2005 Patterson Memorial Grant Recipient
Kari Alyssa Prassack
Ironically, despite interests in vertebrate paleontology (especially carnivores) that went back to when I was in elementary school, I initially pursued a degree to teach art, after being discouraged by various teachers and relatives against such an "impracticable" career choice. Being somewhat stubborn I eventually revolted, obtaining degrees in Anthropology (BA) and Paleobiology (BS) from the University of Pittsburgh, in 2001, entering the PhD program in Anthropology at Rutgers University in 2003. I believe in an interdisciplinary approach to paleontology and was drawn to the innovative interdisciplinary research being conducted by Rob Blumenschine and his students in the areas of taphonomy, hominin paleoecology, and carnivore behavior, especially their emphasis on using neotaphonomic observations to formulate and test hypotheses.
My research aims to more accurately reconstruct past environments and community structure by considering how various taphonomic processes affect fossil preservation. Specifically, my interests are in how these processes affect avian, compared to mammalian bone, and what new paleoenvironmental information can be gleaned from taphonomically assessed avian assemblages. Neotaphonomic experimentation allows for a higher level of confidence in such systematic analyses and I am actively engaged in various aspects of field observation, data collection, and experimentation involving modern birds of East African saline lake ecosystems.
As a member of the Olduvai Landscape Paleoanthropology Project, I will be applying this data towards the taphonomic analysis of the avian fossils from Olduvai Gorge, an important early hominin site in Tanzania. This will allow for the formulation and testing of current hypotheses about hominid land usage across a heterogeneous paleolandscape and provide other researchers with a systematic method for the taphonomic interpretation of avian bone in paleontological and zooarchaeological context.
When I am not playing in the mud, I especially enjoy observing carnivores, dancing and drinking milk stout beer under the stars in the Serengeti.
Photo courtesy of Kari Alyssa Prassack.