Colin Betts

Colin Betts portrait
Professor of Anthropology

Office: Koren 316

Phone: Phone: 563-387-1284



Education: Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Illinois; A.M., Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; B.A., Anthropology, Luther College

Colin Betts has been a professor in the anthropology department since 1999 and also serves as the director of the Anthropology Laboratory. Some of his course topics include Archaeology, Biological Anthropology, Born to Run, Experimental Archaeology, and Remote Sensing in Archaeology. His research focuses on North American archaeology, mound construction, ethnicity, research methods and geophysical survey.

My teaching primarily involves topics associated with archaeology and biological anthropology. In addition to two introductory courses in these areas (Anth 102 and Anth 104) I also regularly teach including remote sensing and experimental archaeology. In all of my courses I strive to find ways to incorporate hands on or experiential learning, whether through the process of cooking in earth ovens in experimental archaeology, conducting a forensic examination of human skeletal remains, or by looking for traces of the college’s original baseball field using remote sensing instruments.

One of my passions is to develop classes that explore the various ways in which anthropology connects with broader issues. Born to Run (Anth 209) uses anthropology to provide insights into both the evolutionary basis for our extraordinary endurance running abilities and the its various cultural meanings in contemporary societies‚Äď and also allows me to combine academic and personal interests. My current first-year student seminar Anth 185: Are You a Neanderthal? delves into how contemporary anthropological research has caused us to reevaluate our relationship to Neanderthals. We also analyze literature and movies like¬†The Croods¬†to see how popular culture has used Neanderthals to explore the larger question of what it means to be human and explore our personal connection to Neanderthals ancestry through commercial genetic test kits.

ANTH 102 Biological Anthropology

Biological anthropology focuses primarily on the physical development of the human species. This course serves as an introduction to the various lines of inquiry that comprise this sub-field of anthropology. Primary topics include a survey of human biological and cultural evolution, genetics and the mechanics of evolution, non-human primates, and forensic anthropology.

ANTH 104 Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of the human past through material remains. This course introduces students to the fundamental techniques employed by archaeologists to reconstruct the past. In addition to exploring the basic methodological foundations of archaeology this course provides an overview of world archaeology, including major developments in human prehistory and significant archaeological sites.

ANTH 185 Are You a Neanderthal?

Who were the Neanderthals and what does it mean if you are descended from them? This class will use popular culture, genetics, and our current scientific view of Neanderthals as a way of answering these questions. The depictions of Neanderthals and cavemen in movies, television, literature, and art will be analyzed to see how they have been used to define what it means to be human. Each student will have their DNA tested to determine if their family tree has a Neanderthal branch, see what Neanderthal traits they may exhibit, and highlight the role of genetic research in the study of human origins. Finally, we will examine both the history and current scientific view of Neanderthals as a way of understanding our relationship to Neanderthals and their place within the human family.

ANTH 209 Born to Run

Humans possess a capacity for endurance running that is virtually unmatched in the natural world. Understanding this capacity requires consideration of its biological and cultural dimensions. The physiology of long distance running can only be understood by studying the larger environmental and behavioral conditions under which it evolved. Similarly, ethnographic accounts from diverse cultural groups provide essential insights for understanding the meanings of and reasons for running among modern humans. This course uses each perspective to provide insight into the “how” and “why” of this phenomenon and will examine associated topics such as barefoot running, optimal running speed, and the relationship between genetics, gender, and running performance.

ANTH 211 Quantitative Research Methods in Anthropology

Effectively understanding cultural behavior requires asking the right questions and correctly interpreting the resulting answers. Often, the best way to address these questions requires the collection of quantitative data. This course will use case studies from cultural anthropology, archaeology, and physical anthropology, as well as student-generated research as means for learning how to design anthropologically relevant research questions, identifying the appropriate ways of acquiring the data required to successfully address these questions, and evaluating the results. Finally, we will address the ethics of anthropological research.

ANTH 301 Experimental Archaeology

The anthropological study of material culture and technology provides a wealth of information about human behavior. This course will use ethnographic analogy and experimental archaeology as tools for reconstructing a specific example of prehistoric technology. We will search for and analyze relevant ethnographic data, design and implement replicative experiments based on this data, and evaluate the effectiveness of the results for interpreting the archaeological record. In the process of recreating past technology we will explore how the analysis of material culture and technology can be used to understand topics such as cognition, social boundaries, gender, and symbolism.

ANTH 302 Field Methods in Archaeology

This is a hands-on experience in archaeological field techniques offered in the summer. Students will be instructed in the fundamental skills required to do field archaeology while conducting surveys, mapping, and excavations on real archaeological sites. This is a labor intensive course that requires students to participate in field work and data management procedures daily, possibly including some evenings (depending on weather conditions). This course is the equivalent of a full-time job and synthesizes classroom study with real world experiences. Offered alternate summers (odd years).

ANTH 305 Remote Sensing in Archaeology

The use of technology to remotely detect and investigate archaeological data in a noninvasive manner is an increasingly important component of modern archaeological research. This class examines the history, theory, and application of various remote sensing methods, with an emphasis on near surface geophysical and aerial photography methods. Students will apply this knowledge to design and implement a remote sensing investigation of a local archaeological site and learn how to analyze, interpret, and present the resulting data.

  • Ph.D., Anthropology, University¬†of¬†Illinois¬†at¬†Urbana-Champaign, 2000
  • A.M., Anthropology, University¬†of¬†Illinois¬†at¬†Urbana-Champaign, 1997
  • B.A., Anthropology/History, Luther College, 1993

My research is focused on the late prehistoric and early historic period in northeast Iowa. The Upper Iowa valley has a fascinating and rich archaeological heritage that spans thousands of years of human habitation and provides an ideal natural laboratory for conducting research with students. My recent activities have focused on using a combination of archaeological and historic resources identifying the ethnic dimensions of the area’s most recent inhabitants as well as on understanding how the construction and use of mounds served both in the construction of the cultural landscape and as means of dealing with the impacts of European contact.

As an extension of the mound research I have recently begun a larger research project employing geophysical remote sensing to investigate the amazing diversity of earthworks including rare prehistoric enclosure sites as well as the better known effigy mounds that are found in northeast Iowa. Remote sensing represents an ideal means for investigating more fully the structure, meaning, and purpose of these sites in a non-destructive manner. Recently, Luther College has completed a multi-year remote sensing research project at the Capoli Bluff effigy mound site. This work also builds on the long tradition that the Luther College Anthropology program has in investigating the effigy mound manifestation. This research directly involves students both through the archaeology field school as well as through collaborative research experiences.

Some of my recent publications include:

(2019) Paouté and Aiaouez: A New Perspective on Late Seventeenth-Century Chiwere-Siouan Identity. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 44 (1):94-112.

2017 with Marshal Stay (’17) РGeophysical Investigations at the Ward Long Mound Site, Allamakee County, Iowa.  Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society 64:45-51.

2017 РReconstructing an Illini Fire-Making Kit.  Newsletter of the Iowa Archeological Society 67(1):3-7.

2016 with Dale Henning РAberrant Earthworks? A Contemporary Overview of Oneota Mound Ceremonialism.  The Wisconsin Archeologist 97(2) 101-119.

2011 РRediscovering the Mahouea. Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society. 58:23-34.

2010 РOneota Mound Construction: An Early Revitalization Movement. Plains Anthropologist 55(214):97-110.

Remote Sensing and Effigy Mounds