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Digging them bones

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David Kilby, assistant anthropology professor at Eastern New Mexico University, smiles while doing field work. Kilby said he had always wanted to be an outdoor scientist. He earned a master’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University in 1998.

David Kilby grew up in the small town of North Wilkesboro in western North Carolina, where he developed a fascination with digging up dinosaurs and learning about ancient civilizations.

He came to New Mexico and earned a master’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University in 1998. He then earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of New Mexico in 2008. In that same year he came back to ENMU and became an assistant professor, the title he holds today.

Kilby teaches and does field work at the Blackwater Draw Site. He investigates archaeological and geo-archaeological aspects of the site and said Blackwater Draw still has many secrets to be found … but it’s not like Indiana Jones.

“I’m on site, but I don’t have to fight Nazis every day. It’s not that adventurous,” Kilby said.

How did you get interested in anthropology?

I always liked the idea of being an outdoor scientist of some sort. When I was little we tried to dig for dinosaurs in our back yard (if I recall correctly, we found a Coke bottle).

When I was growing up, my parents did volunteer work in Mexico and Guatemala, and sometimes my brother and I got to go along. I was fascinated by the Mayan and Toltec ruins and developed an interest in archaeology.

It never dawned on me that archaeology was something one could make a career out of until I took an anthropology class as an elective in college. It had never occurred to me that this kind of adventure was something you could make a living doing (as it turns out, you can...barely).

As soon as I took a second class, I changed my major, leading me to explore the Southwest, fall in love with deserts and mountains, and settle in New Mexico to pursue graduate school.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The fieldwork is what pulled me in. Excavating sites that are thousands of years old is pretty fun stuff, but I found that in some ways archaeological surveying - hiking across the landscape in search of archaeological sites, sometimes sites that have never before been discovered or recorded - is even more enjoyable.

Fieldwork pulled me in, but it also turns out that I love teaching. I've had opportunities to go into pure research, but I honestly don't think I would ever want to give up the teaching part of my job.

If you could only watch five movies for the rest of your life what would they be?

Hmm, that's tough. I'm a bit of a movie fan. I could watch (and have watched) “Jaws” over and over. “Fandango” is a little-known cult comedy that never gets old. It seems like I see something new every time I watch “Casablanca” or “The Godfather.” “The Exorcist” is hands-down the scariest horror movie ever made.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned at Blackwater Draw?

We were able to extract ancient pollen, plant cells, algae, and microscopic animal remains from 12,500-year-old pond sediments to reconstruct what the environment was like when Folsom people were hunting Ice Age bison there. It turns out that those particular plants and animals would now be found in a Wisconsin bog environment. In other words, when prehistoric people were at the site, the immediate environment was more like modern-day Wisconsin than modern-day New Mexico.

What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

I love the outdoors. Camping, backpacking, fly fishing, canoeing, racquetball. Reading. I'm into music, both listening to it and playing it badly. My hobbies also include cobbling together creative meals from extraneous items in my fridge.

— Compiled by staff writer

Lillian Bowe