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Buikstra named to National Museum of Natural History board

May 05, 2009

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History advisory board includes former U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, ambassador William Luers and PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger. Now, Arizona State University bioarchaeologist Jane Buikstra is taking her place among these notables.

Buikstra is understandably moved by the appointment. “I’m overawed. I’ve been going to the museum since I was a child. The thought of actually helping to shape policy is remarkable.”

Located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of Natural History is equal in size to 18 football fields and houses over 126 million specimens and artifacts, as well as research facilities and laboratories. Several field stations—from Kenya to Alaska—and a marine research facility in Fort Pierce, Florida, are also under the museum’s auspices.

With the mission to “inspire curiosity, discovery, and learning about nature and culture through outstanding research, collections, exhibitions, and education,” this branch of the Smithsonian is charged with a profound task, one that Buikstra has long supported in various capacities.

As she explains, “I’ve been engaging in research there since 1970 and hold the research staff in high respect. I’ve served on departmental review committees for anthropology and a review committee for the museum as a whole. I am currently a member of the Repatriation Review Committee.”

Buikstra attended her first advisory board meeting April 2 and found it remarkably productive. “We heard a series of proposals for the museum’s ‘Big Ideas’ competition, which encouraged staff to think outside the box and develop proposals for future initiatives; the concepts were required to be interdisciplinary and visionary,” she says. “Our input helped shape the National Museum's action plan and near-term future.”

Currently, Buikstra is co-designing field school curricula—with an emphasis on advanced training in archaeology—for the Center for American Archeology in Kampsville, Illinois, which received the 2009 Society for American Archaeology’s Excellence in Public Education Award. She is also working on an introductory text in forensic anthropology, a global history of paleopathology and a volume focused on bioarchaeology and identity. And she is moving into the next phase of a research project that uses the humanities and social, life and physical sciences to explore the construction of ancient Andean identity.

Buikstra is a Regents' Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and director of the school's Center for Bioarchaeological Research in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Considered a pioneer in the field of bioarchaeology, including paleopathology, she was presented with two prestigious lifetime achievement awards in 2008: the T. Dale Stewart Award from the Physical Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists’ Charles Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award.