Neanderthal takes part in CentreTerm class
RELEASED: Jan. 25, 2006
I did an independent study for CentreTerm, but I did so in an unconventional manner. I acted as an intern of sorts for Professor Phyllis Passariello's freshman course "Neanderthal," a course that examined the controversial questions of "Who were the Neanderthals?" and "What was their place in human evolution?"As an intern, I completed the course requirements, carried out independent research and writing projects, and assisted with labs and discussions. Perhaps the most interesting part of the class, however, was its hands-on approach --the students got to assemble both a Homo sapiens sapiens skeleton and a Neanderthal skeleton. Equipped with drills, screws, wire, and glue, freshmen students assembled boxes of bones and brought the two skeletons to life. It was definitely a difficult task with plenty of chances to make mistakes. Even the individuals who sold us the bones (Bone Clones, Inc.) hinted that assembly process would be frustrating (and most likely ridden with errors). However, the students seemed not to be fazed in the least.
There were a couple of truly memorable experiences from the course. One day, the entire class went to the home of Jack Hankla, a Danville dentist who owns the largest private collection of fossils in the United States. It was absolutely incredible. There was something amazing in each and every nook and cranny of his house. On his dining room table, for instance, was the tooth of a Mammoth! In his billiard room was the skeleton of a cave bear! Items that were millions of years old sat on his fireplace mantel. I was astounded to be within inches of fossils about which I had only read in books. (Jack was also very helpful in giving our class advice on how to put together the two skeletons.)
Another wonderful experience from this course was our field trip to Chicago. While there, many students strolled the "Magnificent Mile," rode the Chicago "L," walked to Soldier Field, and sampled Chicago's famous pizza! But the primary purpose of our venture to the Windy City was to visit the Field Museum. Touring only the parts of the Field Museum open to the public would have been fabulous; but our group got to take an exclusive "behind the scenes" tour of the anthropology rooms of the museum! It is in these rooms that the conservationists work to restore various pieces and items not on display are stored. All of this was very exciting, especially for an anthropology major such as myself.
I'm so fortunate that I got to act as an intern to this class. I got to meet many new people, to come within a few feet of an actual cave bear skeleton, to get a guided tour of private areas of the Field Museum, and to learn in depth about one of the most controversial topics in physical anthropology, all within the span of a few weeks! Oh, yes, and witness the assembly of a Neanderthal.
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