The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences announced Michael Searcy as the new department chair of the BYU Anthropology Department, effective June 15, 2022. Searcy replaced James Allison, who served as department chair since 2016.
“Professor Searcy is an excellent scholar across anthropological disciplines and also brings administrative skills gained as director of the New World Archaeological Foundation for the past five years,” said Laura Padilla-Walker, dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. “I’m grateful for his willingness to accept this responsibility and lend his time and expertise to leading the department.”
In 2020, Searcy received the Martin B. Hickman Excellence in teaching award from the college, and from 2015-2018, he was a Butler Young Scholar in Western Studies, awarded by the Charles Redd Center. Much of Searcy’s research focuses on the Casas Grandes cultural tradition of northwest Mexico.
“As department chair, my primary goal is to create unity and equity across subfields and for all our students,” said Searcy. “I’m a huge anthropology advocate with interest in both archaeology and socio-cultural anthropology. We offer a lot of wonderful experiences to help all our students gain a foundational and valuable education in understanding the human experience.”
The Anthropology Department is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The program is unique in that it has offered students experiential learning and mentoring opportunities for more than 50 years with field schools and through participation in projects run by BYU’s Office of Public Archaeology. As a discipline, anthropology trains students to interpret human behavior in the context of modern and past civilizations.
“Professor Allison greatly contributed to a legacy of experiential learning that is an important appeal for students who choose to study anthropology at BYU,” says Padilla-Walker. “We appreciate his contribution as department chair over the past six years.”
There was standing room only the night of Oct. 7 when museum patrons gathered at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Peoples and Cultures to celebrate Utah County resident John Hinckley for his lasting contributions to archaeological research. The Utah Board of State History honored Hinckley with an Outstanding Achievement Award for his preservation of Fremont archaeological sites on his property near Utah Lake.
Photo caption: John Hinckley (right) receives Outstanding Achievement Award from the state of Utah, standing beside Michael T. Searcy (left) BYU anthropology professor (Photo credit: Quinn Karpowitz)
Hinckley has graciously turned his property into an outdoor classroom where BYU students are mentored in archaeological excavation and research. This tradition was begun by his father, G. Marion Hinckley, who allowed BYU professors to bring students to do field archaeology on the Hinckley land since the 1940s.
During that time, hundreds of students have discovered artifacts and participated in excavations at the Hinckley Mounds, including students from both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. During a 2015 field school, Hinckley opened the Fremont sites to the public, and over 600 fourth graders studying Utah history and prehistory made visits. Boy Scout groups also participated in the excavation to earn an archaeology merit badge.
Through his efforts, Hinckley has provided countless opportunities for experiential learning and has inspired the next generation of Utah archaeologists.
One of those students is Sam Jensen, a master’s student in anthropology and research assistant to Michael Searcy, associate professor of anthropology at BYU. Jensen said the experience of working on the Hinckley site has prepared him for a future career as a professor and has helped him have a better appreciation for the archaeological sites close to home.
“When most people think of archaeology, they think of large, grandiose sites like Chichén Itzá, Mesa Verde, the Great Pyramids of Giza, etc.,” Jensen said. “Consequently, most people don’t worry about protecting sites that aren’t big or that don’t draw in millions of tourists every year. Sometimes people don’t even realize that smaller sites exist and that they exist right here in our back yard. These sites represent the lives of people in the past and may still hold important spiritual or cultural significance to living populations.”
Searcy said he and his team discovered an additional part of the site in August. “It’s still yielding,” he said.
Utah State Historic preservation officer Chris Merritt publicly thanked Hinckley for protecting the artifacts during his speech at the Hinckley reception.
“Without more people like you engaging and preserving these sites, we’re going to continue to lose our archaeological heritage as Utah continues to grow and development occurs,” Merritt said. “And in this case, you’ve helped us save this important piece of the past, which has shaped our understanding of the Fremont culture in Utah county and beyond.”
Merrit hopes Hinckley’s example will inspire other landowners to preserve archaeological sites. Jensen expressed the importance of being aware of and protecting sites like the Hinckley Mounds because there are constant dangers that threaten them, such as development, vandalism, and looting.
When receiving his award and throughout the event, Hinckley displayed an attitude of humility despite receiving thunderous applause.
“I have personally worked with Mr. Hinckley for many years and seen his humble, strong support for protecting the past,” BYU research archaeologist Scott M. Ure wrote in support of Hinckley’s nomination. “He is a steward of the past in every sense of the word, and I cannot think of a more deserving recipient for Utah’s Division of State History 2021 Outstanding Achievement Award.”
Hinckley said he enjoys seeing the students’ discoveries. When asked what he would like people to know about the archaeological site on his property, he chuckled. “There’s a surprise under every shovelful of dirt,” he said. After the reception, visitors could view artifacts discovered at the Hinckley Mounds and donated to the Museum of Peoples and Cultures.
