New Faculty Spotlight: Gilliane Monnier
I am thrilled to be joining the faculty of the Department of Anthropology. Many of you are already familiar with my work and my teaching—I have been a lecturer and researcher in the department for several years. Most of you also know my husband, Gil Tostevin. It is with great enthusiasm that I accept my new responsibilities as assistant professor. One of the aspects of my new job I look forward to the most is meeting more students—I hope you will stop by my office to say hello!
My field of research and teaching is archaeology, primarily Paleolithic archaeology of Europe. There are three main components to my research these days. The first is exploring the transition between the Lower and Middle Paleolithic in western Europe. This is a continuation of the research I carried out for my Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania, 2000) and which I expanded and published in Current Anthropology in 2006. This topic incorporates historiography, literature synthesis, and artifact analysis as I study how the transition was defined in the 19th century, how it was subsequently modified, and the
extent to which the chronological patterning of artifact types supports the existing framework. My results have revealed that there are, in fact, two important transitions instead of just one.
This means that far more work must be carried out as we attempt to elucidate the complex nature of Neanderthal adaptations in ice-age Europe.
The second component of my current research addresses the relationship between stone tools and the cognitive abilities of the hominins who made them. In a recent paper published in Hovers and Kuhn’s Transitions before the Transition (Kluwer Press, 2006), I challenge the notion that standardization within a set of stone tools is a sign of higher intellectual abilities. Currently, I am using geometric morphometrics techniques to compare standardization across retouched stone tools from Middle Paleolithic, Upper Paleolithic, and Neolithic sites in western Switzerland. My goal is understanding which factors affect stone tool standardization so we can better focus on those aspects of stone tools which are more likely to indicate cognition.
The third component of my research is experimental. In 2007, I reported the results of an experiment designed to study how retouch accrues on the edges of stone tools. Currently I am developing an experiment to explore the formation of microwear on stone tool edges during use. I will be using high-resolution laser profilometry techniques and SEM imaging. During this work I have benefited from the help of Ellery Frahm, one of our graduate students who also runs the microprobe in the Department of Geology and Geophysics. I am thrilled by this type of collaboration between faculty and graduate students!
In addition to research, I am looking forward to my teaching duties. This year (2008–2009) I will be taking over Gil Tostevin’s Neanderthals course. This course is close to my heart, as it is one I had developed at Williams College while I was Visiting Assistant Professor there several years ago. I will
also teach Anth 4001, Advanced Method and Theory in Archaeology. I am excited to incorporate some of my research interests in this class, including microscopic and chemical analytical techniques.
In my spare time, what I love most is spending time with my children, who are now eight and six years old. I love living in the Twin Cities and being able to take advantage of the fabulous cultural and recreational opportunities here!