New Faculty
Andrew Scherer Assistant Professor of Anthropology Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Andrew Scherer
Assistant Professor of Anthropology

By Deborah Baum  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

So far in his career as a bioarchaeologist, Andrew Scherer has examined the human remains of ancient Maya royalty, ancestors of the Dakota Indians, and victims of modern-day mass disasters.

Integrating the study of the human skeleton with the field of archaeology, Scherer analyzes bones and teeth discovered at excavation sites to help reconstruct how a person or population lived hundreds or thousands of years ago — from the humans’ sex and age when they died, to what they ate and their overall health. He primarily conducts research on the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica.

Scherer says human remains are unmatched in providing clues to the past. “There is more information per square inch of a human skeleton than almost anything else that comes to us from the past,” he said. “For me, bioarchaeology offers a very personalized look into the past — one that I don’t necessarily always see when I look at artifacts. You are literally sitting down with someone who lived during that time period.”

Scherer became interested in anthropology and bioarchaeology during his undergraduate studies at Hamline University in Minnesota, where he conducted bone analysis and research as part of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. By the time he graduated, he had traveled through Mexico and knew he wanted to focus on the Maya during graduate school. Scherer completed a Ph.D. at Texas A&M University in 2004 and has taught for the last several years at Baylor University.

As part of his work on the ancient Maya, Scherer has explored a variety of questions, including the dietary history of Piedras Negras, Guatemala, and evidence for violence at Late Classic Colha, Belize. He has collaborated on projects with Brown University archaeologist Stephen Houston, most recently conducting the bone and teeth analysis from a 1,600-year-old royal tomb discovered in El Zotz, Guatemala, last summer. Since 2003, Scherer has served as co-director of the Sierra del Lacandón Regional Archaeology Project, which aims to develop a comparative perspective on Maya polity capitals and other smaller sites around Petén, Guatemala, and Chiapas, Mexico.

Scherer is also trained in forensic anthropology and worked in the aftermath of mass disasters like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. He helped process human remains and bring in equipment for victim identification — work that he finds personally rewarding. “It’s a chance to step back and use my skills not for research or publication, but for the greater good,” he said.