Career teaches importance of looking below surface
David and Jane Browman recently joined our Aberdeen Heights family. The couple learned a long time ago that there’s always more than what’s on the surface.
David’s work as a groundbreaking archeologist took his family to many interesting places, primarily in the high-altitude areas of South American countries Peru and Bolivia. As a doctoral student, and later as a professor, he studied the behaviors of communities that domesticated and raised alpacas.
“No one had worked there before,” David said. “I was told not to be disappointed after my first season, that I might only find a few sites. We ended up with 315 sites.”
The prevailing belief at the time was that residents of the area were hunter/gatherers who followed migration patterns but didn’t set up permanent settlements. David’s work revealed that even at such high altitudes, the residents were pastoral, putting down roots to farm and practice animal husbandry.
“I hadn’t gone in there thinking I was looking at pastoral people,” David said. “I was thinking what kind of camp or evidence of hunting would I find. I came back and convinced my professor that they were really farmers. I contradicted my professor, and I was young enough for that to put a feather in my cap.”
David published a number of works, including “Pastoral Nomadism in the Andes,” “Cultural Negotiations: The Role of Women in the Founding of Americanist Archeology,” and “Anthropology at Harvard: A Biographical History, 1790-1940.”
David received his doctoral degree from Harvard University and later became a professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
His work was as grueling as it was interesting.
“Americans go to school in the fall and spring and take the summer off,” David said. “We’d use the summer to work in the Andes, so our work was in the middle of their winter. It was the cold season. I remember when I first started, to show how macho I was, I’d get out and break the ice and shave in it. I’d tell my students if they were from Montana, where I was born, they could handle this.”
In the early years, Jane and their first daughter joined David on his trips to the field. As their family grew to include three daughters, Jane stayed in the U.S. with the children while David continued his summer work abroad.
“We wanted to discover what people did at a high altitude, between 14,000 and 16,000 feet,” David said. “I put the money into hiring a student to come down with me, which meant there was no such thing as a camp cook or someone to do laundry. There was no electricity and might not be running water. We just had a field camp. One project we were working on, we hired natives, so every week I’d go in and get food while the students supervised the digs. I’d put a quarter in the machine and take a shower. The students would complain about not having a shower for two weeks, so I started taking a student with me.”
The past few months at Aberdeen Heights have given David and Jane time to recover from some health challenges. Their three daughters and five granddaughters advocated for the move.
“Jane was coming up from the basement with a load of laundry, fell down the stairs and broke her leg in six places,” David explained. “She came to Aberdeen Heights during her recovery until she could come back home. I was alone and got pneumonia and couldn’t take care of myself. My daughter said that was enough, that we needed to be somewhere people could take care of us. My daughters were glad that we made the move where we can get the help we need, and Aberdeen Heights has the resources for that.”