Longtime Provo resident John Hinckley was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award by the Board of State History for his lasting contributions. Through his work, Hinckley provided countless opportunities for experiential learning and has inspired the next generation of Utah archaeologists.
Through the preservation of priceless Fremont archaeological sites on his land, Hinckley has turned his property into an outdoor classroom where BYU students are mentored in archaeological excavation and research. This tradition was begun by his father, G. Marion Hinckley, who allowed BYU professors to bring students to do field archaeology on Hinckley land since the 1940s.
Since then, hundreds of students have discovered artifacts and participated in excavations at the Hinckley Mounds, including students from both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. During a 2015 field school, Hinckley opened the Fremont sites to the public, and over 600 fourth graders studying Utah history and prehistory visited. Boy Scout groups participated in the excavation and earned their Archaeology merit badges.
“(The site) has been a boon to our educational endeavors,” said BYU anthropology professor Michael T. Searcy. Searcy said finding artifacts on the Hinckley property helps students connect with the past, and in many instances, it has led students to choose archaeology as a career.
Searcy said Hinckley’s protection of Fremont artifacts, despite losing acres of his property to Provo City due to eminent domain, is impressive, and the Hinckley Mounds are some of the last archaeological remains of a large Fremont village.
“I have personally worked with Mr. Hinckley for many years and seen his humble, strong support for protecting the past,” BYU research archaeologist Scott M. Ure said. “He is a steward of the past in every sense of the word, and I cannot think of a more deserving recipient for Utah’s Division of State History 2021 Outstanding Achievement Award.”
A reception will be held in Hinckley’s honor tonight at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures from 7-8 p.m. Join us to celebrate his outstanding accomplishments.
A new “Utah Valley” exhibit at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures invites visitors to get to know the people who once inhabited Utah County.
“A lot of people who live in Utah Valley don’t realize there is a long history here,” museum director Paul Stavast says. “They just assume its history begins maybe just a little bit before the pioneers got here. That is not correct at all. People have lived in Utah Valley for thousands of years.”
The exhibit features artifacts from the Archaic, Fremont, and Ute peoples, as well as Mormon pioneer artifacts excavated from the ruins of the Provo Tabernacle. Walking through the small gallery, visitors can examine a horse “quirt” used to spur horses in Ute horse races, or see canine bones dating back to around 3,600 B.C.
History student Hannah Smith helped select the artifacts for the displays, and under the direction of Stavast, she was responsible for the research and text for the exhibit. Her work was part of an internship for the Museum of Peoples and Cultures and later turned into a regular, continuing student position.
“The internship was a custom experience for me,” Smith says. “I was able to experience many different types of museum work: with the administration, with technicians, archaeologists, etc. I was able to experience so much and it really impacted the work and the exhibit that went up. It was perfect.”
Smith hopes to have a career working in museums and designing exhibits in particular. “Working in a museum is cool, because I can use my research but also my creativity,” she says.
Student participation like Smith’s was central to the success of the project. Stavast had students in his anthropology classes workshop possible ideas for the exhibit. Students were also responsible for the design, promotion, fabrication, installation, and object registration to get the new gallery off the ground.
“We want to give students an experience from beginning to end so that they have an understanding of what it takes to put an exhibition together — even on a small scale — so they have a framework for their future careers,” Stavast says.
Both Stavast and Smith say they hope the exhibit invites Utah residents to reflect on the place where they live. Stavast also hopes seeing the exhibit will remind visitors of the rich history in Utah county so that in the wake of booming development that history can be preserved rather than destroyed. There are over 2,000 archaeological sites in Utah county alone.
“No matter where you go, there’s a lot more history than you might initially realize,” Stavast said. “Take the time to find out who lived in the places where you live. There are sites all over. Learn about them, respect them, and preserve them.”
The Utah Valley exhibit will be on display for at least five years and will likely be modified with additional pieces from sites in Payson, Goshen, and Provo.
For more information about the Museum of Peoples and Cultures, visit their website.
International experiences are driving this anthropology grad to right injustices around the world
Savannah Melvin was raised in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Zimbabwe. Having experienced different cultures and seeing lots of injustice, she feels it’s her moral responsibility to do something that will contribute back and make a difference for people.
For her senior thesis project, Savannah traveled to Ecuador to study its medical culture. Savannah spent two months in midwife clinics and hospitals around the country. As she compared healing practices in Ecuador and America, she recognized important differences. “I realized that Ecuadorians used what we would think of as non-traditional medicine but what they consider traditional,” she says.
Savannah also traveled to Rwanda as part of a study abroad. She worked with genocide-affected women and children. The experience developed even more compassion in her. She explains, “It drove me to want to make a difference because I was surrounded by people who were doing amazing things to help this population who went through so much.”
