Feds Dig Up $98,000 to Study ‘3rd Millennium BC Mortuary Traditions’ in Oman

Penny Starr | June 28, 2013 | 3:42pm EDT
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Graveyard (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Science Foundation is paying two scientists $98,349.00 to “conduct three field sessions of bioarchaeological and geospatial research on the Bronze Age (ca. 3100-2000 BC) mortuary sites in northern Oman.”

“This study seeks to investigate shifts in mortuary traditions over time – including (a) the construction of monumental tombs, (b) the geographic origins of the individuals interred within these structures, and (c) tomb placement on the landscape – as a reflection of changing perceptions of rural identity in response to growing interregional interaction with urban areas,” the grant abstract stated.

“As a highly visible burial center at the crossroads of these interregional trade routes, the Al Khubayb Necropolis provides a unique opportunity to examine these temporal changes during a formative period of transition in the Oman Peninsula, in part by recognizing the importance of Transitional tomb forms,” the grant abstract stated.

The two scientists selected to run the project are Kimberly Williams, an associate professor at Temple University and principal investigator, and Lesley Gregoricka, a bioarchaeologist at the University of South Alabama.

The abstract stated that the scientists will study the teeth of long-dead individuals to find the “variability in strontium and oxygen isotopic signatures” caused by their diet.

The study will focus on the “hinterlands of Oman” on the Arabian Peninsula, and it will be “transformative,” the abstract states, because it focuses on a “relatively invisible rural people, whose existence as semi-nomadic pastoralists is poorly understood.”

The grant abstract also stated that the project will increase “student diversity” and include the “education and training of local Omanis” to help them preserve their heritage.

The grant funds, available on July 1 and valid until an estimated end date of June 30, 2016, come from the NSF annual budget that is appropriated by Congress, according to Deborah Wing, a spokesperson in the foundation’s public affairs office.

CNSNews.com submitted a series of questions to NSF, including one about where the funding for the grant comes from, which was answered.

The other questions, listed below, were not answered directly.

1. What benefits will American taxpayers get from this project?

2. How much of the funding will be used for the "education and training" of local Omanis?

3. How will "student diversity" be advanced by this project and what is exactly meant by student diversity.

4. How does gaining knowledge of an ancient, little known, population benefit current American society and its citizens?

Wing responded to the questions with this statement:

“This award, as all that are awarded through NSF, has gone through our merit review process. Merit review is the cornerstone of the National Science Foundation's work,” she wrote.  

“NSF receives over 40,000 new proposals each year. Through the use of merit review, NSF seeks to maintain the high standards of excellence and accountability for which it is known around the world,” Wing added.

“NSF has worked diligently to ensure that the Foundation's merit review system remains an international 'gold-standard' for review of science and engineering research proposals,” she wrote.

“All the awards go through this peer-review panel to discuss the broader impacts and intellectual merit,” Wing wrote. “This award by definition of the review process contains these to evaluation factors.

“We receive reports on our awards but do not have one on this award since it does not start until July 1st,” Wing wrote. “The NSF always strives to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Questions were also sent to Williams, but she did not respond.

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