mathematical shapes and 3D models. So instead of looking at a couple things by eye and estimating if artifacts are similar or different, the program can compare large sets of data with discreet numbers and make conclusions about whether or not two artifacts found in different places have similar shapes. This allows researchers to ask questions about tool development over time and place.

To make 3D images, a laser scanner has been used in the past, but this is both expensive and large, so new methods are actively being developed for this purpose. One option is a structured light scanner, which has a light shining through multiple holes. To use a structured light scanner, you place your artifact on a patterned background and take lots of photos at many angles, producing a large amount of data to feed the computer program. Another easier option for 3D modeling is photogrammetry, which only requires a camera and a computer, even just a phone camera will work. This soft ware used is called “GLiMR” (GIS-based Lithic Morphometric Research) and is based on GIS software for modeling geographical landscapes, and the automation and ease of such a program enables archeologists to spend less time collecting numbers and more time assessing these numbers through statistical analyses and asking interesting questions.

Samuel’s crew lining up to conduct a systematic surface survey near Paulina, Oregon. Photo by Samuel Burns.

When you think about ancient North American stone artifacts, megafauna hunting tools like arrow heads and spears come to mind. However, in both the Cedros and Cooper’s Ferry sites, simpler tools are being found that suggest early North Americans exploited a wide range of resources and had a broad-spectrum diet. For example, artifacts found include shell or stone tools for processing fiber to making fishing line.

Samuel using a digital total station to take measurements at a Medieval Christian period site at el Kurru, Northern State, Sudan. Photo by Walter De Winter.

Growing up, Samuel never went to school and wasn’t homeschooled, but always loved history. He lived in an 1850s farmhouse, and spent his childhood going through old objects from his backyard, left behind over the past 100+ years. At age 17, realizing he wanted to go to college but not having the traditional requirements, Samuel applied to a University in Jerusalem and got in. After spending a year there, he ran out of money, and spent next few years working and moving around the world, including in South Korea and Israel. Eventually, he returned to the US and jumped back into school at a community college in Michigan and ultimately transferred to the University of Michigan, where he focused on ancient cultures and language of middle east.

Field camp near Colt, Arkansas, home for 6 months in 2016-2017. Photo by Samuel Burns.

Samuel graduated from UM in 2010 and then got a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, focusing on Egyptian studies. This first master’s centered around Syria and unfortunately, this research project was not able to be pursued further, so Samuel spent the next five years working in cultural resource management in the US. Through this job, he was able to travel around the US and soon became interested in North American archeological research. Samuel had a strong liberal arts background but, wanting to expand his earth science knowledge, came to Oregon State.

Eventually, Samuel wants to obtain a PhD and work in academia, continuing to formulate and direct research projects.

To hear more about Samuel’s path to OSU and experiences in archeological research, tune in Sunday, February 16th at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show at http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/kbvr_fm/, or download our
podcast on iTunes!

 

Davis, L. G., Bean, D. W., Nyers, A. J., & Brauner, D. R. (2015). GLiMR: A GIS-Based Method for the Geometric Morphometric Analysis of Artifacts. Lithic Technology, 40(3), 199–217.
Des Lauriers, M. R., Davis, L. G., Turnbull, J., Southon, J. R., & Taylor, R. E. (2017). The Earliest Shell Fishhooks from the Americas Reveal Fishing Technology of Pleistocene Maritime Foragers. American Antiquity, 82(3), 498–516.

Applying medical anthropology: a history of stress in Puerto Rico and its impacts on birth outcomes

Over the course of the last six years, Holly Horan, a doctoral candidate in the Applied Anthropology program at Oregon State University, has developed and carried out a course of research culminating in the largest-ever study measuring perceived and biological maternal stress during and after pregnancy in Puerto Rico. By combining in-depth interviews with Puerto Rican mothers with quantitative analysis of perceived stress and the stress hormone cortisol during each stage of pregnancy, Holly has gained insights into both the perceived and the physiological components of maternal stress that have potential to impact birth outcomes (in particular, timing of birth).

