Staff & Student News

In early November, MacArthur Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch (Botany) travelled to Helsinki, Finland to serve as an Opponent (=Examiner) for the Ph.D. defense of the Finish graduate student Ulla Kaasalainen who has worked on the occurrence of toxins in lichens containing cyanobacteria.  Thorsten used the time in Helsinki to discuss the timeline and early steps of organization of the next international meeting of the International Association for Lichenology with a group of colleagues in Helsinki.  Thorsten is president of this association and is working with the local organizing committee to prepare for the 2016 meeting.

The Division of Mammals (Zoology) welcomes a new international student from Brazil.  João Luis da Fonseca is an undergraduate student at the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo in Vitôria, studying with Dr. Yuri Leite.  João has received a one-year fellowship from the Brazilian government’s program “Science without Borders” to study at The Field Museum with MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson and to work alongside Negaunee Collection Manager Bill Stanley and Preparator Anna Goldman, learning preparation and curation techniques and procedures.  By happy coincidence, while João is studying in Chicago, Resident Graduate Student Nate Upham (CEB) will work in Dr. Leite’s laboratory in Vitôria, amplifying the DNA of Brazilian endemic taxa that can not be exported under Brazilian law.  Science without Borders indeed!

Research & Publications

The 7th edition of Images of the Past by T. Douglas Price (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Curator Gary Feinman (Anthropology) has been published by McGraw-Hill.  The book, geared for classes in world archaeology, is an introduction to prehistoric archaeology that aims to capture the excitement and visual splendor of archaeology while at the same time providing insight into current research methods, interpretations, and theories in the field.  The 7th edition offers a beautifully illustrated, full-color, site-by-site survey of prehistory and has been revised in accordance with both new discoveries in archeology and the interests of readers.  Image leftThe cover of the seventh edition features a photograph taken by Linda Nicholas (Adjunct Curator, Anthropology) of an effigy vessel that was unearthed by Feinman and Nicholas during the excavation of a high-status tomb at the site of El Palmillo (the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico). This is the first time that an artifact discovered by one of the authors has appeared on cover of Images.

Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator for Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) and visiting scholar and collaborating postdoc Matthias Meier from Lund University, Sweden, were in Philadelphia from November 1–4.  Philipp collaborates with Antonios Zavaliangos, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Drexel University, Philadelphia and his group in the micro CT scanning lab at Drexel (image right) to obtain micro-CT scans of rare meteorites. “Micro-CT scans are non-destructive and reveal the different components within a meteorite,” says Philipp, “it is important to have a record of a rare meteorite before cutting it for mineralogical and chemical analyses, in particular if the piece is unique.”  The team analyzed one of the very few pristine pieces of the recently-fallen and donated Sutter’s Mill meteorite and for the first time also analyzed a rare fossil meteorite that was found by Research Associate Birger Schmitz’s (Geology) group in a 470 million-year-old seabed of mid-Ordovician limestone in Sweden.  The data is currently being processed for tomographic reconstructions and analyses; the first results will be presented at a major scientific conference next year. 

Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams (Anthropology) gave the opening lecture for the educational lecture series of the exhibit Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes at the Cleveland Museum of Art on November 4.  Ryan highlighted how Wari emerged as the Andes’ first empire in the 6th  century AD and chronicled the five keys to their success: an adaptive agricultural technology in time of climate stress, a religious system that incorporated local beliefs, an advanced economic commodity exchange system, based on investment in roads and administrative centers that represented Wari interests across the realm, and the hosting of feasting events that cemented relationships and impressed visitors with fantastic food and drink.  The exhibit is the first to focus exclusively on Wari in the United States and drew on the expertise of Ryan and other distinguished colleagues who study the South American empire.  Susan Bergh curates the exhibit.

Staff Scientist Jason Weckstein (Zoology/Birds) spent the week of October 22–26 at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana where he collaborated with Research Associate Kevin Johnson (Illinois Natural History Survey and Zoology) and Steve Taylor (Illinois Natural History Survey) to complete a manuscript on the population genetics of two lineages of cave crickets from caves in the Edwards Plateau of Texas.  During the visit Jason also worked on several projects with Kevin Johnson, postdoctoral fellow Julie Allen, and former Field Museum undergraduate intern Joseph Cacioppo (now in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, DVM/Ph.D. program) focused on reconstructing the evolutionary history of four megadiverse chewing louse genera that parasitize perching birds (the largest order of birds, Passeriformes).  The aim of this work is to compare patterns of coevolutionary history between these four megadiverse parasite lineages.  These lineages differ in many characteristics including feeding ecology, host specificity (how many hosts a given parasite can infect), and ability to disperse between hosts.  Thus, the ultimate goal of this work is to understand what factors allow some parasites to be generalists (infecting many species of hosts) whereas others are specialists (infecting only a single host species) and what factors are associated with the ability of a parasite to switch between hosts.  These are key evolutionary questions that have important consequences for understanding the ecology and evolution of all parasites and pathogens including those of humans and our commensal animals.

