$6.9 million gift to KU will enable researchers to gain better understanding of early human life

photo by: Associated Press

In this file photo from July 17, 2003, University of Kansas professor Rolfe Mandel leads a group on a tour of an archaeological dig near Paxico, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

A $6.9 million gift from a late geologist and his wife will help University of Kansas researchers develop a fuller understanding about early human life in the Americas.

Joseph L. and Maude Ruth Cramer had established the Odyssey Archaeological Research Fund at KU in 2002 with a $1 million gift. The additional $6.9 million was recently received following their deaths. The gift will further benefit research by the Kansas Geological Survey and the KU archaeology program in the department of anthropology, according to a news release from KU Endowment.

“It’s an enormous gift and more than twice what we were expecting,” said University Distinguished Professor Rolfe Mandel, who is executive director of the Odyssey Program and director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

Mandel and Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment, met with Joseph Cramer more than 10 years ago and discussed the possibility of offering graduate student fellowships and postdoctoral scholarships in the program.

Cramer grew up in Wichita and graduated from the University of New Mexico. His career was spent as a petroleum geologist, but he had a lifetime interest in archaeology and a passion for searching for the earliest people in the Americas.

His passion will now become a legacy, Mandel said. The money has been invested and the program will be able to use the interest.

The gift will be used to support students, Mandel said. The research program will be getting a postdoctoral fellow on board and will hopefully establish one graduate student fellowship — a Ph.D. candidate who will get a full ride.

“This summer we are looking at a site in the northwest territories of Canada near the Alaska border,” Mandel said. “The only way to reach it is by helicopter. That’s expensive. It’s the type of site Joe Cramer would have loved to explore.”

Mandel said receiving this gift is like receiving a National Science Foundation grant every year. He said Cramer’s goal in providing the endowment was to free up researchers so they wouldn’t have to spend so much time writing grants and could be in the field researching.

Geoarchaeological research is the application of geoscientific methods used to resolve an archeological question, Mandel said.

“It uses geology to search for the earliest of humans in the Americas,” Mandel said.

The project’s research focus is on the midcontinent of North America from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Along with exploring in northwest Canada, students in the program will also head to western Kansas and the Big Bend region of Texas this summer, Mandel said.

The Cramers’ grandson, Chris Cramer, of Littleton, Colo., said in the news release that his grandparents would be pleased with what the program has already accomplished and how much potential it has.

“I think they would be very proud of the University of Kansas and what Rolfe Mandel is doing,” he said.


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