Featured Graduate Student, Autumn Painter

Autumn Painter, a graduate student here in the Department of Anthropology, specializing in archaeology was provided the opportunity to travel with Dr. Marcy O’Neil, an anthropology alumna and grant support staff and former instructor in the department, to Benin, West Africa during the summer of 2018. In collaboration with the Department of Anthropology and the African Studies Center, both here at MSU, Ms. Painter and Dr. O’Neil celebrated the launch of the second volume of a project called Books That Bind at the US Embassy in Cotonou. Autumn became a part of this project during her assistantship in Lab for Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR), and continued to be involved with it following her assistantship.

Books That Bind was created by Three Sisters and the Three Sisters Education Fund (TSEF), who provide tutoring scholarships to underserved students in Benin. This project creates bi-lingual storybooks. The first volume of books was created by MSU undergraduate students in Dr. O’Neil’s class in Spring 2017. In addition to the launch at the US Embassy, they also worked on getting the second volume of books printed and signed by the storytellers, and participants in the book making process, and did a launch at one of the communities with which Three Sisters works. The experience was something that Ms. Painter never thought she would have the opportunity to participate in and in doing so, learned much from Dr. O’Neil and the anthropologists (& their family and friends) in Benin. Ms. Painter is thankful that the Department of Anthropology, and her mentors within the department (Dr. O’Gorman, Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, and Dr. Watrall) have always encouraged and supported her ideas and goals and provided her with the support, advice, and the opportunities to reach them.

Ms. Painter’s general research interests lay in foodways and social interactions in prehistory. Her proposed dissertation research will focus on these concepts at a Mississippian and Oneota village site, the Morton Village, located in west-central Illinois during a known time of violence. Using this site, she hopes to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the two groups that occupied this site at the same time through the analysis of the faunal remains (i.e. food sharing and social interaction).

Autumn first became interested in archaeology and anthropology in elementary school when she attended the Hiawatha National Forest’s Youth Archaeology Workshop on Grand Island (run by Jon Franzen, Jim Skibo [Illinois State University], and Eric Drake [MSU Anthropology Alumnus]). She ended up applying and attending this 2-day workshop every summer from 5th grade through her senior year of high school and continued to volunteer for the Hiawatha National Forest whenever the opportunity arose.

This led her to pursue her undergraduate studies here at MSU, where she majored in Anthropology before attending Illinois State University for her Masters degree. Here she found a passion for faunal analysis and using a comparative skeletal collection to identify animal bone fragments form archaeological sites. Her love for her native state led her back to MSU for her graduate studies, where she is currently the Campus Archaeologist. This position allows her to continually interact with the public and participate in archaeological outreach events. Talking and interacting with the general public about archaeology is always a lot of fun for her and she finds that it is great to hear their questions and the different ways they think about our research and the artifacts we uncover.

Autumn’s long term career goals are to either be a professor teaching classes and conducting her own research in collaboration with the park service/forest service, or working for a museum/research collection center. She feels that MSU has and is preparing her by giving her the many opportunities to learn and experience a multitude of interactions that have shaped her into an anthropologist. These experiences include her assistantships within the department as a teaching assistant, a research assistant in the Lab for Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR), a research assistant as the Campus Archaeologist, the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship, and the Campus Archaeology Program Fellowship.

Aside from her dissertation research, Autumn has many upcoming projects and articles in the works. She is co-author on an article in review in for the journal Ethnoarchaeology entitled “Acorn Processing and Pottery Use in the Upper Great Lakes: An Experimental Comparison of Stone Boiling and Ceramic Technology” with Kelsey E. Hanson, Paula L. Bryant, Autumn M. Painter, and James M. Skibo. She is working on an oral history project with Alice Lynn McMichael (LEADR) on the Campus Archaeology Program to be launched in the spring of 2019. Also be sure the take a look at her latest website about an early food project on MSU’s campus: Capturing Campus Cuisine.

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