Catherine Gaither

Bioarchaeologist and Forensic Anthropologist

Hi, I want to tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Catherine Gaither (you can call me Cathy), and I am an instructor with Udemy.

Like many of you, my educational and professional career path was a non-traditional one. After high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I had been accepted into the Kansas City Art Institute, which at that time was a very prestigious art school, but I knew that making a living as a fine artist was difficult and I would probably have to work in commercial art. I didn’t really want to do that.

So, I got a job, but soon found out that I just couldn’t ‘work for the vacations’. I needed to love my job. I thought long and hard about what I might do and decided that I would go to school for something where I could end up working with animals. I love animals. I ended up going to the Bel-Rea Institute for Animal Health Technology. I earned an Associate’s Degree, and proceeded to work with veterinarians for the next 11 years.

In 1990, I took a trip to Borneo to work with a world renowned primatologist, Birute Galdikas, studying orangutans in the jungle. While I loved the animals, I was even more fascinated by the people, and it was then that I decided I wanted to go back to school for anthropology. Initially, I thought I would do cultural anthropology, but as my education progressed, I was introduced to archaeology and I just loved it. It was like being a detective, but the “crime” happened 1000 years ago or 2000 years ago or 200 years ago. I thought to myself, “I will never get bored in this field.”

So, while working one and sometimes two jobs, I went back to school eventually earning my Bachelor’s Degree in anthropology. But what kind of archaeology did I want to do? Well, I didn’t know, so I took two years off after graduating and went to work in Florida on shipwreck sites as a contract archaeologist. I was already a certified open water diver and I thought I could combine two things that I really loved.

While doing that, I had a chance to analyze some animal bones from a shipwreck. The animals, you see, get trapped below decks when a ship is going down. The people usually come to the top deck and are washed overboard or jump overboard, but the animals are stuck. Well, when I analyzed these bones, I was hooked on bones! It was so fascinating to me that you could tell so much from skeletal remains.

After looking into what you could with human skeletal remains, I knew what I wanted to do. I contacted my undergraduate advisor to ask him what to do, and he told me that I had to come work in Peru. There are lots of human skeletons from archaeological contexts there. He helped me to analyze some skeletons and gave me advice on where to go to school.

I ended up taking his advice and going to Tulane University where I worked with John Verano, a very well-known and highly regarded paleopathologist who has and continues to work in Peru. I eventually earned both a Master’s Degree and my PhD from Tulane University. Now I am a paleopathologist/bioarchaeologist and forensic anthropologist. I have worked for many years in academia, but at the beginning of 2015, I decided to go to work as a forensic consultant. I now travel extensively working as a consultant.

After these experiences, I would tell you that you should follow your dreams, and that if you want something, go after it. Don’t ever think you are too old or too poor or too whatever. If you want something and you dedicate yourself to getting it, you can achieve your goals. I hope to help you with that effort in some small way. So, welcome to class and I look forward to working with you. 

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