Carnegie Museum of Natural History Curator of Anthropology Retiring

After 28 years as curator of anthropology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and 11 years leading the museum’s Section of Anthropology, David Watters, PhD, will retire in November 2010. Trained as an archaeologist, Watters played a key role in organizing the museum’s popular anthropology exhibitions. He was lead curator with Egyptologist Diana Craig Patch for Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt—which exhibits 634 artifacts and specimens that illustrate daily life in ancient Egypt—and a member of the team that organized both Polar World: Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life and Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians.

“I leave Carnegie Museum of Natural History with mixed emotions as I have enjoyed so many activities here, but after 28 years of service, I look forward to pursuing my other interests such as travel, family genealogy, outdoor activities, and reading,” says Watters. “Using the long-term view that we archaeologists embrace so readily, I see myself as having been only one player in a lengthy sequence of staff members who have created the enduring tradition of service that I inherited almost three decades ago. I trust that the same commitment will carry on in the coming decades.”

In addition to assisting in the development of the museum’s anthropology exhibitions, Watters was a prolific researcher whose work emphasized Caribbean archaeology, including historical archaeology, prehistoric colonization, island biogeography in archaeological context, and cultural ecology—the relationship between a society and the natural environment. During his tenure, Watters published more than 65 articles in recognized journals. He facilitated the publication of work by Cuban archaeologists and museologists in order to increase scholarly research in Cuba and make the information available to a wider audience. Watters also performed analysis of the Costa Rican archaeological collections, photographs, and archives assembled by former Carnegie Museum of Natural History Curator Carl Vilhelm Hartman (1903–1908). These objects are part of Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s archaeological collection. In the last decade, Watters conducted fieldwork in Utah to locate cliff dwelling sites that were visited and photographed by three Carnegie Museum expeditions in the latter 1940s.

As Head of the Section of Anthropology, Watters was responsible for the preservation and care of the museum’s anthropology collections, which include archaeological and ethnographical artifacts.

“David’s most enduring contribution to the museum as a curator is his meticulous care of the Carnegie anthropology collection, and his dedicated service to our museum and his profession, for which we as colleagues are tremendously appreciative and grateful,” says Carnegie Museum of Natural History Director Samuel Taylor, PhD.

Watters undertook his graduate studies at the University of Nevada-Reno and the University of Pittsburgh, followed by a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He joined Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s staff in 1983, serving as the museum’s assistant director of public programs from 1986 to 1988 and as acting director for eight months in 1987. Watters has been an active supporter of education programs at the museum and vital to the relationship with the Department of Anthropology and other academic departments at the University of Pittsburgh.

Curator of Anthropology Sandra Olsen, PhD, succeeded Watters as Head of Section on March 1, 2010. Olsen is a world-renowned zooarchaeologist, with a research focus on horse domestication, particularly in the Eurasian steppe. Olsen’s research was featured in the American Museum of Natural History’s traveling exhibition The Horse, on view at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in 2009. Olsen has a Master’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Arizona and a PhD in Archaeology from the University of London. She also received postdoctoral training at the Johns Hopkins University. She joined the museum as curator in 1991.

“David Watters has dedicated his career to the museum, generously giving us his most valued years. Throughout that time, he has diligently focused on the best interest of the institution with full commitment to the quality and care of our collections,” says Olsen. “One of his most important contributions has been his investigation of Anthropology’s archival records, demonstrating the continuing value of even our earliest acquisitions.”

Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is ranked among the top five natural history museums in the country. It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 20 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity.

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