Grantee Receives 2012 L’Oreal “For Women in Science” Fellowship

We are very proud to note that a former Wenner-Gren grantee, Dr. Erin Marie Williams, currently a postdoctoral fellow at The George Washington University, has been named one of five recipients of the 2012 L’Oreal For Women in Science Fellowship, awarded annually to outstanding women scientists making groundbreaking advances in their respective fields. In the wake of the award, we asked Williams about her reaction to receiving this honor and how it will aid her research.


Could you tell us a bit about what you work on? Which Wenner-Gren grant did you receive?

I’m continuing to work on the biomechanics of stone tool production, and expended to use of those tools, as well. We are in the midst of publishing our findings on manual pressure distribution during various types of stone tool use, following up on the results we published on pressure distribution during stone tool production. Next I’ll start writing up results from experiments we conducted this summer looking at the effects different raw materials have on aspects of tool production and use. We collected the data at Ileret, Kenya using some of the same raw materials our early human ancestors used, so I’m fairly excited about this set of experiments. We were also able to collect from a large sample size, the largest data set I’ve compiled thus far, which is another exciting aspect of the experiment.

This year I will continue looking at the effects of raw material on upper limb biomechanics, but I’ll be back in a motion capture laboratory rather than the field. Specifically, how do experienced knappers respond to different raw material types with distinct sets of material properties?

I received one of the Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grants while I was a PhD student in the Hominid Paleobiology Program at GWU, which enabled me to collect the first manual pressure and force data on stone tool production. We recently published the results of that initial study in JHE. Since then I have used the equipment obtained with this grant over and over again. I took the system to Kenya over the summer and I’m planning to take it to a few knap-ins next summer. It has made a huge impact on the research I have been able to conduct.


What was your reaction when you found out that you had been awarded the Fellowship?

The two women from L’Oreal that do much of the leg work for the L’Oreal grant called me together while I was on a Megabus from Pittsburgh returning to DC. I answered the phone even though I didn’t recognize the number because I was expecting a call from NYC, which matched the zip code on caller ID. When they told me they were calling from L’Oreal I initially thought that it was very kind of them, if not rather taxing, to call all of the applications that were not selected and tell them personally that others were chosen. So I was more than a little surprised to hear that I was one of the five. Surprised and extremely honored. The program that L’Oreal runs for women in science is amazing and I feel so fortunate to now be a part of it. Not only will the fellowship enable me to conduct research about which I’m very excited, but the series of workshops they put together for us were hands down the most useful professional conduct and guidance workshops I have ever attended. The people that run L’Oreal for Women in Science are serious about giving women the tools we need to succeed. I am very fortunate to now be able to work with them.


What are some possible next steps for your research? What are you excited to tackle next, and how will the Fellowship assist you?

With the funds from L’Oreal and from my NSF postdoctoral fellowship I am investigating early human decision making abilities as evidenced by the manner in which modern humans make and use stone tools and through the stone tools our ancestors left behind. Given the adaptive nature of stone tool behaviors, it follows that the anatomical changes and cognitive capabilities underlying tool strategies were subject to refinement by natural and cultural selection, and that they represent the optimal response available within a given ecological context. Within this frame work, raw materials selected for stone tool production may conform to the most physically (i.e., biomechanically) efficient option, such as the minimization of work required for production. Additionally, stone tool assemblages at any given archaeological site should represent the optimal strategy that was available to hominins within that specific context .

In order to determine whether this is the case, and to better understand the decision-making processes underlying early humans’ selection of particular materials for technological behaviors, we need to understand the variables relevant to the costs and benefits of stone tool behaviors. The selection of appropriate raw stone material for tool production was one set of challenges early hominins faced in regard to stone tool behaviors. Selecting a raw material meant balancing the costs and benefits of a number of variables, including the energy required for making a tool from a given material and other physical costs incurred by the tool maker and/or user.  Though frequently discussed, physical costs as a function of raw material type have yet to be systematically investigated. Further, we currently lack an expedient method for quantifying these physical costs imposed by various raw materials during stone tool behaviors. Therefore, we also lack a comprehensive means of determining whether or not early hominins consciously selected raw materials that would have offered the most efficient, or most effective, means of producing and using tools. This type of cost-benefit analysis is a key characteristic of modern human decision-making processes and understanding when this ability evolved is critical to our understanding of the archaeological record and to the evolution of human cognitive abilities.
Through the integration of fracture mechanics and biomechanics theory and experiments, my goals are to 1) investigate aspects of the fracture behavior of five raw materials representative of those commonly used in the Paleolithic for stone tool behaviors and 2) test hypotheses and assumptions regarding the effects raw materials have on upper limb biomechanics during stone tool production and use, in order to 3) develop an expedient method for evaluating raw material quality as a function of the “physical costs” each material places on the body during production and use.

After my postdoc and fellowships are completed, I plan to use the equipment purchased with these funds to investigate chimp tool production and use in the wild. This project is still very much in the works, but I am hopeful that it will actually occur.

Paul Fejos’ “Lonesome” Now Out on Criterion DVD

Paul Fejos (1897 – 1963) is a figure that looms large in the history of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, serving as original Director of Research of the Viking Fund and President of the Foundation until his death and providing much of the style and flair that drove the organization’s development in its early years.

