Staff & Student News

Associate Registrar Gloria Levitt (Anthropology) was featured on the North Central College (Naperville) website when Amanda Marolf was awarded the College’s 2011 Gloria Levitt Scholarship for Anthropology.  Amanda will be receiving the $1,000 scholarship for her unpaid internship working in The Field Museum’s Anthropology Collections this summer.  Gloria was an intern for TFM before graduating from North Central in 2003, and in her role as Associate Registrar she teaches interns the accession process—acquisition, labeling and storage of objects.

Research & Publications

Between July 18 and July 23, Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) visited the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research (where he is an honorary research associate) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Joahnnesburg.  Ken worked with Drs.  Bruce Rubidge and John Hancox on a manuscript describing new specimens of the dicynodont therapsids (mammal relatives) Shansiodon and Angonisaurus from the Middle Triassic (~240 Ma) of South Africa.  These specimens are the first representatives of these taxa found in South Africa, and are important for comparing the ages of the rocks in which they're found to rocks in places such as China and Tanzania.

On July 27, Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) presented a talk in Lusaka for the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia.  The talk was entitled “New Species and New Insights into the Largest Mass Extinction from Tanzania and Zambia,” and it described recent work by Ken and his collaborators on Tanzanian and Zambian fossils, and their implications for the end-Permian mass extinction.

Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) is a co-author of a paper with Peter Roopnarine (California Academy of Sciences) that appeared online in Biology Letters on August 24.  The paper, entitled "The Evolutionary Palaeoecology of Species and the Tragedy of the Commons," is based on modeling of how disturbances to a community can propagate through food webs and cause extinction.  In the course of this work, Peter and Ken discovered that adaptations benefiting individual species by allowing them to gather more food resources can cause changes to their community's food web structure that allow disturbances to cause extinction more easily.  In turn, this increases the vulnerability of all species in the community to extinction.  The situation is analogous to the concept of The Tragedy of the Commons first described by Garret Hardin, in which individuals acting in their own self-interest will tend to deplete shared limited resources even when the resource in question is required for the survival of all individuals.  Peter and Ken’s paper is part of a special feature in Biology Letters on “Models in Palaeontology.”


Resident Graduate Student Carrie Seltzer (UIC and Zoolgy/Mammals) attended the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting in Austin, TX August 7–12 to present a poster entitled, "Plants, rats, and people: Seed dispersal of an economically important rainforest tree in Tanzania."  These are preliminary results of a project studying how rodents, especially giant pouched rats, disperse seeds and affect the regeneration of Allenblackia stuhlmannii (Clusiaceae), a canopy tree species that provides income through sale of it's seeds for vegetable oil.  The Rufford Small Grands Foundation supported this research.  A copy of Carrie's poster is available for viewing on her website.  


Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp R. Heck and Collections Manager James L. Holstein (both Geology) were in London August 5–12 to attend the 74th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society held at the University of Greenwich.  Philipp and Jim also visited the meteorite collection and analytical labs at the Natural History Museum in London, and met with meteoritics staff.  They were particularly impressed with the ongoing effort to scan all collection-related paperwork and organize it in a central database.

Despite some interruptions and tense moments because of the violent London riots the conference was a success.            

Jim presented a poster on the successful meteorite digitalization pilot project at the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies.  So far, 21 different meteorites from various groups were digitized in 3D by Field Museum interns Elizabeth Pelker and Sam Simon.  Future plans include a virtual public display on the Field Museum website.            

Philipp gave a talk on the latest results from his research project on atom-by-atom analysis of individual nanodiamonds from the meteorite Allende.  These diamonds are the most abundant at least partly presolar grains.  Because of their small size (two nm diameter), individual diamonds have not been analyzed in as much detail as other presolar grains, thus their origins are not well understood.  Philipp is co-author on six other papers, five of them on new results of the efforts to find and analyze the first contemporary interstellar dust in the laboratory that was collected and brought back to Earth by NASA's Stardust Mission.  Field Museum interns Asna Ansari and Brit Hvide (both Geology) found several ET dust impact craters with the Field Museum scanning electron microscope and are co-authors on two of the Stardust papers.  Abstracts of all presentations have been published in a special issue of the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, and are also available here.  


Fieldwork & Collections

In late August, MacArthur Curator Jonathan Haas and Adjunct Curator Winifred Creamer (both Anthropology) returned from an extended trip to Peru.  This year they focused on the analysis and inventory of collections associated with the Proyecto Arqueológico Norte Chico.  Since 2000, the project has been conducting excavations and surveys to investigate the beginnings of a distinctive Andean/South American civilization in the 3rd millennium B.C.  They examined and recorded thousands of stone tools, textiles, sea shells, animal bones, plant remains, and various other materials accumulated from nine seasons of archaeological field work. 

