The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Professor gets the opportunity to participate in rare excavation

Courtesy of Dr. Hélène Rougier

Suspended from a rope, anthropologists descend into a remote underwater Romanian cave to excavate 35,000 year-old bones of Neandertal. What they find results in a significant contribution to early modern human discoveries in Europe.

CSUN paleoanthropologist Dr. Hélène Rougier was one of the select participants of this well-known project in 2004 and 2005 in Pe?tera cu Oase, (“Cave with Bones”). Before coming to CSUN in January of 2008 she spent one year in St. Louis at Washington University where renowned American anthropologist Erik Trinkaus got her involved in the Romanian excavation.

“What we discovered there were, as far as we know, the oldest modern humans in Europe,” Rougier said. “I don’t think I’ll ever do that again in my life. To go inside the cave we were excavating, we needed to dive through a river. It was dangerous. It was cold, it was dark.  It was very special conditions.”

Rougier said she may be among 15 people in the world who were ever able to explore this site due to the cave’s fragile environment. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in natural sciences and got her M.A. and Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Bordeaux 1, France.  In college, she participated in field excavations at sites in Israel. This is where she first discovered her passion for science and anthropology, she said.

“I’ve always had a scientific mind,” Rougier said. “Discovering new fossils really makes me happy. This is our history. It’s good to wonder why things are the way they are said to be.”

Currently, Rougier is busy finishing up research from a Belgium excavation project, teaching at CSUN and co-authoring a book with her colleagues about excavation remain findings. Teaching anthropology is another sphere of her already versatile job, and provides a welcomed outlet for her to share her passion with young students, she said.

Uncovering fossils that provide information about our history inspires her to expand our ancestral knowledge and spread that to others, she said. Rougier conveys this message to inspire students to keep asking questions, such as how did modern humans interact with Neandertal and what happened to the Neandertals in the Romanian cave.

Answering such questions helps piece together a puzzle like missing bones of a skeleton.  In fact, the popular television show “Bones” is the subject of Rougier’s most recent contribution to CSUN’s curriculum. A class, ANTH 341, focused on the science of identifying human remains.

“It’s an introduction so that people know how to recognize human remains and they learn what information we can retrieve from bones,” Rougier said.

Unearthing ancient remains that reveal our history is exhilarating yet the aspect Rougier cites as the most interesting element of her job is applicable not only to science but to life.

“You never know what you are going to find,” she said.

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