Rowan group returns to Chile to study ancient skeletons

Rowan group returns to Chile to study ancient skeletons

By GENE VERNACCHIO, Courier-Post Staff

GLASSBORO--While other college students frolic in the sun and sand at the shore this summer, a group from Rowan University will be unearthing ancient remains.

For the ninth time in 13 years, Maria Rosado will return to her native Chile to excavate, study and preserve the skeletons of people who died hundreds of years ago.

Rosado, an associate professor of anthropology at Rowan, moved to the United States at age 12. On this summer's trip, she's bringing along three Rowan students - Kathleen Divaccaro of Gloucester City, Kristie Lewis of Pitman and Amber Peterson of Toms River, as well as Rowan alum Heather Schiffer-McIlvaine of Glassboro. Also making the journey is Rosado's 16-year-old son, James, who will be a senior at Pitman High School this fall.

The group leaves for Chile today and is scheduled to return Aug. 5.

"I like to find out about the diseases these people may have had from their bones," Rosado said. "That can tell us something about their biological adaptation."

The group will spend the first two weeks excavating graves of the ancient Diaguita people, said Schiffer-McIlvaine, 36, who graduated last year with a geography degree.

The rest of the trip will be spent cataloging and studying the collected remains in a lab.

Schiffer-McIlvaine, who is making her third Chilean trip with Rosado, said the skeletons are expected to be anywhere from 550 to 3,000 years old.

Rosado said the Diaguita people originally were hunters and gatherers. They later became farmers and developed a more sedentary lifestyle.

"That changed their health," Rosado said.

Schiffer-McIlvaine said the group wants to know whether the hunter/gatherers were more or less sick than the agricultural people due to their diets.

"One of the biggest things I've seen is in their dental diseases," Rosado said. "From the hunter/gatherers to the agriculturalists, we've found that dental disease increases are very high.

"That's because they are eating more foods based on carbohydrates," she said. "What happens with carbohydrates, it gets stuck on your teeth and they didn't have the dental medicine that we have now."

Another noticeable change in the people is an increase in anemia, Rosado said.

While others might cringe at the thought of unearthing ancient bones, Schiffer-McIlvaine said she enjoys working with the dead, which she called a rare opportunity.

"It's a very distinguished honor to be able to do this," she said.

In addition, she said two museums in Chile - the Museo Arqueologico de La Serena and the Museo del Limari - have also given her future access should she want to return for work on her master's thesis.

Reach Gene Vernacchio at (856) 845-6532 or

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Date Published: Friday, July 5, 2002 - 13:11
Source URL: Courier-Post