Wide-eyed seventh graders look on as Associate Professor of Anthropology Miriam Belmaker explains the difference between the bones of a man and a woman. Some are in awe of holding a real human skeleton and others sketch the perfect skull.
Four years ago, Riverfield Country Day School reached out to the TU Department of Anthropology for some assistance teaching about different cultures and people with varying physical features. “We did a whole big session on basic bioarcheology, which means looking at skeletons and telling what the gender, ethnicity, age and if they have pathologies,” Belmaker said.
The students fell in love with it, and based on the measurements they took of the bones, they molded facial features. “They made clay faces the way they imagined the skulls would have looked,” she said.
The program has expanded into more Tulsa schools. “The idea behind this is the sooner the students are exposed to what university life is like, the more we draw them into academia,” Belmaker said.
“This also allows students to be really excited and have a hands-on experience where they can see the results.”
By studying bones, students are not only able to see how different cultures live but also what unites all humankind. “If we start young, it raises questions and questions are good,” Belmaker added. Seventh graders can relate the lesson back to themselves and ask questions like, ‘Was this individual taller than me?’”
TU’s paleoanthropology and human osteology collection is open to all TU colleges, students and professors. From the law school to geology, students have researched and studied these museum-quality fossils and natural bone human skeletons.
People in the Tulsa community will even bring in fossils to try to discover the origins. “We become the focus of this knowledge base that we can give back to the community,” Belmaker said. TU’s anthropology department hopes to expand its bioarcheology program to more local public and private schools.
To learn about how to get a local school connected to TU’s Anthropology Department, contact Miriam Belmaker.