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Anthropology Labs

Genetic Anthropology and Biocultural Studies Laboratory (GABS Lab)


In the Genetic Anthropology and Biocultural Studies Laboratory (GABS Lab) our focus is on biological anthropological research on genetic ancestry and women’s health disparities in US American and Caribbean populations. Our research foci are the following:


  1. Genetics and Ethnogenesis:  Using population genetic perspectives, we study how culture and biology come together to shape community history and experience.
  2. Race and Health: We use epidemiological approaches and anthropological insights on identity and genetics to address broader medically related questions.
  3. Genetics in Society:  We consider the broader societal interfaces between genetic data, local knowledge, and identity politics.

The GABS lab consists of two facilities, a modern and a restricted access ancient (aDNA) genetics laboratory.  The labs are housed on the 5th floor of Stevenson Center 2 in the north-central region of Vanderbilt University Main campus. The modern DNA lab is approximately 800 square feet and includes a 126 square foot office for graduate students. This lab space is equipped for basic molecular genetic applications including DNA extraction/purification, PCR, RFLP, and gel electrophoresis (see Major Equipment below). The modern lab space is organized so that there are dedicated areas and equipment for pre and post PCR applications.


Bioarchaeology and Stable Isotope Research Lab

The Vanderbilt Bioarchaeology Stable Isotope Research Lab (BSIRL), directed by Professor Tiffiny Tung, prepares bone and dental samples from humans and animals and plants from various archaeology sites in the Americas, primarily from Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemala, where many of our faculty and graduate students conduct research. We prepare bone collagen for carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses, bone apatite (carbonates) for carbon and oxygen, and dental apatite (carbonates) for carbon and oxygen. These prepared samples are subsequently analyzed at the Yale Analytical and Stable Isotope Center.

BSIRL is located in the Stevenson Center.

 Empty Genetic Lab

Osteology Lab

Osteological lab facilities include the Osteology Research & Teaching Lab, which houses medical human skeletons, isolated human skeletal and dental elements, monkey and ape skeletons, other animal skeletons, and a large collection of hominid casts. Lab equipment includes sliding and spreading calipers, osteometric board, mandibulometer, light table for viewing radiographs, photo stand, dental casts, the Suchey-Brooks pubic symphysis casts, and a variety of skeletal casts exhibiting pathological lesions, fractures, and cultural modifications (e.g., cranial modification and trepanation). Anthropology majors Rachel Kochert and Gift Kompsombut studying in the Osteology Teaching Lab

Rachel Kochert and Usa Gift Kopsombut studying medical human skeletons in the Osteology Teaching Lab. Dr. Kochert-Dunn is now a gatroenterlogist and Dr. Kopsombut is now a pediatrician.

Spatial Analysis Research Lab

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS) applications have become central analytical tools in anthropology. Whether analyzing archaeological settlement patterning at a regional scale, artifact scatters at the micro-scale, or the effects of space and distance in modern cultural interactions, GIS/RS provides a unique toolkit for representing and analyzing spatial and attribute data. Several Vanderbilt Anthropology faculty integrate GIS/RS as central components in their research. The department has recently established a leading-edge GIS/RS facility: the Spatial Analysis Research Laboratory (SARL).

VuSAT - Anthropology from Space class at the Spatial Analysis Research Lab (SARL)

Culture and Cognition Lab

The culture and cognition lab is directed by Prof. Norbert Ross. Its research focuses on the intersection of culture and cognition, combining theories and methods from different fields such as Anthropology, the Cognitive Sciences, as well as Linguistics. 

Housed in Garland 001A, the lab offers computer spaces, as well as a place to meet for formal/informal discussions.

Much, yet not all, of the work, is based on research with children, and how they develop their knowledge, values, goals, and ambitions. The work is characterized by a combination of different methods, including quantitative experimental work as well as long term ethnography (see Ross 2004).

From the cognitive sciences, the approach shares an interest in questions of how the mind works and as a result, how the mind interacts with human social life in producing knowledge.In this approach Psychology is important, yet it is imperative to realize that Anthropology is not Psychology writ large.

From Anthropology, the research takes both, a focus on ethnography as well as an approach that places social interactions and their outcomes center stage. It questions at times the stability and foundations of representations (as conceived in the cognitive sciences and elicited by experimental methods), by exploring them in their social and political context of identity formation and meaning-making. This, in turn, feeds back into our understanding of the mind.

Work in the lab does include computer modeling, and depending on the project includes GIS analyses (Hertzog & Ross 2017), yet all the work is solidly grounded in Anthropological theory.

Past projects included work on folkbiology, resource management, as well as intergroup conflict over resource management. Former and current graduate students explore or have explored Machiguenka (Peru) notions of environment (Revilla-Minaya), the impact of schools on youth ambitions and knowledge of the environment in Ecuador (Shenton), evolution education in Tennessee (Tidwell), values and prestige in the Highlands of Chiapas, Mexico (Hertzog), as well as the multifold interactions of knowledge, identity, as well as legal repercussions of migrant farm workers in the US (Korsunsky). Other work included research on change in folk-medical models both among Hispanics in the US as well as in central Mexico (Ross, Maupin & Timura), the role of language in cognition and culture (Ross, Hertzog, Shenton & Tidwell), as well as the formation and transformation of ontological commitments (Ross).

Current Research deals with how children in El Salvador are affected by, cope with, and create defense mechanisms to protect themselves from high levels of violence. How does violence affect their lives, how do they understand and deal with it, and how does it factor in children’s identity formation. The project includes experimental work, ethnography, as well as theatre work. For more information contact: Dr. Norbert Ross