Trained as a medical doctor in Hungary and coming to anthropology later in life by way of his keen interest in ethnographic filmmaking, Fejos had previously made a brief but successful career as a director under contract for Universal Studios during Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age. His most infamous and well-regarded picture, 1928’s “semi-talkie” Lonesome, sees its first home video release this month from New York-based art house publishers The Criterion Collection. We worked to provide Criterion with materials to help produce this seminal release, and we are very proud to see Paul’s films reach a wider contemporary audience.

Prized by cinephiles for its experimental technique and strong European avant-garde influences, Lonesome‘s DVD and Blu-Ray release comes at the tail-end of a recent revival of interest in the film and the colorful renaissance man who helmed it. Criterion’s edition includes a new digital restoration, along with Fejos’ 1929 silent The Last Performance, a photo essay on the life of the director, essays, interviews, and rare photographs, all wrapped up in Criterion’s trademark impeccable packaging. It’s a beautiful package that offers up a rare gem of the late Silent Era, as well as a piece of Wenner-Gren history.

If you are in New York City this weekend, there will be free screenings of Lonesome running throughout the day on Sunday, September 23rd, on Queen Of Hearts boat docked at Pier 36, courtesy of All Tomorrow’s Parties.

Read an essay included with the DVD release, “The Travels of Paul Fejos”, by McMaster University’s Graham Petrie.

Frank Wadsworth (1919-2012), Wenner-Gren Foundation Trustee

We are saddened to announce that Dr. Frank Wadsworth, former Trustee and Board Chair, passed away on August 8, 2012.

Frank Wadsworth worked tirelessly for the Foundation from 1970 to 2006.  Throughout his tenure, beginning as a promising young English professor who brought fresh ideas to the Board, through the long period of his inspired leadership, to his later years as elder statesman and astute advisor, he was a guiding light for Trustees, four presidents, staff, and anthropologists associated with the Foundation. His thirty-six years of service included ten years as Chairman of the Board of Trustees (1977-1987), ten years as Vice Chairman (1994-2004), membership in the Executive Committee since its inception (1992-2006), Chairman of the Nominating Committee (1986-2004), and crucial roles on three presidential Search Committees

During the time he was Chair of the Board, he steered the Foundation through a period of profound crisis and more than anyone else in the Foundation’s history, is responsible for its survival and wellbeing. He had to make decisions that were hard and unpopular at the time, but were instrumental in putting Wenner-Gren on a sound fiscal basis. Through his scholarly integrity and personal grace, he also restored the trust of the anthropological profession in the Foundation and its activities. His diligence, courage, wisdom, and dedication ensured that Wenner-Gren would continue to benefit anthropology long into the future.

On his retirement in 2006, the Foundation renamed its Fellowship programs for international students in his honor. The Wadsworth International Fellowships and Wadsworth African Fellowships will be a lasting memorial to his involvement with the Foundation and the appreciation in which he is held by the Wenner-Gren community.

Bob Simpson and “Writing Across Boundaries”

Image courtesy

Guest-blogger Bob Simpson is Professor and Chair of the Board of Studies in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University and has participated in past Wenner-Gren symposia. Since 2007 he has been conducting a series of intensive two-day workshops aimed at honing the writing skills of social science PhD students, called “Writing Across Boundaries”.

In 2006, a call came out from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council for projects to support researcher development.  The call prompted Robin Humphrey and I to set about thinking about what was missing from current doctoral training in the UK.   It struck us that whilst there was extensive foundational training in methods and field preparation in place, little was being done about the return from the field and more specifically the business of writing ‘up’.  For many, the very idea of writing ‘up’ is a bit passé;  writing should take place at all stages of the research process.  We would not quibble with this basic assertion, but we both recalled those early stages of trying to write once fieldwork was completed and deadlines for completion began to loom.  This exercise in writing brought its own particular challenges.  How do I go about wringing text from that intimidating pile of notes, interviews, photographs, scribbled memoirs and so forth?  In fact, do I have anything to say at all that is worth saying?   Is my writing too simplistic, too prolix, where to start, where to stop?  Our reflections on this very important part of the process of becoming a fully fledged doctoral researcher resulted in a successful application for funds to run an annual, residential workshop for doctoral students who were using qualitative methods. The workshop had a simple aim: to help those attempting to write post-fieldwork by trying to figure out what the sticking points actually are.


Wenner-Gren at the AAA’s : World Council of Anthropological Associations

Wenner-Gren is at the 110th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Montreal where over 6000 anthropologists are expected for five days of discussion and debate. Things start Wednesday, however the World Council of Anthropological Associations met Tuesday. This is a meta-association of 38 national anthropological associations worldwide
devoted to establishing a means for networking and communication for international anthropology. Over 20 presidents of these associations attended to discuss plans for WCAA symposia at future national meetings (see for more information) and two new and exciting initiatives. (more…)

Return of the Covarrubias Logo

In 1947 Miguel Covarrubias was commissioned by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (then known as the Viking Fund) to design the Viking Fund Medal. The medal was awarded to honor outstanding intellectual leadership and exceptional service to the discipline of anthropology. It was originally struck in heavy bronze with a three-inch diameter and depicts four dancers, representing the diversity of humankind. (more…)