Eastern New Mexico University’s (ENMU) Department of Anthropology and Applied Archaeology presented their 19th Annual Cynthia Irwin-Williams Lectureship on March 23. The lectureship was dedicated to widely known anthropologist, Cynthia Irwin-Williams, who taught at ENMU for over twenty years before her passing. The guest speaker of the night was, Dr. Juliet Brophy, an Assistant professor from Louisiana State University.
Competing in a field which was solely dominated by men, Dr. Cynthia Irwin-Williams was one of the first female archaeologist of her time. In 1963 she received her Ph.D from Harvard University and the following year she began her teaching career at ENMU. During her time at Eastern, she won many different awards and became highly recognized in the field of Anthropology. Her acknowledgements include the President of the Society for American Archaeology (1977-79) and Executive Director of the Social Science Center in Reno, Nev. (1982-88). Before her death in 1990, she was a research professor at the Quaternary Science Center.
Dr. Juliet Brophy is currently a biological anthropologist with a specialization in Paleoanthropology. During her time out in the field, she spent eight years in Africa, and was a part of several different research teams; mostly within her specialty in fossilized teeth. “I got my inspiration from my father, who was interested in anthropology, but he was a dentist. I remember on the weekends he would take me and my sister to excavation sites, this is where I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” said Dr. Brophy.
During the night’s special presentation, Brophy presented the lecture on “Homo Naledi,” also known as the “Human Star.” Naledi is the newest species within the genus of Homo. During her research in South Africa, her and her team at the Rising Star Research Center of Excellence were called upon to explore a cave that was discovered. The space between the walls of the cave presented a problem for the team, because some of the paths were only 10-inches wide. The discovery of this new species has changed the way researchers look at the evolutionary line of Homo.
Modern humans date back 300,000 years and were thought to be the only species alive during that time due to evolution. Researchers assumed we were evolving alone, but the Homo Nalidi species dates back up to 300,000 years ago as well, meaning that they were co-existing with modern humans. Though the new discovery has changed the way the science community views things, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. The research team only meets six weeks out of the year, but later this year, Dr. Brophy and her team will go back to the site for further excavations.
In the short amount of time she has been working, Dr. Brophy has already proven to have a notable career. She holds eight different research positions in Africa, peer-reviewed journals, six manuscripts currently under review, has given a TEDX talk and two dozen presentations, and had has received several grants and rewards. “What I believe makes me persevere is my determination and stubbornness. I believe with this, this has made me get to be where I am today,” said Dr. Brophy.