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Witt to present free lecture at ETSU

Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm

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An area bioarcheologist will give a free, public lecture on Saturday at noon at the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site.

 The talk will be given by bioarchaeologist Rachel Witt, who analyzes human skeletal remains to uncover the experiences of precolonial Andean populations in South America.

 According to ETSU officials, guests are invited to bring their lunch to the event, which is part of the ongoing Lunchtime Lecture Series hosted by the museum and sponsored by the ETSU Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology.

 The topic of the lecture is “Violent Encounters in Andes Warfare, Trophy-Taking, and Sacrifice.”

 Witt’s research investigates how the practices of independent communities, versus those of imperial states, affected people’s exposure to violence.

 She also examines the funerary practices of the north-central highlands of Peru.

 Witt’s talk will deal with the archaeological study of those human skeletal remains and its usefulness in identifying and interpreting conflict within an ancient society.

 “Prior to Spanish contact, all Andean populations were illiterate and produced no written documents, so bioarchaeology is crucial in understanding how acts of violence influenced the creation, expansion and dissolution of precontact societies,” Witt said.

 She said studying the formation, location and frequency of wounds in human remains allows scientists to infer what types of conflict — such as warfare, ritualized violence or human sacrifice — may have caused them.

 “Previous studies demonstrate that environmental disasters, territorial expansion and social domination also provoked violent encounters in the Andes,” she added.

 During the previous three years, Witt has worked with several projects in Peru, including the Ayacucho Bioarchaeology Project with La Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga, Proyecto Bionarqueológico Coporaque, and Proyecto de Investigaticón Arqueológico Regional Ancash.

 She earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and history of art from Vanderbilt University and is currently a curatorial assistant at the Natural History Museum and Gray Fossil Site.

 The museum’s summer hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it will be closed on July 4.

 For more information or special assistance for those with disabilities, call 1-866-202-6223, or visit naturalhistorymuseum/ for dates and times of future lectures.