No previous projects on the coast of Peru have conducted a systematic analysis of stone tools from the Late Archaic Period (3,000—1,800 B.C.).  Building a completely new analytical format, this analysis revealed fascinating patterns in the manufacture and use of stone tools some 4,000—5,000 years ago.  Jonathan and Winifred found quite distinct types of tools used for a wide variety of activities, as well as differences in the types of tools used in different kinds of buildings and statuses of residences.  One of the main new pieces of information coming out of the lithic analysis is that the large majority of all types of stone tools were being used to process corn—Zea mays.  These data from tools complements the existing data from analysis of pollen samples and coprolites (feces) showing that corn was being grown and eaten in the Late Archaic. 


MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) and Research Associate Carl Dick (Zoology and Western Kentucky University) returned on August 16 from an 18-day trip to Kenya.  Together with colleagues from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), and operating under memoranda of understanding that The Field Museum has established with each organization, the two collected bats and bat flies with Dr. Paul Webala, a KWS Training Institute instructor who recently completed his doctorate at Murdoch University.  The team worked in Aberdares National Park, a special KWS reserve near Lake Naivasha, at Hell’s Gate National Park, in lava tubes surrounding Mt. Suswa, and in Lake Nakuru National Park—all entrance and accommodation fees were waived by KWS, which also allotted a new Land Cruiser, a driver, and a ranger to the project.  The team collected bats and their ectoparasites using mist nets, hand nets and forceps and collected  bat echolocation calls using a new Anabat SD2 ultrasonic recorder.  This work was mainly supported by an “African Partners” grant from the IDP Foundation/Field Museum African Training Fund.  The grant initiated a two- or three-year program to survey bats, parasites and pathogens throughout Kenya’s system of protected areas; additionally, it supplied samples for their current NSF grant, which seeks to construct a well-resolved phylogeny of bat flies of the world.  In October, Bruce, Carl and their colleagues plan to host a visit by KWS’s Dr. Webala, who wants to learn DNA sequencing techniques, and NMK’s Ruth Makena, who wishes to refine her collection management and preparation skills working with the newly-collected materials.

On August 23, the Division of Insects received a very unusual specimen donation—the “large beetle” collection of Dr. Ulrich Danckers.  Dr. Danckers, a retired Chicago-area radiologist, spent about 50 years assembling a collection focused on beetle species that reach a length of at least 50 mm (about two inches; see photo for examples).  There are roughly 1,000 known species meeting that specification, and the Danckers collection includes around 75% of them.  Nearly all the specimens have locality data, so even though some of the species are already represented in the Field Museum’s large and outstanding beetle collection, the new specimens provide additional documentation of the geographic range, and often the date of collection of their species.  Many of the species are relatively rare.  The collection includes five holotypes (the specimen to which the name of a species or subspecies is tied when it is described and named) and four paratypes (other specimens used in describing a new species or subspecies).  It is vital for holotypes, especially, to be deposited in institutional collections to help ensure their survival and availability to researchers in perpetuity, and Dr. Danckers was very happy to find a good home for his collection at The Field Museum. 

The families represented in the Danckers collection (in descending order by approximate numbers) are: Cerambycidae (longhorn beetles), Scarabaeidae (scarabs and chafers), Lucanidae (stag beetles), Buprestidae (metallic woodboring or jewel beetles), Curculionidae (weevils), Carabidae (ground beetles), Passalidae (patent-leather or bess beetles), Trictenotomidae (no common name), Brentidae (straight-snouted weevils), Tenebrionidae (darkling beetles), Hydrophilidae (water scavenger beetles), and Lycidae (net-winged beetles).  Over the coming months, the specimens will be added to our online collection database to make their presence known to interested researchers.


Assistant Curator Ken Angielczyk (Geology) traveled to Zambia July 24–August 18 to conduct fieldwork with colleagues from the University of Washington and the Zambian National Heritage Conservation Commission in Permian- and Triassic-aged rocks in the Zambezi and Luangwa valleys.  This work is part of the team’s ongoing investigation of patterns of extinction during and recovery from the end-Permian mass extinction (the largest mass extinction in Earth history, ~252 Ma) in Tanzania and Zambia.  Important discoveries include the first Middle Permian-age (~265 Ma) fossils of dinocephalian therapsids (mammal relatives) and archaic amphibians found in Zambia, a large number of Late Permian-age (~255 Ma) dicynodont therapsids, including specimens of at least two potential new species, and specimens of several kinds of Middle Triassic-age (~240 Ma) archosaurs (bird, dinosaur, and crocodile relatives).  Many of the discoveries are consistent with the team's hypothesis that terrestrial vertebrate communities were very uniform across southern and eastern Africa before the extinction event, but that recovery from the extinction proceeded in different ways in South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia.  Funding from The Field Museum/IDP Foundation, Inc. African Partners Program and a gift to the Geology Department from Volunteer Karen Nordquist supported the fieldwork.


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