Kathy Schick completed her PhD in 1984 under the supervision of two legendary palaeoanthropologists, Glynn Issac and Desmond Clark. Her experimental research has vastly enriched our understanding of site formation processes. She used a variety of experiments to help understand just what happens to stone tools and animal remains after they are discarded by early hominins at Stone Age sites. These included laboratory tests, such as placing replica artefacts in a plastic flume to see how they responded to water flow, as well as constructing of dozens of experimental sites in northern Kenya that were left over several years before being returned to. Using the results of these experiments, Kathy was able to demonstrate how natural processes affected artefact deposition in fluvial, lacustrine and marine environments, and how this affects our interpretation of hominin behaviour. Comparing her experiments results with data from the Oldowan sites at Koobi Fora enabled her to show how they had formed post deposition. In doing so, she was able to indicate where sites held more or less behavioural information, based on the level of disturbance present.
While producing a key text on one of the fundamental concepts in archaeology for your PhD is something every student aspires to, Kathy didn’t stop there. After undertaking visiting professorships at both Berkley and the University of Cape Town, Kathy moved to Indiana University Bloomington, where she co-founded the Centre for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology in 1986. There she continued to focus on exploring early stone tool technologies, leading to experiments with the bonobo, Kanzi. She also found herself at the cutting edge of technology, using tests involving PET scans, wires and needles to study muscle responses and map brain activity during tool production. Such experiments are still conducted by leading scientists today and have been used to show how early tool manufacture might be linked to the evolution of the brain’s capacity for language.
By 1989, Kathy was one of the first American archaeologists to be allowed to work on archaeological sites in China. Four years later she co-wrote Making Silent Stones Speak, an indispensible and easily digestible text that discusses stone tools and what they can tell us about the past. She currently co-directs the Stone Age Institute with her husband, Nick Toth, which she co-founded in 2000. In the same year the New York Times selected her as one of today’s groundbreaking scientists.
Kathy continues to foster research into hominin evolution and broaden public knowledge of science. Her continuing efforts to advance our understanding of human evolution resulted in her becoming a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2004. This, combined with her many contributions towards our understanding of the Palaeolithic and our hominin ancestors, marks her as a truly legendary archaeologist and anthropologist in her own right.
Written by Frederick Foulds
Photo of Kathy Schick and Nick Toth by Steven L. Raymer and used with permission. Originally published in Bloom Magazine.