Campus Collage

Campus Collage

Photos from top to bottom: A Dukha woman and her family have packed their belongings onto reindeer and are beginning the move to fall camp. Professor Matt O’Brien is part of a team studying the behavioral patterns of the Dukha people of Mongolia, who live in conical lodges called ortz. Dukha women prepare blood sausage from a reindeer.

Photos from top to bottom: A Dukha woman and her family have packed their belongings onto reindeer and are beginning the move to fall camp. Professor Matt O’Brien is part of a team studying the behavioral patterns of the Dukha people of Mongolia, who live in conical lodges called ortz. Dukha women prepare blood sausage from a reindeer.

Reindeer-Herder Research Unearths New Insights

A CSU, Chico professor’s work in Mongolia is shedding new light on prehistoric people.

Professor Matt O’Brien, who joined the Department of Anthropology in August, is part of a research team studying one of the few remaining nomadic peoples left in the world: the reindeer-herding Dukha of northern Mongolia. Using time-lapse photography and photographic mapping, O’Brien and his cohorts, University of Wyoming professor Todd Surovell and Dashtseveg Tumen of the National University of Mongolia, are studying the group’s movement patterns to develop a spatial theory of human behavior that can be applied to patterns in archaeological evidence.

“The big issue we have in archeology is that we find these patterns in the types of artifacts as well as features, and they tend to be clustered together,” says O’Brien. “They should be telling us a story, but we don’t know how to interpret them.

“Take stone tools found in clusters near a hearth. Why are they there? Why do we find pots in certain parts of a site? We can assume people were cooking there, but we don’t know for sure.”

As descendants of the Tuvans in Russia, the Dukha have been practicing their way of life for more than 3,000 years, says O’Brien. Their culture has changed dramatically since the Soviet era. In recent years, the group has returned to a more traditional lifestyle, but their historic way of life is fading. For the CSU, Chico professor and his research team, capturing this information is a unique and important opportunity.

“This is the first time we’re aware of anyone doing this at this scale,” says O’Brien. “We’ve switched to a study of where people are, which is new. We’ll study the Dukha, and eventually we’d like to apply this to other groups in the world to see if their patterns are an anomaly or a generalized pattern of behavior.”

For more information, visit https://sites.google.com/site/dukha ethnoarch/.

Sarah Langford, Public Affairs and Publications. Photography courtesy of Matt O’Brien

 
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Biology student Aithne Loeblich worked with art shop technician David Barta in July to make 10 bat shelters.

Biology student Aithne Loeblich worked with art shop technician David Barta in July to make 10 bat shelters.

Student’s Bat Box Project Aims to Fill Data Gap

You could say Aithne Loeblich is batty about bats. The upper-division biology student and Air Force veteran spent much of her summer building shelters to attract the tiny winged creatures so she can study them more closely.

As part of what will become a culminating undergraduate research project, Loeblich constructed 10 plywood houses to be placed at the University Farm and Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve. She used power tools and other equipment in the Department of Art and Art History’s workshop under the guidance of shop technician David Barta.

Then, the 100-bat-capacity structures were installed at the top of 20-foot poles with special listening equipment that will collect data on the animals’ species and numbers and patterns in feeding, breeding, and migrating.

Loeblich plans to share her research with area farmers and others to educate the community about bats and their potential uses in the area’s economy. Since bats feed on disease-spreading insects like mosquitos and moths, she says, they could be used to replace harmful chemical pesticides in farming and other applications.

“There is an incredibly limited knowledge base about local bat populations,” says biology professor Colleen Hatfield. She and Butte College biology instructor Shahroukh Mistry, are advising Loeblich on the project. “Essentially, this research is going to not only help us understand what bat species we have here and their history, but it will do two other things: It increases habitat for the bats—which is great because they’re a good species to have around—and it is a great way to do outreach to administration, students, and the community about the value of bats.”

Sarah Langford, Public Affairs and Publications