Professor unearths history

Posted Nov. 17, 2006

The clitter clatter of her keyboard can be heard down the hall as she types the quiz for her 6 p.m. class.

During the school year, she works from her small quiet office, where books fill every shelf and maps line every wall.

But when classes end, she puts on her hat, packs up her stuff and flies to the Pacific Islands, machete in hand – to rewrite history.

Felicia Beardsley, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of La Verne, does not only teach, she is also consulting archeologist for the national government of Micronesia.

Beardsley has traveled for years to the Pacific Islands, where she records the oral history of islands like Kosrae, Yap, Chuuk and Palau.

This summer during an excavation in the island of Kosrae, Beardsley found statues and stone carvings, along with the tools that were used to carve them, that could date back almost 2,000 years. Up until this summer the items were believed to be nonexistent.

“This is a kind of technology that nobody has ever seen on this island,” Beardsley said. “We have to start rewriting history.”

The artifacts were found after collecting several oral histories of the island and finding the physical site for one of the stories.

“It’s like a new door was opened for this part of the world and the people who inhabit it,” said Sharon Davis, professor of sociology. “It’s a major breakthrough in her field.”

Beardsley is currently performing research regarding her findings over the summer. The artifacts still have to be carbon-dated to see how far back they date.

The artifacts could be the key to the Carolinian Dark ages, a time when there is no archeological record for the Micronesian islands.

At 48, she has spent nearly 20 years researching and excavating the Pacific Islands.

Beardsley received her bachelor’s degree in  languages from the University of California, Riverside.

Her interest for the Pacific Islands began while she attended the University of Oregon where she received her Ph.D. in Anthropology with a specialty in the Pacific Islands in 1990.

To figure out exactly what she wanted to do, she kept an inventory of all the books that seemed interesting, and all the articles she read that captured her attention, she said.

“It helps you figure out who you are,” Beardsley said.

Beardsley’s work in the Pacific Islands has been constant and she is the author of several monographs, for which she reports her findings out in the field as well as any other research about the area.

“The Archeology of Kwajalein,” for example, has become a classic for anthropologists, and it is widely read on such islands as Hawaii, Guam, Palau and Kosrye.

Beardsley’s curiosity and passion for archeology have led her to monumental findings.

“I really didn’t intend that,” Beardsley said. “If you look at the history of technology the [discoveries] are usually accidental.”

Several years ago during one of her summer trips, she discovered coral fish hooks in the Island of Kosrae.

These were the first to be recognized and described in the world. She has also found pottery in Palau, which had never been seen on that island.

Most of her research is based on finding sites that are described in the islands’ oral histories.

“I write history based on archeological sites. I also record the oral history,” Beardsley said. “I try to locate the sites that are described in their histories.”

She has been teaching at the University of La Verne for six years after working at UCR.

Beardsley teaches forensics as well as some sociology and criminology courses.

Some of her classes include the forensics lab, as well as some sociology and criminology courses.

“She is a brilliant woman,” Kimberly Martin, professor of anthropology, said. “She is a tremendous colleague, I couldn’t ask for a better collegue.”

In addition to her other projects, she recently helped set up a program for underdeveloped countries that do not have enough money for carbon dating.

The process costs approximately $800 per date but with the help of members of the International Organization for Archeological Sciences she has organized a program where carbon dates are donated to countries based on their need.

She has been asked to speak several times at China’s Academy of Science, an invitation she was finally able to accept last month. She spoke about her findings during the summer.           

“She is really amazing,” Martin said. “She has an eye for seeing patterns, for noticing things, for paying attention to the people and the things she studies.”

Beardsley plans to continue her research in the Micronesian Islands where she continue to look for lost histories and places.

“History has always been my interest, always, and dealing with the past; no matter what.”

Laura Bucio can be reached at lbucio@ulv.edu.

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