Discovery off the beaten path

November 3, 2017
amber Jaeger on a dig in Kenya

Amber Jaeger has had an adventuresome college experience, and it’s not over yet. She spent nearly two months in Peru and another month in Kenya, where a team she worked alongside found one of the most complete fossil ape skulls (Ekembo) known from the time period (20 million years ago). Jaeger was then able to work first-hand with that data, eventually leading to a rare opportunity for an undergraduate student.

That thrill of discovery continues to drives her.

Jaeger, of North Dakota, is majoring in anthropology with a passion for ontogeny—the study of an organism’s lifespan from birth to death.

“Humans are unique in that we grow up really slowly, and we have a childhood and a juvenile period, whereas a lot of animals don’t,” Jaeger says.

By studying ontogeny, she says, “I want to figure out what makes us human.”

This past summer she stepped outside her preferred field, conducting an architectural survey of an ancient Incan empire labor camp in Peru after being recommended for the research by the faculty member she studied with in Kenya.

“It was one of the only non-reconstructed Incan sites,” she says. “I'm still finding thorns in my clothes.”

But Jaeger thrives on just that kind of adventure.

“It’s like detective work,” she says. Things as simple as which way a door faces can give away clues to who people were and how they lived.

Last spring Jaeger presented “An assessment of the mandibular ontogeny of Limnopithecus evansi" at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference--an experience almost unheard of for an undergraduate.

"I've been very fortunate to have these opportunities," Jaeger says. ‘It’s because of the U of M and the faculty members who were willing to work with me and let me work on their research.”