New CAAM Labs and Classrooms Open for Fall Semester

From the Deputy Director

By: Steve Tinney

Originally Published in 2014

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When students swipe their Penncards at the blue door and walk down the corridor to the Penn Museum’s newly reopened West Wing Labs, a world of experiences awaits them. Swiping again, through the grey door, they enter the realm of Conservation and the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials, or CAAM, where a suite of laboratory, teaching, and meeting spaces has been painstakingly planned and refurbished over the last six years.

Most of the students will have their first CAAM experience in the 25-seat Teaching Lab which is directly underneath the Museum’s newly restored Widener Lecture Room. Here, under the watchful eye of the Morton collection, which lines the room in cases that set new standards of access and preservation for its hundreds of skulls, Physical Anthropologist Dr. Janet Monge can offer hands-on training in the methods of human skeletal analysis to the scores of would-be doctors, anthropologists, and archaeologists who fill her classes.

Another session may see Archaeozoologist Dr. Kate Moore’s class of freshmen peering through newly purchased microscopes as they take an analytical approach to the fundamental question of how humans adapted their lifestyles to their environment. In this foundational class, Food and Fire: Archaeology in the Laboratory, students can begin their progression from neophyte to fully independent researcher, developing experience in applying scientific analysis to research questions.

Ceramics expert Dr. Marie-Claude Boileau is spoiled for choice, for in addition to the large general- purpose Teaching Lab, she has access to a smaller teaching laboratory tailored to the needs of petrography— the material analysis of ceramics. Thin sections of sample materials from ancient pottery are examined using polarizing microscopes, and students learn to interpret what they see to understand the make-up of the clay and to identify any significant inclusions. Working from the analysis to the bigger picture, the data thus obtained opens the door to understanding where the ceramics originated and how they were made.

Beginning in January, the Museum’s most recently appointed Faculty-Curator, Dr. Megan Kassabaum, will introduce another of CAAM’s specialties, archaeobotany. A joint appointment in the Museum and the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Anthropology, Dr. Kassabaum will lead a class co-taught with Drs. Moore and Monge, joining forces to provide an intermediate- level introduction to the analysis of organic materials. A corresponding class scheduled for the next academic year will focus on the analysis of inorganic materials including ceramics, metals, and lithics, with lithics taught by another Museum curator and member of the Anthropology faculty, Dr. Harold Dibble.

Future plans include two more specialties. Conservation, CAAM’s West Wing neighbor, will be integrated into the roster of offerings in 2016 and Digital Archaeology will join the action in the same year, training students in visualizing data—both from the eld and from CAAM’s post-excavation analyses— and in the virtual reconstruction of ancient lives and places.

For all of the students who come through its doors, reaping the bene ts of huge amounts of concentrated planning, implementation, and generosity, CAAM offers new and unparalleled opportunities to participate in the research life of a major university museum with world- class collections. As they learn analytic skills and develop them under the mentoring of CAAM’s experts, they will be drawing on the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Instructors, individually and in teams, can model their interdisciplinary approaches to complex research questions in new ways, and foster in current and future students a new level of integration of knowledge in classes, independent studies, and dissertations. CAAM’s researchers, teachers, and students have a bright future!

Cite This Article

Tinney, Steve. "New CAAM Labs and Classrooms Open for Fall Semester." Expedition Magazine 56, no. 3 (December, 2014): -. Accessed April 18, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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