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NMSU Honors College scholarship winner to research pre-Hispanic graves in Peru

High in the Andes Mountains of Peru is a burial site containing the remains of pre-Hispanic indigenous people dating as far back as the 13th century, and New Mexico State University anthropology major Ashley Remy will soon have the opportunity to discover the secrets the graves hold.

NMSU student Ashley Remy at Chaco Canyon.
NMSU Honors College scholarship winner and anthropology major Ashley Remy at Kipp Ruin in Chaco Canyon last summer. Remy will use her Honors College scholarship to conduct fieldwork in Peru this summer. (Submitted photo)

Remy is this year's winner of the Honors College Scholarship for International Research and her $5,000 award will allow her to study the teeth found on the remains of bodies buried in Marcajirca, north of Lima, Peru. The funerary site has burial locations in caves, as well as in small buildings called "chullpas." As part of an ongoing bioarchaeological project at the site, Remy will examine the teeth on the remains to create a comprehensive comparison and to investigate possible changes of diet that affected overall nutrition 400 to 700 years ago.

"There has been a lack of dental examination done on these remains and I would like to contribute my knowledge of teeth to ensure that this important part of the skeleton is not understudied," Remy, a native of Albuquerque, said. "A lot can be told with teeth, such as age, sex, health, diet and tribe/class identification."

As part of her research, Remy plans on creating dental impressions using vinyl siloxane. The quick-drying material can be peeled off teeth and used to examine microwear.

"Microwear can tell a lot about mastication processes, as well as the diet and health of the individuals, especially when simply considering the overall wear of teeth," the 21-year-old Remy said.

Her goal is to take peels from 25 sets of dental remains, both males and female. She also hopes to get some dental peels of people who live in the area to see wear patterns, "especially in the mastication of cocoa leaves, which were also used in the past in the same region."

When she returns from Peru in the fall, Remy will take the dental peels she has collected and work with NMSU's Brenda Benefit, a professor of anthropology, and Peter Cooke, director of the Core University Research Resources Laboratory, to examine the peels in the university's scanning electron microscope lab.

After the examinations are concluded, Remy plans on using the data she has collected as part of a senior thesis. She also will contribute her findings to the director of the Marcajirca excavation, Bebel Ibarra Asencios.

Remy, who will be graduating next spring, hopes her research in Peru will help her get into the graduate school of her choice, as well as provide career direction.

"With this scholarship I will gain the chance to be in the field of a bioarchaeological site and actually pursue my own research, which I find meaningful and useful in order to begin a broader understanding of what my career involves," she said.

Remy was one of several Crimson Scholars who were considered for the Honors College Scholarship this year, said Mark Andersen, associate dean and director of the Honors College's Office of National Scholarships and International Education.

"It was a difficult decision, but in the end the selection committee was bowled over by Ashley's enthusiasm for archaeology and for her proposed research in Peru," Andersen said.

This year, the application for the Honors College scholarship was conducted entirely online in order to mimic the application process for other major competitive scholarships such as Fulbright, Goldwater and Rhodes, Andersen said.

"Because of this, even applicants who do not win the Honors College scholarship are better prepared to successfully apply for these other competitive awards," Andersen added.

As she looks forward to her Peru trip, Remy is grateful for the guidance she received from the Honors College.

"It was a great learning experience to have done the application process for this scholarship," Remy said, "and every one of those finalists deserves applause for doing all of that work."

For more information on the NMSU Honors College, log onto honors.nmsu.edu.