UNLV Anthropology Professor Deb Martin selected for 2018 UNLV Distinguished Professor Award

Mar. 15, 2018

Recently, UNLV honored Dr. Deb Martin by selecting her for the 2018 UNLV Distinguished Professor Award. In light of this accomplishment, we asked her for her thoughts on her career and how she became involved with the research that would define her as a bioarchaeologist. The text is below and we congratulate her for her achievement!


Deb Martin studies what she is most fearful of: Poor health. Violence. Suffering. Inequality. Abuse. Neglect. Enslavement. Marginalization. Torture. Violence has always been a part of human social behavior going as far back as human history goes. She is most interested in these earliest forms of violence since they establish a baseline on the diverse ways that humans are motivated to use violence to solve problems.

She is also curious about how violence, which can be disruptive and chaotic, can also be transformative and regenerative. Cultures can utilize social processes to normalize violence so that it often comes to feel like “business as usual” and it is these processes that her research investigates and seeks to understand.

Deb recently started a new project with her former and current PhD students in Bélen, New Mexico, excavating and preserving a mission church cemetery from the 1800s that sits close to the Rio Grande and is being eroded. The burials include Genízaros, the descendants of Native Americans formerly enslaved by the Spanish who captured or purchased them to be indentured servants. These “Hispanicized” Indians assimilated into New Mexico. Bélen was later founded by freed Genízaros. Combining information in the church archives with study of the human remains, her team is reconstructing the everyday acts of violence experienced during the colonial period.

Deb witnessed poverty and inequality in the 1950s growing up in a steel mill town outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and this led her to consider being a physician. She was a 1st generation college student and after attending Lorain County Community College, she commuted to Cleveland State University where she took her first anthropology class and decided to forgo medical school for a PhD instead. In 1977, she headed for Amherst, Massachusetts for PhD work with George Armelagos, a pioneer in understanding ancient disease and skeletal analyses at the University of Massachusetts. With her PhD in hand in 1983, she began teaching at Hampshire College, where she taught until 2005 when she joined the faculty at UNLV.