Featured Alumna: Dr. Jennifer Bengtson

jen bio

Dr. Jennifer Bengtson (Ph.D. 2012) has settled in as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Southeast Missouri State University. She tells us about her current endeavors teaching and researching Mississippian Culture:

What attracted you to your current position?

I feel like I landed my dream job. I have always envisioned myself working at a small, undergraduatefocused institution. I enjoy the autonomy I have in setting up my lab and building a bioculturally focused archaeology program. The first two years were really difficult as I worked through the course rotation for the first time. But now that I have gotten into a teaching groove, I am able to focus more on continuing research with MSU colleagues and building new relationships with other archaeologists working in the region. One of the major perks of this position is that there is a Mississippian village site located about a ten minute drive from campus. The owner of the land on which the site is located provides us with both unlimited access and financial support. I am excited for the potential of this site to contribute to our understanding of regional social processes, and I am particularly interested in exploring ceramic provenance to understand how it fits into the broader Mississippian cultural landscape.

What is your current research on?

Most of my recent work has been focused on contributions to the ongoing Morton Village Archaeological Project with Dr. O’Gorman. We have an article on childhood and mortuary representation in press, and are about to submit two more articles relating to gender as it relates to community building processes and the experience of violence.

On the osteology side, I have begun to revisit some of the forensics work that first attracted me to the field. Current MSU Ph.D. candidate Amy Michael and I are working on a project related to the affects of chronic alcohol consumption on bone remodeling processes, while here at Southeast I am working with a forensic chemist to develop a non-destructive method using Raman Spectroscopy to distinguish human remains of medico-legal significance from those of archaeological significance.

All my MSU mentors have continued to be great. I interact with Dr. Sauer, even though he is retired, as I get further into forensics. Dr. O’Gorman and I work together a lot. And Dr. Goldstein continues to provide her mentorship and access to her vast knowledge of the Mississippian tradition. I would not be the teacher and researcher I am today without them and all of the other professors I worked with over my years at MSU.

What was most valuable to you from your graduate study at MSU?

I think it was the balance struck between curricular structure and flexibility. I got all of the foundational knowledge I needed in core classes, while also being encouraged by my committee to construct my own anthropological identity through more personalized lab, classroom, and field experiences. I came out of it all with one foot planted firmly in archaeology, and the other planted firmly in biological anthropology.

What impact do you hope to have in the long term?

I have a great group of students here at Southeast. I am excited to arm them with the best, most holistic anthropological education I can, and then send them off into the world to see what they do with it!


This article is in the Department of Anthropology’s Fall 2015 Newsletter, see the entire newsletter here.