Savannah’s undergraduate experiences in the Anthropology program and at BYU have shaped her passion to defend human rights and refugees. She says that she chose to study anthropology because she wants to do something multiculturally based to lay a foundation to practice law in a multicultural setting.
Savannah plans to apply to Harvard Law School next year with the hopes of becoming an international lawyer to right some of the injustice she’s witnessed around the world.
Studying Tongan culture helps anthropology grad identify family glue
As part of her senior thesis project, Breeze studied three huge kinship groups totaling 100 individuals (some online and some in-person) last summer. All of the families practiced honoring the fahu, which in Tongan culture is your father’s oldest sister. The fahu is an important kinship role and considered the matriarch of the family. Fahus historically dictated many things in the family including who her kinship could marry.
Breeze noticed how the practice of fahus is dying out. During her research, she discovered the importance of fahus in present day Tongan families. “Fahus are the glue for the intergenerational idea of family,” says Breeze. She analyzed how Tongan families include all extended family where as an American family is mostly comprised of the nuclear family.
Breeze chose to study anthropology because she loves diverse groups of people. After graduating in April, Breeze will attend BYU Law School to become an immigration lawyer. She feels her studies have prepared her for her future career in many ways and says “Anthropology is all about getting to know people on their terms. It’s nice because as a lawyer, I will have an anthropologic perspective and desire to understand what my clients are going through.”
Breeze grew up in Hawaii and felt it was difficult to find her place when she first came to BYU in Provo. She reflects, “I found out what it was like to be a minority on campus and sometimes it was hard to relate to people.”
Breeze was able to find her place participating in the BYU Polynesian Club. She also felt a sense of acceptance when she started the anthropology program. “My peers and professors made me feel like I was at home.”
Anthropology grad uncovers moral divide Arab-Americans see between themselves and other Americans
Graduating senior Brayton Bate sat in the living rooms of many Arab-American families in Utah, studying how they viewed Americans and American culture. In dinner conversations he learned that the way Arabs distinguish between themselves and Americans is moral in nature. He reports, “It’s about ethics. It’s not about skin color or even religion.”
Brayton observed how Arab-Americans in Utah understand the ethnic divide between themselves and Americans to be a moral divide. As Brayton discussed the differences between the two cultures with one Arab woman, she said that from her perspective Americans value their career and productive schedules more than relationships. She felt Arabs, on the other hand, prioritize community over autonomy.
One thing that surprised Brayton during his research was the affinity that Arab-Americans had for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He says that the families he talked to respected and loved members of the church in Utah because of how closely related their conduct is to Islam. Brayton shares, “They do not feel that way about other churches and they’re very clear about it.”
Brayton choose to study anthropology because he wanted to perform his own ethnographic research, “I thought it was a unique opportunity to be able to spend time on the ground in the trenches of people — recording, taking pictures and videos. It’s very similar to work you would do on a graduate level.”
Brayton loved his time in the anthropology program and how he was able to learn to interact with people in a candid way in order to collect data. Brayton shares the importance of removing personal bias, “You can’t impose your personal beliefs on data, but rather, you collect and publish data based on what the data is saying instead of what you want to say.”
Reflecting upon his senior research project, Brayton said he gained humility. “Spending time with people and performing research doesn’t necessarily make you an expert.”
Brayton’s father is a Palestinian immigrant who came to the United States. After Brayton graduates, he plans to apply for foreign policy internships in the Middle East and eventually live and work there.
Anthropology grad studies impact of Zoom turning Provo apartments into college classrooms
While Zoom has worked well in lessening the spread of COVID-19 on college campuses, it has had detrimental effects on students’ ability to engage with their classes and connect with classmates and professors.
For Samantha’s senior thesis project in the anthropology program, she studied the experiences of BYU students in the summer of 2020, during the largest influx of remote learning that has ever occurred. The students she observed were participating in all their classes via Zoom. Samantha noticed how the pandemic didn’t just ruin things by adding distractions with learning from home, but students were having to control two parts of their lives at once: being a student and whatever they tried to do simultaneously.
Samantha argues that Zoom shouldn’t be viewed as an equal replacement to in-person courses but as a secondary method of instruction. She explains, “You can’t mute yourself in an in-person interaction, so classroom exchanges are much more genuine. It’s easier to tell the mood of a classroom than a Zoom room, for reasons such as feedback, technological delays, and overall, the simple lack of togetherness-feeling over Zoom.”
Despite feelings of disconnection, Zoom offers advantages like allowing students to take classes from literally anywhere in the world. It also helps with accessibility issues. Zoom’s closed captioning feature can be added to a recorded meeting and help those who would otherwise need an interpreter.
After looking at the advantages and disadvantages of Zoom, Samantha notes that many of the successes and failures are at the control of both the student and the professor.
