September 25, 2002


University Park, Pa. --- A Penn State anthropologist, Lee Ann Newsom, has been named a 2002 MacArthur Fellow, a nationally prestigious program that supports and recognizes scientists, artists, and writers for their "original creativity." Twenty-four fellows each will receive $500,000 in "no strings attached" support over the next five years.

"For over two decades, the MacArthur Fellows Program has been a vital part of the foundation's efforts to recognize and support individuals who lift our spirits, illuminate human potential, and shape our collective future," said Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation. "We are committed to nurturing those who are a source of new knowledge and ideas, have the courage to challenge inherited orthodoxies and to take intellectual, scientific and cultural risks."

An associate professor of archaeological anthropology at Penn State, Newsom is a paleoethnobotanist who investigates ancient plant life in Southeastern North America and the Caribbean. One of a small number of paleoethnobotanists worldwide, she analyzes fossilized plant and wood remains (fragmentary water-logged or charred remains excavated from archeological sites) and gleans valuable new insights into subsistence strategies and the use of natural resources by prehistoric populations. She is widely credited with identifying and analyzing ancient gourds, some dating as far back as 12,500 years, and developing new interpretations of human cultivation of the earliest domesticated plant in North America.

Newsom's investigations have resulted in new methods for identifying and cataloging early plant and wood species, as well as an important database of information for future research. Her work expands the range of prehistoric Caribbean archaeology; it is valuable to environmentalists, historians and others outside the field of archaeology. She currently pursues paleoethnobotanical fieldwork in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and South America.

Her faculty web site is:

She earned a B.A. (1982), an M.A. (1986) and a Ph.D. (1993) from the University of Florida. She served as curator of collections from 1993 to 2001 at the Southern Illinois University Center for Archaeological Investigations in Carbondale, Ill.

Other recipients include a seismologist applying structural engineering principles to public buildings in some of the world's poorest, most earthquake-prone regions, a trombonist expanding the possibilities of improvisation, an artist working in three dimensions with glass beads, a roboticist designing self-reconfigurable robots, and a historian tracing the influence of technological advances on the evolution of ideas during the Renaissance.

No one may apply for the MacArthur Fellow program; a committee whose members serve anonymously makes the selections and final recommendations to the board of directors. In most cases, the recipient has no idea that she or he has been under consideration for the fellowship. The foundation's web site is:


EDITORS: Dr. Newsom can be reached at 814-632-9800.


A'ndrea Elyse Messer 814-865-9481

Vicki Fong 814-865-9481