Dec. 1, 2009
Marshall Scholar Reads the Classics - and Bones
Emory senior Kathryn Marklein has received the Marshall Scholarship, making her one of only 40 scholars in the nation this year to get the prestigious award for advanced studies in Britain.
Marklein, a double major in classics and anthropology, will use the all-inclusive scholarship to pursue two master's degrees over two years: the first in skeletal and dental bioarcheology at the University College London, and the second in osteology and funerary archeology at the University of Sheffield.
Started by a 1953 Act of Parliament, the Marshall Scholarships commemorate the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan, and are designed to give future U.S. leaders an understanding of British life.
Reading Skeletal Remains
Marklein, known as Katy by her friends, entered Emory with aspirations to go to medical school, but that changed when she took a freshman anthropology seminar, "Reading the bones of the ancient dead."
"I was hooked," Marklein recalls of the first day of class, when she walked in and saw two skeletons laid out on a table. "I immediately wanted to understand and appreciate their lives. It's fascinating to learn about the person behind a skeleton."
The seminar is taught by anthropologist George Armelagos, one of the founders of the field of bioarcheology - the study of skeletal remains of past human populations. "I see her as one of the legacies of my teaching," says Armelagos, whose 40-year career includes winning lifetime achievement awards from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and the American Anthropology Association.
"Katy will be able to pick up and carry on skeletal biology in a way that it should be carried on," he says. "She has an infectious curiosity that drives her to learn as much as possible about ancient life, and to apply that knowledge to problems facing humanity today."
While many bioarcheologists focus on prehistoric populations, Marklein is using bone biology to unlock secrets of the classical era. Over the summer, a Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory (SIRE) grant took her to American School of Classical Studies in Athens. She worked in the Weiner Laboratory run by physical anthropologist Sherry Fox.
"There was a big box of skulls, and my first task was to clean them with toothbrushes," says Marklein, who was dubbed "the Skull Washer" by a graduate student in the lab. "It probably sounds like a bad horror movie to a lot of people," she says, adding that for her, it was a dream come true.
Marklein is continuing to work on an analysis of those remains from the classical and Hellenistic periods. "I've found some interesting cases of pathologies, and I'm getting some good portraits of a few individuals," she says, explaining that bones can provide clues to people's diets, whether they suffered from a disease or trauma, and even what they did for a living.
From her studies of the classics, Marklein knew that the ancient Greeks had a reputation for feeding strangers first and asking questions later. "That's the same way I was received," she says. "People treated me almost as if I was family. I'm sure I will be going back."
In addition to being a top scholar, Marklein has been involved in theater since the fifth grade, and has participated in Emory stage productions every semester since arriving on campus. Marklein also sings for services at the Emory Catholic Center and, for the past four years, has volunteered at the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge.
Her parents, B. Richard and Melinda Marklein, live in Dunwoody, where Marklein attended Marist High School. The family moved frequently when she was growing up. "I met a lot of unusual and memorable personalities along the way," she says, adding that she looks forward to studying in England after she graduates. "There are so many people in the world to meet."
"In Ms. Marklein, the university commitment to effecting ‘positive transformation in the world' is made real," says Dee McGraw, director of Emory's National Scholarships and Fellowships Program.
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Originally published Nov. 25, 2009