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Monday, December 22, 2014

Crown still humble after National Academy honor

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Patricia Crown, a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, discusses her archaeological research on Thursday. Crown was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in April.

Anthropology professor Patricia Crown has enjoyed numerous accomplishments and recognitions in the field of archaeology, and uses her passion for the field to instruct her students.

One of Crown’s more recent accomplishments is her election to membership in the National Academy of Sciences as one of its 2013-14 inductees, she said. The call was unexpected – and early.

“They called me at seven in the morning, and their tradition is that everybody in the anthropology section of the Academy lines up and talks to you on the phone and congratulates you,” Crown said. “So there were many famous people who, you know, I’ve read their work, read their research, but have never met before, (were) congratulating me at seven in the morning when I was just barely awake.”

She had no idea that she had been nominated, so it came as a huge surprise, she said. However, this award will not change her position or goals at the University.

“I’m still teaching the same classes, doing the same research and still doing the same writing,” she said. “I don’t think people would show me any special favors because of the reward that I know of – at least, I hope not.”

Crown is a distinguished professor in UNM’s anthropology department whose research focuses on Southwestern archaeology, ceramic analysis and archaeology of childhood and gender.

Her father played a huge role, though indirectly, in her choice to pursue archaeology as a career, Crown said.

“(My father) was a landscape artist. Growing up, he would take my sisters and me out painting with him,” Crown said. “While he painted, my sisters also painted, but I had no talent for painting so I wandered around looking at the ground instead. Over the years that and the fact that every summer we spent in the Southwest … I had decided that I wanted to be an archaeologist since age 12.”

Her parents were supportive of her choice – something for which she said she feels very lucky. Many young people, especially those interested in less mainstream career paths, turn away from the field in pursuit of more lucrative jobs, she said.

Crown has been a part of countless research projects and held positions in many different organizations, but she said the accomplishment she is most proud of is the discovery that the indigenous people of Chaco Canyon used ceramic vessels to drink chocolate.

“I think one of the most exciting, fun things I’ve discovered was finding chocolate in Chaco, because people hadn’t thought about that before,” she said. “That is a new fact that we know about the Southwest; most everything else I’ve done is interpretation.”

One of the perks of living in New Mexico and teaching at the University is the incredibly close proximity to her work site, Crown said. She also said she is lucky enough to work with many of the people who have ties to the people of Chaco.

“Working with the descendants of the people who lived there, that also is incredibly special and makes teaching at UNM and being a resident of the state an extraordinary opportunity,” Crown said. “I’m very happy to be at UNM and teaching the students I do.”

She would challenge anyone who wants to explore the possibility of a career in archaeology to pursue the field in unique and novel ways.

“What I would say to future archaeologists is ‘be creative and open-minded,’” she said. “Try to think up questions that nobody has asked and ways of answering them that people haven’t thought of.”

Crown has taught at UNM for 21 years, and has been a distinguished professor since 2008.

Zach Pavlik is assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at assistant-news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @zachpavlik.