Faculty Q&A with Andrew Somerville

CATEGORIES: February 2020
Professor Andrew Somerville in front of the ruins of Teotihuacan in Mexico.


Professor Andrew Somerville joined the WLC in Fall of 2018.  

 Who are you and what do you study?  

Originally from Arizona, I completed by Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of California in San Diego. After graduation, I spent one year teaching anthropology courses in the California State University system and one year living in Mexico City, conducting postdoctoral research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Because I study bones and teeth recovered from archaeological sites, my research lies between the fields of biological anthropology and archaeology. 

What is your specific area research? How did you get interested in that?  

My research is particularly concerned with understanding the development, maintenance, and collapse of ancient societies in Mexico. My methodological expertise is in the study of human and animal skeletons, particularly their chemical compositions. By studying stable isotope ratios of their bones and teeth, for example, we can reconstruct many aspects of how people or animals lived in the past, including what they ate.  

One project that I am currently working on investigates the timing and the reasons behind the original domestication of corn in Mexico and the development of agricultural lifestyles. I first became interested in the archaeology of food and diet upon the realization of how important these issues are in all aspects of our society today, from health and nutrition to our economic organization. In the past, such relationships were likely even more important and by understanding humans’ relationships with their food sources, we can gain a better understanding of the motivations of and influences on ancient human behavior. 

What attracted you to Iowa State University or the Department of World Languages & Cultures?  

Iowa State University and the Department of World Languages and Cultures have been very supportive of my research. Last year, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences approved funds for me to build a new stable isotope laboratory, and they have made many small research grants available for students to receive support while working on active research projects with me. The diverse nature of our department means that I get to interact daily with people with very different backgrounds and ideas, which is just the sort of environment that a university should have. 

What do you like to do when you aren’t working/doing anthropology? (Comic books? Water skiing? Knitting hats for your pet gecko?)  

When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my fiancée, our dog, and our two cats. Although my guitar-playing hobby is controversial in the house, everyone is a fan of my pizza-making skills.