Holly describes herself as an applied medical anthropologist. She strives to take a holistic approach to health, considering not only the physiology of an individual, but external factors as well: the political situation, economics, the culture, and the historical context of the research site. She is passionate about “community-led research.” In community-led research, the community where the research is being conducted takes a role in the development, execution, analysis, and evaluation of the research.

Holly has found a way to combine her personal and professional interests in maternal and infant health with her desire to engage in research with Puerto Rican communities. Holly’s mother is Puerto Rican, and she had long wanted to engage in research that could benefit the island. While completing a master’s degree in anthropology at the University of Montana, Holly did preliminary research on the early onset of puberty among Puerto Rican girls. Here at OSU, Holly has been able to use both qualitative and quantitative methods to research maternal and infant health within a community-led framework.

At the beginning of her dissertation research, Holly learned that the cesarean birth rate in Puerto Rico was close to 50% — far higher than the rate in the continental U.S., which hovers around 30%. Both rates are much higher than the rate recommended by the World Health Organization, which indicates that the cesarean birth rate should be no higher than 15%. She also learned that the island struggled with high incidence of preterm birth and low birth weight, both of which are important population-level health indicators. Holly’s advisor, Dr. Melissa Cheyney, is a home-birth midwife and an associate professor within the Applied Anthropology program in the School of Language, Culture, and Society. Dr. Cheyney helped connect Holly to Puerto Rican midwives, who, in turn, connected them to other medical providers in Puerto Rico.

In the summer of 2014, Holly conducted a pilot study, spending six weeks in Puerto Rico interviewing maternal and infant health-care professionals. These interviews allowed her to develop goals for her dissertation research that aligned with the needs of the community. Participant narratives frequently displayed concerns associated with unexplainable high rates of preterm birth.

Holly’s National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded dissertation research examined the relationship between perceived maternal stress, biological maternal stress, and prematurity. After the 2014 pilot study, she moved to Puerto Rico for 16 months, where she used semi-structured interviews and perceived stress questionnaires to develop an understanding of this relationship. In addition to this qualitative component, she also measured the stress hormone cortisol from maternal hair samples. Cortisol is one of the most well-understood biological stress indicators. Up until recently, the primary available way to measure cortisol levels was through blood or saliva samples, which provided only an indication of short-term stress. As it turns out, however, cortisol is also incorporated into hair. Hair cortisol provides a measure of long-term stress — the type of stress that is speculated to impact maternal and infant health outcomes, including preterm birth.

In the summer of 2016, Holly initiated her dissertation research with an extensive series of in-depth interviews with pregnant and recently-postpartum women. At this time, the ZIKA virus was declared a public health emergency, and there was a variety of public health messaging concerning delayed reproduction and the risk of microcephaly. Through these interviews, Holly learned that the U.S. Government’s public health messaging led to an internal conflict for many pregnant Puerto Rican women. Families felt stress and fear about the prospect of infants developing microcephaly. However, the warnings and official recommendations to delay reproduction provided uncomfortable reminders of the island’s colonial past, which includes targeted experimental clinical trials of oral contraceptives and sterilization offered primarily to low-income women. This led many interviewees to be skeptical about the threat of the Zika virus, but did not deter them from being concerned for their fetus’ well-being.

These participants identified sources of stress that varied widely, ranging from socioeconomic concerns, political changes, and gender-based inequalities. For example, in May 2016, Puerto Rico’s government defaulted on over 70 billion dollars of debt. Under the regulations passed by La Junta, the appointed fiscal board, many employees were fired and then rehired for lower pay. Also affected was the secondary public-school system: nearly 150 schools were closed. While these events are structural, the interviews revealed that within the Puerto Rican people, the impact of the events was personal, and the magnitude of impacts depended on individuals social support networks and life circumstances.

After comparing maternal cortisol levels with the perceived maternal stress from the structured surveys, which were collected in each trimester across pregnancy, Holly found a counter-intuitive result: some of the mothers who had most problems with their pregnancies (such as premature birth) had unusually low levels of cortisol. One current theory is the concepts of allostasis or allostatic load and “weathering,” a term which has been in the media in recently describing the cumulative effects of chronic stress on health (discussed in an NPR interview here in the context of race-based discrimination). Normally, the body responds to stress by heightening the amount of hormones such as cortisol. After the stressor is removed, hormone levels shift back to a low-stress state. However, if stress is prolonged over months or years–such as when living under a system of oppression–the body starts to experience “wear-and-tear,” causing the body’s stress response system to become ineffective. This ultimately impacts health outcomes, such as premature birth.

