Contact: Diane Silver, KU Endowment Association, (785) 832-7363.
LAWRENCE -- A search for answers to the mystery of when the first people came to the Americas is being supported by a $1 million gift from a retired petroleum geologist and his wife, University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway announced today.
The gift from Denver residents Joseph L. and Maude Ruth Cramer will establish the Odyssey Archaeological Research Fund at the Kansas University Endowment Association. The fund will support a joint research effort between the Kansas Geological Survey and the KU Department of Anthropology that will study the geology and archaeology of the midcontinent of North America in search of the earliest evidence of humans in the region. Archaeology is a discipline within the anthropology department at KU.
"This outstanding contribution will bring together a cross-section of faculty and graduate students in several disciplines -- geology, anthropology, archaeology and paleontology, to name a few -- in an effort to answer this tantalizing mystery," Hemenway said. "We are honored to be the beneficiaries of the Cramers' generosity and scientific vision."
The fund will support geoarchaeological research in Kansas and other areas of the midcontinent region. Geoarchaeology is the application of concepts and methods of earth sciences to the study of archaeological sites and the processes involved in the creation of the archaeological record.
Rolfe Mandel, project coordinator for geoarchaeological studies at the Kansas Geological Survey, said researchers will use geoarchaeological techniques such as systematic surveys of drainage areas to find and date sediments. By identifying the age of deposits deeply buried in such places as river valleys, researchers hope to discover areas best suited to preserve ancient traces of human activity.
"The midcontinent is an important region for understanding the timing and nature of the peopling of the New World," said Mandel. "The important question is whether people arrived in the New World before 11,500 years ago, and the answer may be hidden in the sediments of this vast region."
In addition to research, the Cramers' gift will support a professorship. The individual named to the professorship will serve as executive director of the fund, teach a geoarchaeology course and conduct annual field research with specialists and graduate students. The professorship will be eligible to receive additional financial support through the Kansas Partnership for Faculty of Distinction Program.
Joseph Cramer, who has had a longtime interest in identifying the first people of the Americas, said he hoped establishing the fund would draw financial support from other people and organizations for geoarchaeological research at KU. He said he chose KU based on the reputation of the Kansas Geological Survey and the strength of the archaeology program in the Department of Anthropology.
"The search for identification of the first Americans is an effort being carried out at many archaeological research centers throughout the world," Cramer said. "The answer to this great mystery will be very complex since ingress to the New World may have been achieved by entry over both the North Pacific and the North Atlantic Oceans, probably about the same time during the middle Wisconsin Glacial Interstitial at circa 25,000 to 30,000 years before the present.
"We have searched for this complex answer in past decades through application of standard archaeological methodology; however, the great topographical changes during the past 25,000 years have served to destroy and/or bury the occupational living surfaces of the first Americans, and it is necessary now to apply an especially oriented approach to this search through the employment of very experienced and dedicated geoarchaeologists as the directors for these efforts. This search will require application of multidisciplinary expertise in order to be successful."
He and his wife, who lived for many years in Kansas, have established endowments at four other major universities to pursue this same research objective. The fund the Cramers established for KU is endowed, which means that the principal is never spent and a designated percentage of the fund's income is given to KU each year for the purpose specified by the donor. To initiate the research at KU quickly, the couple also provided $30,000 in expendable funds for the 2002-03 academic year.
The Cramers' gifts count toward the $500 million goal of KU First: Invest in Excellence, the largest fund-raising campaign in KU history. KU Endowment is conducting KU First on behalf of the university through 2004 to raise funds for scholarships, fellowships, professorships, capital projects and program support. KU Endowment is an independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fund-raising and fund-management organization for KU.