Meet Allison Rautman: Archeologist and Professor

February 13, 2009

The site was catastrophically abandoned; people left their food and tools and apparently fled with little warning. Every place we tested was completely burned. There were piles of burned corn in food storage rooms, burned baskets filled with seeds, and clay pots and tools on the room floors where they had been smashed when the burning roof collapsed.

Allison Rautman in the field.  While she has looked exactly the same in the field for the last 20 years -- no point in changing clothes, you're going to be filthy in five minutes anyway --  She wears a red hat so the students can tell visitors 'she's over there, in the red hat.'

Allison Rautman in the field. She has dressed same in the field for the last 20 years as there is no point in changing clothes, when you're going to be filthy in five minutes anyway. She wears a red hat so the students can tell visitors 'she's over there, in the red hat.'

Doesn’t that sound like a pitch for the next Indiana Jones movie? Actually, it’s a description of the findings from one of archeologist Alison Rautman’s excavations at Frank’s Ruin, a Southwest American pueblo site that dates from about 1100 to 1300 A.D. A 1987–88 American Fellow, Alison has uncovered some unlikely findings about the society’s warfare and raiding tactics in her excavations, a subject she is now researching as it relates to different societies.

Alison first became interested in archeology through a Girl Scout summer program in Wyoming called Dig Mankind. Alison credits the Girl Scouts for everything she does in her career that is not strictly academic, including camp sanitation, first aid, car repair, outdoor living, and even working in groups. Alison says her career was jump-started by “a series of opportunities developed by people who were willing to think outside the usual career trajectory.” In fact, Alison’s path has been anything but traditional. At one point she took her 4-month-old baby along on a survey project, and later she ran a New Mexico field project while 6 to 7 months pregnant. She jokes, “Looking back on these experiences, I think we were nuts.”

These days, Alison enjoys her status as an “elder” of the archeology profession. Although she likes her research, Alison now wants to contribute by facilitating other people’s research and helping the next generation of scholars. As a teacher, Alison enjoys seeing her students grow intellectually, especially in the field: “I have found that the more responsibility they have, the more they rise to the occasion.” She also sees teaching as a motivation to keep up on relevant literature, and she is currently working on a new course that looks at the anthropology of war and peace to help organize her reading and thinking.

fellow0213_2Alison’s current research, for which she was awarded a National Science Foundation grant, looks at the development of early pueblos in the American Southwest and how these pueblos often acted as communities. When asked how her research can be applied today, Alison says, “It can help us better understand how normal conflict is managed and the ways social institutions and circumstances can inflame violence.”

Alison says her AAUW Fellowship provided not only financial support but also validation of her work and her potential, and she continues to be active as an AAUW member. “I see AAUW as mostly working behind the scenes to monitor social conditions and facilitate opportunities for women to achieve many different kinds of goals — intellectual, personal, and professional.”

For the women who are working to achieve the goal of higher education, Alison offered the following advice — taken from a Reader’s Digest article — that spurred her on as a graduate student: “In X years you are to be X years older anyway. Do you want to be that age with or without the degree?”

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