Odell Foundation allows student to attend major archaeological conference - The University of Tulsa
Close Menu
Close Menu

Odell Foundation allows student to attend major archaeological conference

George Odell, a renowned University of Tulsa professor of anthropology and internationally acclaimed researcher in archaeology, served in TU’s Kendall College of Arts & Sciences for 27 years. On Oct. 14, 2011, he passed away, leaving behind a legacy of research, academic excellence, and student success.

In 1998, he founded the Odell Foundation, which continues his legacy by providing funds for student scholarships and research. The selection process is competitive, based on students’ grade-point average and an essay about their interest in anthropology. Funds provided by the foundation can help students like Madeline Jennings present their research to others in the field.

Jennings, a senior anthropology and women & gender studies dual degree candidate, has always enjoyed ancient cultures but didn’t realize she could turn her passion into a career until coming to TU. Since joining the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, she has been able to participate in hands-on research and labs with her faculty. “Getting to personally know my professors has been so helpful because I was able to start volunteering in a lab freshman year,” she said. “I started to think, ‘Wow, what if I could do research too?’”

Jennings dove headfirst into research. She presented a research paper at the Oklahoma Archaeological Conference this year and will present her senior project at the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual meeting in New Orleans this month. The project examines faunal materials she collected with researchers over a summer in Katmai National Park in Alaska. While there, Jennings and the team spent an entire week with the local descendant community, showing them their findings and asking for guidance.

She kept in contact with the archaeologists from the park. A smaller operation, the Alaskan research team, didn’t have someone on staff who could perform a deeper analysis on the faunal specimens, so Jennings offered to help: “I started talking to them about, ‘You know what? If you let me do the research, it will be helpful for both of us.’ They got the information, and I could use it as my senior research.”

Jennings and Associate Professor of Anthropology Miriam Belmaker received faunal materials from four different park service sites. Through in-depth comparison with material curated in the zooarchaeology and paleoecological lab, they began to methodically work through all of the materials, identifying the remains and examining them for markings that would signal human-caused alterations. By just looking at the markings, they can tell whether the animal was killed, eaten, or skinned. “What we’re trying to do is recreate the subsistence pattern of this group of people. How are they using these animals? What parts of the animals were they using? Which animals were they using?” Jennings said.

“The ability to allow students to analyze original archaeological material rather than casts or copies is one of the hallmarks of the research conducted at TU and the Department of Anthropology & Sociology,” Belmaker said. “I am delighted I was able to mentor Madeline through this project.”

Ultimately, Jennings hopes to take what she learns back to the descendant community. “My research interest is Indigenous archaeology, and I want to practice it in a community-based way,” she said. Her hope is to approach different Indigenous communities, offer her skills, and see what the tribes and nations want to learn about their history.

Jennings has honed a broad set of skills and knowledge at TU with this objective in mind: “My biggest goal is just doing something that will, after all this time, actually benefit them and be something that Indigenous communities want to know.”

Funding from the Odell Foundation has helped bring Jennings closer to that goal. The funding provided by the endowment helped pay registration fees for the SAA Conference, flights, and hotels. “It’s a major conference, typically in a major city,” she said. “This year, it’s going to be in New Orleans, and there aren’t a lot of college students who can afford to fly to and stay in New Orleans for a whole week.”

In addition to conference fees and travel, the funding has helped Jennings purchase much-needed research supplies: files, bags, and foam to pack fragile specimens. “Being able to do a little bit of preservation while I’m working on these artifacts is important. If it disintegrates, I can’t study it anymore!”

Ultimately, she is grateful for the ability to meet new archaeologists who help hone her research and her approach to it. “It will be a Thunderdome of Indigenous archaeologists, which is going to be intimidating but really, really cool.”