When Lily Ten Eyck sees a human skull, she doesn't think of Halloween or horror movies. Instead, the Central Michigan University junior considers the stories that she can discover about the person's life experiences.
Ten Eyck is turning up plenty of discoveries this summer through her internship with the state archaeologist of New Hampshire. The anthropology major already has helped identify bones in an unmarked New England gravesite and is engaged in a three-week field school digging a Paleo-Indian site in northern New Hampshire.
The state archaeologist works within the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources, which was established in 1974 to preserve the state's historic resources.
"I have a passion for history as well as anatomy, and you can learn a lot about a person's past through their body and their bones," Ten Eyck said. "Through anthropology and archaeology, I'm shining a light on those who have been buried and forgotten."
She said this is what happened with the unmarked New England gravesite that construction crews discovered while excavating the land.
Ten Eyck said archaeologists studied the remains and determined through historical research they were of a woman. Property records helped identify her, and the archaeologists will return the remains to her family for a proper burial.
"In the future, I would like to use my excavation skills to help the families that have lost a loved one in a mass-grave situation," Ten Eyck said. "I want to return everyone to their rightful place in the world."
Choosing Ice Age tools over coqui frogs
She is helping to set up the Paleo-Indian field school and will be involved in looking for stone tools and debris left by Native Americans 12,000 years ago. This research will help determine how Native Americans lived at the end of the Ice Age.
Ten Eyck graduated from high school in Hawaii and came to CMU in part because of its anthropology program and also because her father, Gary, is a CMU alumnus. He received his undergraduate biology degree in 1982 and his master's degree in biology in 1989.
He is a neuroscientist, and she began working with him on biology research when she was 12. While Ten Eyck is a co-author with her father on a soon-to-be-published research paper on the coqui frog — which is native to Puerto Rico but invasive to Hawaii — she is more interested in researching the life of humans.
She realized she wanted to focus on anthropology when she completed a forensic anthropology internship at the Western School of Medicine in Kalamazoo before her freshman year at CMU.
"As a freshman at CMU, I was taking the introduction to physical anthropology class, and that really solidified me wanting to pursue anthropology," Ten Eyck said. "CMU has helped me with its amazing staff who helped me narrow down what I wanted to focus on."
The internship experiences will help her through the CMU anthropology program where she is studying everything from archaeology to cultural, linguistic, physical and applied anthropology.
Telling more stories — behind the scenes
Ten Eyck soon realized CMU offered opportunities to pursue her other passion: live theater. Last year she helped with University Theatre's productions of "A Chorus Line" and built sets for "Doubt."
"I took it a little easier my freshman year, because I wanted to make sure I had everything in order with my studies," she said. "When I came in as a sophomore, I said, 'I'm going to do everything I can!'"
She enjoys knowing that she can study anthropology and still be involved in theater at CMU, and Ten Eyck is continuing to pursue both interests in New Hampshire. In addition to her internship with the state archaeologist, she is working in the theater scene shop that serves three New Hampshire theater companies.
When she isn't digging for bones and stones, Ten Eyck is busy building sets like 2-by-16-foot church doors that will be used in "Kiss Me Kate" — one of three theater productions she is involved with this summer.
"I never have felt the need to act and only have done behind-the-scenes work," she said. "When the show finally comes together and the curtain lifts on opening night, you can just feel the energy and excitement from the actors and audience. I want to make something the people who see the show will remember when they are having a bad day or a good day."