Yes, I’m in Hawaii. No I’m not really on vacation. I’m attending a Society for American Archaeology meeting. Penn State is well represented at this meeting by faculty, students and former students who are now faculty at other universities.
Each year, sometime during the meeting, there is a Penn State gathering. There’s usually a theme. The year after Bill Sanders died, film footage of him in Mexico and Central America formed the backdrop of the party.
This year is another occasion, or rather two. Dean Snow, professor of anthropology and former head of the department is really retiring after teaching part time for a while. In conjunction with his retirement, he and his wife are setting up the Snow Award in Archaeology to honor and recognize outstanding academic achievement by an undergraduate student whose studies are focused in archaeological science in the College of the Liberal Arts. They have put aside $10,000 to be matched by donations from others. Twenty thousand dollars are needed to establish a fund for student support.
I received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the department and Dean Snow was on my dissertation committee. I’ll undoubtedly donate in his honor. But I was thinking, he isn’t the first faculty member to donate money to his department on retirement. Apparently many of our faculty think enough of our students and the university to donate upon retirement or at some other time.
The Penn State Anthropology party at this meeting is always fun. I get to see people I went to school with and to catch up a little. I found out one of my classmates made tenure. Another moved to South Carolina. Many people who are usually here did not come because of the cost, and those that do come are obviously well employed in the field, so it isn’t a perfect indicator of how the department is doing. However, I’m always impressed by what these former students are doing now and how Penn State influenced their research and their choice of jobs.
This year I also spent part of the party time interviewing a professor because just that morning I’d received a notice that he was publishing a paper in 5 days. I sent him an e-mail only to find out he was at the conference. So I took the time to do the interview.
I don’t usually do interviews in the middle of a party, but we sat down at the dining room table and began to chat. I do always have a reporter’s notebook in my purse. He is an environmental archaeologist and doing some really interesting things.
Douglas Kennett was at the University of Oregon before he joined Penn State a short while ago. During that time he was looking into dates of Maya sites and made arrangements with the University of Pennsylvania to sample a door lintel they had in their museum. Then he moved here as a full professor and is now publishing on that work out of the Pennsylvania State University. So as he told me, it is a Pennsylvania story.
But it is really about the Maya city of Tikal, sapodilla trees, radiocarbon 14 dating and linking the Long Count calendar to the European calendar.
Ambitious, but truly fascinating and likely to provide hints not only of what the Maya faced climate wise, but what we may face in the future.