Fieldwork & Collections

Associate Curator and Chair Ryan Williams, Adjunct Curator Donna Nash, and Research Associate Nicola Sharratt (all Anthropology) conducted ethnographic and geoarchaeological collections in Chile and Peru in October focused on ceramic production and stoneworking.  Ryan and Donna acquired clays and conducted ceramic production and firing experiments with local potters in Azapa, Chile, and Moquegua, Peru.  They also acquired samples from five stone and four obsidian quarries from Easter Island, Chile.  These materials will be instrumental in characterizing the sources of material for museum collections made at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.  Image left: Results of a open air ceramic firing experiment of clay samples in Moquegua, Peru.

An international team led by Field Museum botanists and comprised of eight scientists from Thailand, New Zealand, France, and the U.S., conducted fieldwork in New Caledonia during September and October (see header image).  New Caledonia is one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots (and one of the smallest—about the size of New Jersey) with exceptional biological and ecological diversity.  This group of islands is located in the South Pacific at the southern extremity of the Melanesian region, 1,200 km east of Australia.  Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat (Botany) led a four-week expedition collecting early land plants (liverworts, mosses and hornworts), ferns, and lichenized fungi.  The fieldwork is part of a long-term project investigating spore-producing organisms in the South Pacific led and coordinated by Field Museum scientists.  The multi-disciplinary team included Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch and Postdoctoral Research Scientist Juan Larraín (both Botany).  An expedition of this scale for these organisms in New Caledonia is unprecedented.  The trip yielded over 5,000 specimens, with dozens of new generic and species records for the island, and probably several species new to science, including a tree fern species discovered by Dr. Leon Perrie of Te Papa Museum, New Zealand.  Louis Thouvenot of the Muséum National d'histoire Naturelle in Paris was instrumental in facilitating the expedition.  

                  More information about the expedition can be accessed here.   Financial support from multiple agencies and individuals are gratefully acknowledged, including The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Negaunee Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.  Check out a radio interview with Dr. Leon Perrie about the trip and the discovery of the new tree fern species at this link

Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology) traveled to eastern and central Europe in late October.  In Hungary, Bill met his colleagues Dr. Attila Gyucha (Hungarian National Museum) and Dr. Paul Duffy (University of Toronto) to participate in the Békéscsabai Kolbászfesztivál (Békéscsaba Sausage Festival); where Bill and his colleagues competed in an international sausage making competition that involved over five hundred teams, each of which was required to produce 1.5 meters of paprika-rich Hungarian sausage.  Although their team did not win the competition, they met many of the important local officials who have continuously supported their ongoing research in the Körös Region of Hungary over the last fifteen years. Image left: Bill at the Békéscsabai Kolbászfesztivál.

                  Bill and his colleagues also traveled to the mountains of northern Hungary, where he collected  samples of obsidian (volcanic glass) from its source location.  Carpathian obsidian was used throughout central and eastern Europe for making stone tools in prehistory.  The Department of Anthropology has been building an economic geology type collection that serves as a worldwide resource for geological materials that were critical for ancient economies.  Our obsidian type collection now includes key sources from four different continents. Image rightAn artifact made on Carpathian obsidian excavated at a Copper Age (4,500 BC) village located several hundred kilometers from the geological source.

                  At a conference in Mikulov, Czech Republic, Bill and his colleagues presented their paper, entitled “Rain or Shine: The Dynamics of Prehistoric Village Organization on the Great Hungarian Plain,” in a session entitled “Human-Landscape Interaction in Prehistoric Central Europe: Analysis of Natural and Built Environments,”organized by Monika Baumanová, Karolína Pauknerová, Roderick Salisbury, and Gábor Bacsmegi. The paper explored the long-term patterns of settlement organization and environmental trends during the Holocene on the Great Hungarian Plain.  Bill and his colleagues argued that social concerns were more important in settlement placement and organization than environmental considerations during many periods of prehistory.

The Botany Department hosted two Brazilian visitors to the collections from October 22–26. Sarah Maria Athie de Souza from the Universidade Federal Rural de Penambuco worked on the genus Stillingia (in the Euphorbiaceae family).  Sarah annotated a number of new types that she found in the Department’s collections.  Jefferson Sobrinho from the Feira de Santana State University examined collections of Pseudobombax (in the family Bombacaceae) from October 24–November 4.  Both visitors made stops at the Smithsonian and the Missouri Botanical Garden herbaria during their trip as well.

Collection Manager Alan Resetar (Zoology/Amphibians and Reptiles) attended the annual meeting of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Non-game Amphibian and Reptile Technical Advisory Committee in Indianapolis on November 3rd.   He presented a review of his 2012 amphibian and reptile field activities in northwestern Indiana.  On September 7–8, Alan attended the Midwest Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (MPARC) meeting in Pioneer, Ohio.


Research Associate Paul Brinkman (Library) spent three days (October 29–31) combing through historic photographs, manuscript documents and other rare treasures in The Field Museum Library’s special collections.  This research was done in connection with Dr. Brinkman’s project on the history of the Captain Marshall Field Paleontological Expeditions in the 1920s.  The first installment of this project, called “Red Deer River shakedown,” will be published in the journal Earth Sciences History in late 2013.

