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Distinguished professor to discuss peopling of the Great Plains

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

LAWRENCE — The earliest inhabitants of the Great Plains aren’t around to tell their narrative. But to the trained eye, clues left behind in the earth provide rich information of the earliest people’s existence and activities. Rolfe Mandel, distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, will share evidence of some of the earliest humans in the Great Plains at his inaugural distinguished professor lecture Thursday, Dec. 3.

Mandel will present “The Peopling of the Central Great Plains Near the End of the Last Ice Age: A Geoarchaeological and Paleoecological Perspective” at 5:30 p.m. in the Summerfield Room of the Adams Alumni Center.

Mandel joined the KU faculty in 2003 and now serves as university distinguished professor of anthropology and senior scientist as well as the executive director of the Odyssey Geoarchaeological Research Program at Kansas Geological Survey. He is associate chair of the Department of Anthropology and has courtesy appointments in the geography & atmospheric science and geology departments.

Mandel is an interdisciplinary scholar with research interests spanning a wide range of topics including geoarchaeology, soils, late-Quaternary landscape evolution, isotope geochemistry and paleoenvironmental reconstruction. The Quaternary Period covers roughly 2.6 million years ago to the present day. Over the past 35 years Mandel has worked with archaeologists on projects focusing on the effects of geologic processes on the archaeological record throughout the United States and eastern Mediterranean. Much of his research involved the use of geoscientific methods to search for the earliest evidence of humans in the Great Plains and Midwestern United States. He has also studied the geoarchaeological and paleoenvironmental context of several world-class archaeological sites, including Watson Brake in Louisiana, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Ohio, ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan and Akrotiri Aetokremnos on the island of Cyprus. 

From 1978 to 1986, Mandel was research associate and coordinator of the Environmental Research Program at the KU Institute for Social and Environmental Studies/Center for Public Affairs. In 1989, he joined the University of Nebraska-Omaha as an assistant professor in the geography-geology department.

From 1999-2007, Mandel was editor-in-chief of Geoarchaeology: An International Journal, and he has served as associate editor for the journal since 2007. His work has been published in more than 100 technical reports and books and in many prestigious journals, including Science, Geology and Quaternary International. Mandel’s edited book, "Geoarchaeology in the Great Plains," is recognized as a major contribution to his area of study.

He founded and chaired the Society for American Archaeology’s Geoarchaeology Interest Group, served as chair of the Geological Society of America’s Archaeological Geology Division and is past president of the American Quaternary Association. In 2012, the National Academy of Sciences appointed him chair of the U.S. National Committee for Quaternary Research, and in July 2015 he served as the U.S. delegate to the Quaternary International Congress in Nagoya, Japan.

Mandel has received many awards and distinctions, including Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ 2009 John C. Wright Graduate Mentor Award, the 2011 KU Center for Teaching Excellence Award and the 2012 Kansas Board of Regents’ Higuchi-Irvin E. Youngberg Research Achievement Award. The Geological Society of America recognized his achievements with two prestigious awards: the George Rapp Distinguished Career Award for outstanding contributions to the interdisciplinary field of archaeological geology and the 2010 Kirk Bryan Award for Excellence. Mandel was named university distinguished professor in 2014.

Mandel is a native Texan but has spent most of his life in Kansas. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in geography at the University of Texas at Austin in 1975, he moved to Lawrence, where he received his master’s degree in geography and doctorate in special studies in Quaternary research from KU.