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October 24, 2012

PSU alum talks human remains

PLATTSBURGH — When Dr. Haagen Klaus wants to know more about an ancient civilization, he looks at two things: the bones and the teeth of its people. 

“I became absolutely entranced with the type of information and also the depth of information that you read in human bones and read in human teeth if you know how,” the archaeologist said during one of SUNY Plattsburgh’s recent Distinguished Visiting Alumni talks. 

Klaus, who graduated from the college in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a double minor in archaeology and studio art, returned to the campus recently to speak about his archaeological endeavors, including the Lambayeque Valley History Project in South America. 

Through the project, Klaus has been able to uncover truths about ancient Peruvian civilizations by studying human remains excavated from ancient burial sites. 

Working along with him was a group of students from Utah Valley University, where he now teaches anthropology.

ABOUT THE TEETH

Within human teeth and bones, Klaus noted, are stored details of a population’s demographic variation, diet, lifestyle and geographic origin, which can then be used to infer information about the social hierarchies, genetics, politics and natural histories of ancient societies. 

“I like to say sometimes that if you give me the teeth of the people, I can reconstruct the entire economic history of the civilization,” Klaus said. 

For one phase of the project, he used a technique known as biodistance to mathematically analyze inherited traits present in the teeth of the Moche people, who lived on the north coast of Peru from A.D. 100 to 750.

By measuring those teeth and analyzing their sizes, positions and shapes, he was able to determine that while Moche lords were closely related to those who lived nearest to them, they were not closely related to Moche lords found in other valleys. 

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