Regenstein Collections Manager Chris Philipp and Regenstein Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Golitko (both Anthropology) traveled to the north coast of Papua New Guinea during the month of October to obtain permissions for renewed archaeological and ethnographic fieldwork planned for 2013.  On this trip they also visited with colleagues and toured Pacific collections in Sydney (Australian Museum), Canberra (Australia National University and Australia National Museum), and Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery).  On this trip Philipp also brought back 90 contemporary artifacts for the Museum’s Pacific holdings (string bilum bags, baskets, ornaments, and some raw materials used for their construction).  Image leftChris Philipp at a market in Wewak, northern Papua New Guinea, where he purchased contemporary objects for the museum's collections. 

Tatyana Livshultz, Assistant Curator of Botany at the Philadelphia Academy of Science visited the Botany Department for two days in late October.  She first met with Collections Manager Christine Niezgoda and Digital Imaging Specialist Daniel Le to see the Botany Department's Digital Photography Center.  The Academy is partnering with Field Museum on the Global Plants Initiative project and Tatyana was interested in learning about protocols.  During her stay she also met with Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Robert Lücking and Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager Matt von Konrat (both Botany) to discuss the North American Bryophyte and Lichen Digitization project, a multi-institutional, NSF-funded consortium, in which The Philadelphia Academy is a new partner.  Tatyana was also interested in seeing how the bryophytes are curated.

Graduate Research Assistant Matthew Piscitelli (Anthropology) has recently returned from a six-month archaeological field project in Peru.  He has excavated a series of small-scale temples at the Late Archaic (3,000–1,800 B.C.) site of Huaricanga in the Fortaleza Valley to explore variation in religious practices in the evolving complex polities on the Peruvian coast.  Using an innovative multidisciplinary approach, Matthew is applying modern scientific techniques such as pollen analysis, micromorphology, and X-Ray Fluorescence to reconstruct ancient ritual practices. Through a better understanding of ritual practices one can investigate how early leaders negotiated the social milieu through ritual performance and, as a result, can develop theoretical models relating religion and society.  Matthew’s fieldwork has been generously supported by The Field Museum, the Women’s Board, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Brennan Foundation, and National Geographic.  Further funding for analysis has also been acquired through a recent NSF dissertation grant.  To learn more about the project please visit Matthew’s website here.  

Public Education & Media Coverage

On November 9, C&R Media Interns Jared Berent and Kate Webbink released a new The Field Revealed entitled We Are All Stardust.  Join Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator for Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) and his team in their quest for presolar grains—cosmic stardust older than our Solar System!

The November 2 issue of the Southtown Star included an article on Regenstein Conservator JP Brown’s (Anthropology) recent presentation on CT scanning at The Field Museum; you can view it here.

After passing 10,000 podcast downloads, the “What the Fish?” team has released Episode 11: Feeding Frenzy.  In this episode, “What the Fish?” is joined by their first return guest ever, Sarah Gibson (University of Kansas).  This week’s panel of four discusses some of the most dominant aquatic predators in the world from the famous Piranha to African Tiger Fish, sharks, and the Lancetfish.  As always, tune in every other Friday for the latest discussion from the fish nerds: Assistant Curator Leo Smith, Postdoctoral Research Scientist Matthew Davis, Consultant and Volunteer Eric Ahlgren (all Zoology/Fishes).  Please follow them on Twitter and tweet your fishy questions to @FM_WhatTheFish or  The podcasts are also available at iTunes here.

A delegation from the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) visited The Field Museum from October 31–November 3 for an extended tour of the research, collection, and exhibit facilities.  The NMP recently received approval to renovate an existing building in Manila (designed by Daniel Burnham!) to serve as the new Natural History Museum of the Philippines, and they intend to use the Field Museum as a prime model for their planning.  The four delegates were Dr. Ana Labrador (Assistant Director of the PNM), Dr. Arvin Diesmos (herpetologist), Mary Louise Bolunia (archeologist), and Roberto Balarbar (conservator).  The delegation toured facilities and held discussions in Anthropology, Exhibits, and Zoology (Amphibians and Reptiles, Birds, Invertebrates, Mammals), and met with C&R Senior Vice President and Head of Collections Lance Grande; they also presented brief talks about the new museum at a special seminar on November 1.   Curator Larry Heaney and Research Associate Danny Balete (both Zoology/Mammals) have been invited to serve as planning advisors on the new museum, where they will discuss issues involving facilities and staffing priorities. 

MacArthur Associate Curator and Chair Thorsten Lumbsch and Collections Manager Christine Niezgoda (both Botany) led a behind-the-scenes tour of the herbarium on October 25 for 23 National-Louis University students in conjunction with a course Executive Vice President Jim Croft is teaching at the Museum. 

On November 6, Staff Scientist Jason Weckstein (Zoology/Birds) gave a presentation to four 3rd grade classes at Lincolnwood Elementary School in Evanston.  Many of the student-guided reading groups had read a book about the Wandering Albatross (Diomedia exulans) and Jason brought one of the Museum’s Wandering Albatross specimens so that the students could see the immensity of this amazing bird species.  He also carried a few specimens of common gull species from Illinois so that the students could learn more about some of their own local “seabirds.”