Tips For Students
Samantha’s research shows that students need to feel present in their live-streamed classes, even if they’re not physically with their classmates and professor. She saw how difficult it can be to balance two frames of life at once. To combat this, Samantha suggests that students become aware of these contrasting frames and be willing to change, “If students are taking classes at home, there’s nothing they can do about the maintenance workers showing up, but they can try to place themselves in a location that removes them from the most distractions possible.”
Tips For Professors
Samantha encourages professors to understand the features of Zoom and use them for the student’s benefit. “The professor, or anyone facilitating a Zoom call, has the chance to make the meeting as engaging as they’d like, but this also requires premeditated effort and training on their behalf,” she says. Professors can also request feedback from students to learn how they can improve and increase engagement.
Samantha plans to continue pursuing her interest in education and attend Boston College this fall for a master’s program in international higher education. Samantha’s dream is to work in an administrative position at a college or university.
Samantha is grateful for the anthropology program and how it prepared her for graduate studies. “Anthropology is really broad and some people see that as a downside but it’s really a benefit because you can apply its main focus of understanding people to anything.”
The Middle East is more than a conflict zone—it’s a region of cultural beauty.
The BYU Museum of Peoples and Cultures‘ newest exhibit “Returning to Bethlehem: A Cultural Pilgrimage” highlights the unique religious and cultural aspects of life in Palestine, and Bethlehem in particular, that color the region’s history and guide local traditions and identity. The exhibit has visitors explore modern-day Bethlehem, as well as the historic cultural heritage sites shaped by Hebrew, Christian and Islamic traditions.
From olive wood and mother of pearl carvings, to intricately embroidered wedding costumes, the exhibit presents artistic pieces that illustrate the similarities and differences of the people from different regions and religions in Palestine including Bethlehem, Gaza and Jerusalem, among others.
One of the central foci of the exhibit are traditional Palestinian wedding costumes. While wedding costumes share a similar design throughout Palestine, specific characteristics such as colors, embroidery stiles and ornaments are unique to each region. Certain aspects of Bethlehem’s culture are being lost due to regional conflict, but textiles help keep cultural traditions and identity alive.
The exhibit is a joint project between the Museum of Peoples and Cultures and the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. Mother of pearl collections were loaned from Enrique Yidi Daccarett, olive wood carvings were loaned from the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation and costumes and textiles were loaned from Hanan and Farah Munayyer, co-founders of the Palestine Heritage Foundation.
People often go on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to see and visit the holy sites, but Bethlehem is more than a place to visit—it’s a home for thousands of individuals and a beautiful culture.
Explore and better understand the culture, traditions and people of Bethlehem and Palestine at the MPC exhibit “Returning to Bethlehem: A Cultural Pilgrimage.” Learn about the rich ancient history that forms current arts and traditions today. As we inform ourselves on the diverse religious and cultural influences in Bethlehem, we’ll have a better understanding and respect for the people who live there, helping us make more informed decisions and opinions concerning the region.
The exhibit opens October 17, 2018 and will run through April 2018. Admission is free, and the exhibit is open to the public. The Museum of Peoples and Cultures is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information on the exhibit and other events and exhibits at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures, visit their website.
Going through semester after semester of classes can be exhausting when you don’t have opportunities to apply what you’re learning to a career-applicable setting.
Determined not to settle in this grind, BYU Anthropology students have sought opportunities that have not only benefit their education, but that benefit the college as a whole.
Bringing Bethlehem to Provo
One of the more recent hands-on experiences that anthropology students (specifically those involved in Museum Studies) have had was a trip to Washington D.C. There, students looked at and selected textile weavings from Palestine and objects made of mother-of-pearl and olive wood for the Museum of Peoples and Cultures upcoming exhibit on ancient Bethlehem. Some of the key pieces of the exhibit that students and faculty selected are rare bridal costumes from Bethlehem and the surrounding regions of the Holy Land. The exhibit is schedule to will open fall 2018.
“A lot of these cultural traditions are being lost,” explained anthropology student Kelsey Ellis who went on the trip. “I’m grateful to work at a museum where, at least to some degree, we can be the refugee houses for cultural heritage.”
Doing research (and sharing it, too)
Closer to home, graduate students, alumni and faculty recently shared their expertise at the Utah Professional Archaeologists Council (UPAC). BYU’s presentations were focused on Utah archaeological research and discoveries about the ancient Fremont inhabitants.
At the Council, graduate student Spencer Lambert received the annual Student Sponsorship Award for having the best research abstract. His abstract was on strontium isotopic analysis, and at the Council he presented his thesis research on animal bones and Fremont hunting patterns.
Joseph Bryce, a BYU graduate, makes the powerful statement, “In archaeology, if you never tell anyone about what you’re doing, what good is it?”
Bryce’s commentary highlights the need to not only receive hands-on research experience, but also the pressing need to share what is learned in the process.