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High Altitudes with Aldenderfer

In a corner of the MIASU building, in an office decorated with Tibetan prayer flags, you will find Leverhulme Visiting Professor Mark Aldenderfer.


Mark’s career in archaeology began almost 40 years ago with an invitation to join a project in the Andes after plans to conduct his PhD research in Ethiopia feel through. It was while working with this team in Peru that Mark first started considering the cultural, genetic, and biological adaptations that occur in places of high elevation.

For the next 25 years, he went on to work extensively in the Andes before wondering about other places that he might be able to study. Due to the obvious restrictions in place when studying high altitude civilisations, the natural place for his attention to turn was towards Tibet and the Himalayas. Although his primary area of interest is in hunters and gatherers, for his first project in Tibet in 1997, Mark had to focus on Buddhists, more recently though he has been able to focus on the earlier studies and time periods that really interest him. It was this work that was the focus of the three part lecture series he recently gave in the Pembroke Old Library and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

After 20 years of contact with Cambridge academics such as Pembroke Fellow Hildegard Diemberger, it was the natural choice of destination for him to come and spend his sabbatical. Taking a break for this academic year from his usual role of Dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts has meant that he has not had to worry about anything but the things that got him really excited about archaeology in the first place. Those things have included relishing the chance to delve into the resources at Cambridge as well as at the British Library and British Museum. He has also taken advantage of his present proximity to colleagues at European institutes to spend time with them.  13262516_10153507605351283_1648137214_o

Coming from the smallest and most rural of the University of California campuses, Mark has greatly enjoyed the way that College life at Pembroke, where he has been affiliated, facilitates opportunities to bring people from different disciplines together to discuss interesting topics and offer a chance to learn something new. This has been heightened by the chance he has had to talk to Chinese and Mongolian students, Graduate students who have impressed him with their ability to cut to the heart of an argument, and the Pembroke Porters with whom he has a lot of fun talking. He said that being able to interact with people from various walks of life has really made “a difference in terms of keeping you sharp upstairs.”

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