Debra Martin, UNLV Lincy Professor of Anthropology, has been named the winner of the 2015 Harry Reid Silver State Research Award.
The award was created in 2001 to honor longtime U.S. Senator Harry Reid and to recognize faculty who have performed research that is both highly regarded and responsive to the needs of the community and state. The award carries a $10,000 stipend funded by the UNLV Foundation.
“Professor Martin has done terrific work at UNLV and throughout Southern Nevada. I congratulate her for receiving this award,” Reid said. “I am honored to be associated with such an important program, which has promoted the work of many outstanding scholars over the years. As the accomplishments of professor Martin and her colleagues show, UNLV continues to make great strides as a world-class research institution.”
Martin, who joined the UNLV faculty in 2006, is a biological anthropologist who specializes in the analysis and interpretation of prehistoric skeletal remains with a focus on examining the impact of violence on human populations. She has also worked closely with the Clark County Coroner/Medical Examiner’s office, and the collaboration is beginning to provide important information on violence and injury in Southern Nevada.
“We are pleased to award our most prestigious research honor to Debra Martin,” said Tom Piechota, vice president of the UNLV Division of Research and Economic Development. “She has demonstrated both excellence in research and a commitment to addressing important issues in her community. For these reasons, she is a most deserving recipient of this award.”
“Debra’s exceptional scholarship and work in the community make her an ideal candidate for this award,” said Barbara Roth, chair of the UNLV anthropology department, in her nomination letter. “She is a consummate scholar — exceptionally well published, internationally renowned for her high-quality work, and a valued mentor to her students, all of whom are well on their way to becoming renowned scholars themselves, thanks to her dedication and support.”
A World-Renowned Scholar
Martin is one of the leading international scholars on skeletal biology and violence, and while she is well versed in the techniques of skeletal analysis, her research goes beyond collecting skeletal data, Roth added.
She is “one of only a handful of scholars who specialize in this field who integrates theoretical approaches on the evolution of violence, social inequality, and human health into her analysis and interpretations,” Roth said.
Martin has developed innovative methods to examine violence and inequality using ancient, historic, and modern skeletal data and is developing new ways of exploring the impact of climate change on societies. Her contributions range from developing methods for investigating trauma and disease on skeletal remains to examining the regional extent and causes of violence in the ancient American Southwest.
She has worked with skeletal remains from Egypt, Sudan, across the American Southwest, and Mexico, and she and her graduate students are currently analyzing skeletal remains from a 5,000- year-old Bronze Age tomb from the United Arab Emirates. Martin excavated the remains and was able to bring the 400+ individual burials back to UNLV for analysis.
Martin is editor or co-editor of 11 books with two books in press. One is a co-edited volume with her doctoral student on the effects of warfare on women and children. She has also published in peer-reviewed journals and contributed book chapters to a number of peer-reviewed volumes. She recently published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on interethnic violence that is impacting the way that anthropologists and others view this type of violence. In 2015, she received the UNLV Barrick Distinguished Scholar Award and the American Anthropological Association/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology.
She has received grant funding from a number of external sources, including the National Science Foundation and the prestigious Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and currently has two additional grant proposals under review.
Preparing the Next Generation of Scholars
Martin involves students in her research and provides them with opportunities to develop their own research projects and publish. She set up an internship program in forensic anthropology at the Clark County Coroner/Medical Examiner’s office that provides opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. The first undergraduate to do the internship at the Coroner’s Office, Vanessa Alarcia, was recently awarded a fully funded National Science Foundation research award to excavate and study skeletons in Italy this summer. In addition, she currently has four Ph.D. students who are developing projects with the Coroner’s Office that will be useful for understanding patterns of violent death in Southern Nevada with an eye towards preventing them.
One of her doctoral students is conducting research on “injury recidivism,” or repeated violent injuries, in Southern Nevada. Martin and her team have submitted a grant to the National Institute of Justice for additional and longer term funding to collect data for the coroner’s office on head injuries leading to later violent deaths using 30 years’ worth of medical examiner reports.
“These projects show the kind of innovative and collaborative work that Dr. Martin does and further illustrate the impact that her work has for Southern Nevada,” Roth said. “Her collaboration with the Clark County Coroner’s office has the potential to provide important data on violence and injuries that can aid in our understanding of the impact of violence within our society today.”
Martin holds a Ph.D. and master’s degree in biological anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.