Published: Sept. 26, 2013

Faculty conversations: 
Ethan Watrall

By: Alex Barhorst Residential and Hospitality Services barhors1@rhs.msu.eduContact(s): Jennifer Orlando Media Communications office: (517) 353-4355 cell: (517) 980-0076

Ethan Watrall’s career has revolved around a rare combination of what is modern and what is ancient.

“I’m unique in the department and certainly unique on campus as well,” Watrall said. “There are very few people in the discipline who identify as digital archaeologists.”

Watrall, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, merged his interests in computation and archaeology into one job. He said the two fields have a more extensive history together than many people realize.

“Archaeology itself actually has a really long relationship with computers dating back to the early fifties,” Watrall said. “It has always been very committed to using computers with what it does on a day-to-day basis.”

Watrall worked as a field archaeologist in Egypt and studied artifacts of houses built by Egyptians who lived before the pyramids were built. He said digital archaeology can be used to supplement, not replace, the value of hands-on experience.

“It’s a means to an end,” Watrall said. “The point is still understanding human culture and the human past – digitial just allows us to do that differently or better.”

Teaching, research and colleagues are all reasons Watrall said he loves his job. He added that he appreciates getting to work in a field most people only dream about.

“Everyone in this discipline, we always meet people who say ‘well jeez, I really wanted to become an archaeologist,’” Watrall said. “There’s certainly a lot of passion in the field. The act of discovery is really exciting.”

Click to enlarge

Ethan Watrall, assistant professor of anthropology and digital archaeologist. Photo by Alex Barhorst

Ethan Watrall, assistant professor of anthropology and digital archaeologist. Photo by Alex Barhorst

This holiday season, Spartans are sharing a flurry of good will. What's your wish?
A new superpower on the horizon. Michigan State University scientists look to the sun to solve Earth's biggest problems. Read our paid post on the New York Times site