Don Grayson's University Faculty Lecture

Don Grayson, photo by Mary Levin, UW Photography, 2011
Don Grayson, photo by Mary Levin, UW Photography, 2011

On April 28, 2016, Professor Don Grayson delivered the University Faculty Lecture on the topic of “The Extinct Ice Age Mammals of North America,” to a packed house in Kane Hall. In it, he explored the myriad wonders of the extinct mammal fauna of Ice Age North America, questioning whether humans who coexisted with giant sloths, saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, mammoths, and other large mammals in ancient North America may have played a role in their extinction. Drawing on a broad variety of archaeological evidence, Dr. Grayson observed that while there is little evidence to suggest that humans hunted all these animals to extinction, no one has been able to build a compelling argument that climate was to blame. The question of how mass extinctions happen, and the role of human activity in causing them, is one of great public concern. Dr. Grayson’s zooarchaeological research makes a very significant contribution to public understanding of past extinctions, and more broadly of relations between humans and animals in their environments. Working to make archaeological research accessible is something that Don Grayson cares about and is exceptionally good at. Happily, those audience members who want more can now read a book that he has recently written to present this research to a non-specialist public: Giant Sloths and Sabertooth Cats: Extinct Mammals and the Archaeology of the Ice Age Great Basin (University of Utah Press, 2016).

Other topics that Dr. Grayson has researched include the application of statistical techniques to the analysis of animal bones from archaeological sites (or zooarchaeology), analysis of animal remains found in caves in southwest France and what they reveal about Neanderthal diets (i.e., that they differed little from the diets of prehistoric humans). The numerous honors that have been bestowed upon Dr. Grayson over the course of a long and distinguished career spent almost entirely at UW testify to the very high regard in which his scientific peers hold his work: among other recognitions, he has been named a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the Washington State Academy of Sciences. Most recently, Dr. Grayson was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The University Faculty Lecture, one of UW’s highest awards, was established in 1976 and each year since has honored current or emeriti faculty whose research, scholarship, or art has been widely recognized by their peers and whose achievements have had a substantial impact on their profession, on the research or performance of others, and perhaps on society as a whole. It acknowledges outstanding creativity and scholarship by University faculty. The recipient delivers the Annual Faculty Lecture to inform the University community about his or her work. We in UW Anthropology are proud to see Dr. Grayson honored in this way, and to see how well he represents our department and field.

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