There have been road bumps along the way. In late summer 2017, Holly was nearly three quarters completed with data collection and the project was moving along smoothly. However, Mother Nature had different plans: In September 2017, Puerto Rico was hit first by Hurricane Irma and then by Category 4 Hurricane Maria two weeks later. The hurricanes destroyed the power grid and most of the island’s infrastructure. Holly was evacuated by OSU a week after the storm. Although she was worried about the well-being of her participants, and the impact this storm would have on the research project, NSF and her other funders graciously supported her to return and complete the study, which she did in February and March of 2018. As a separate side-project, Holly plans to return to Puerto Rico this summer to share study results with the community and with community partners.

To hear more about Holly’s research, tune in Sunday, December 9th at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show at http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/kbvr_fm/,  download our podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode directly!

No strings attached. Why some students need help, and how others provide assistance

When was the last time you helped someone? Do you hold the door open for the person behind you when you enter a building? Have you picked a stranded friend up at the airport recently? Would you let distant relatives stay at your house? Our willingness to help others is a common thread that defines us as humans, but our guest this week has made this basic tenet her life’s mission. This passion for people is a product of the long and arduous road she has had to walk.

Vesna Stone grew up in Macedonia, at a time of relative safety and stability in this little country nestled between Greece and Serbia. She knew peace and economic security would not last much longer in her country, so she sought a stable country and better life for her child. It took over two years with rolling 30-day deadlines requiring health, housing, employment, and financial documents (just to name few), but Vesna and her family finally acquired green cards. They flew directly to Corvallis to start their new life in America.

Vesna at the Rotary Visit of the Presidential Palace of Peru – the presidents desk. July, 2011.

Finding work as a foreigner is tough. Vesna’s english and people skills landed her a job at the Ramada Inn. Her husband however, who spoke no english, was struggling to find work. To solve that problem, Vesna made a very interesting wager with the manager at the Georgia Pacific mill. It worked out, and her husband worked there for many more years. After traveling all this way, an entry-level job wasn’t going to suffice for Vesna.

An education can often be the difference between minimum wage and a well paying job with benefits. So Vesna found a graveyard shift at Hewlett Packard (HP) and went back to school, first at Linn-Benton Community College, then at OSU. After years of going to class in the morning, taking care of the kids in the evening, and working all night, Vesna eventually got her bachelor’s degree. She moved on to the first class job she had dreamed of at the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Vesna completing her first degree at Oregon State

The Macedonian flag being installed in OSU’s Memorial Union. The flag is also referenced in their National Anthem: “Today over Macedonia, is being born the new sun of liberty. The Macedonians fight, for their own rights!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vesna is now back in school to pursue a Masters degree in Anthropology. She has focused on a problem affecting students around the country. Many are faced with the impossible hurdle of not having enough food to eat. To put it in perspective, 20% of Oregonians are participating in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, as of 2015. Oregon has a resident participation rate that falls in the top five states in our country, however, even here, there are additional hurdles to receiving assistance if you are a student. Imagine studying for your midterms without lunch, or coffee, or the ability to snack on your pretzels to help you cram in that last chapter. Now imagine the frustration fellow classmates have when they realize it’s easier to participate in this crucial food assistance program if they were not enrolled in classes and instead sitting at home.

Vesna saw this problem not through scientific journals or reading the newspaper, but through her own eyes and ears. While working at the DHS, she kept hearing the frustration from students trying to get the assistance they desperately need. Those conversations with students, and her unending passion for wanting to help others, has lead Vesna to pursue a Masters degree while also being a full-time employee at a local office in the DHS.

There is so much more to this story that we’re leaving out, but to hear about Vesna’s experiences and future directions be sure to tune in Sunday February 12th at 7PM on 88.7FM, or listen live!

EDIT: For those looking for more information on the SNAPS program, you can see Vesna’s presentation provided by the Coalition of Graduate Employees, or OSU’s extension website. You can also find out more about Vesna on her website.