Vaughn M Bryant

Vaughn M Bryant

Department of Anthropology
Texas A&M University


Dr. Bryant was born in Dallas, Texas in 1940, but lived there only six months before moving to the Canal Zone in Panama.  His father, a correspondent for the Associated Press (AP), was assigned first to Central America and then to South America.  After a year in Panama, Dr. Bryant's father moved to South America at the request of the AP.  Over the next seven years, the family lived in the capital cities of all but one of the countries in South America.  During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he lived briefly in New Orleans, North Carolina, and then Austin, Texas, before moving to the Territory of Alaska after his parents divorced.  His mother, younger brother, and he then built a log cabin and homesteaded in a rural area of the Kenai Peninsula during the mid-1950s.  By the late 1950s, Dr. Bryant needed to complete high school and thus returned to Houston, Texas, to live with his father.

He enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) in 1959 and received a BA in geography before continuing for a MA in anthropology.  He completed his PhD in botany at UT in 1969.  After graduation, he taught at Washington State University from 1969 through the spring of 1971, and then joined the newly created Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Texas A&M University during the summer of that year.  He became their first anthropologist and was asked to build a nationally-recognized department of anthropology, with a doctoral granting program, within 20 years.

In the fall of 1971, Dr. Bryant began his tenure at Texas A&M University where he taught the first anthropology courses to small classes of students.  During the next few years, Dr. Bryant added new courses to the curriculum and hired additional anthropology faculty.  By 1974, he compiled the data needed to submit a formal request to the Texas Coordinating Board for Higher Education seeking permission to offer a BA in anthropology.  Permission was granted in 1975.  He was also invited to become a joint faculty member in both anthropology and biology and maintained the dual appointment until the late 1980s when he became full-time in anthropology.

By 1976, the department was expanding rapidly.  In that year, Dr. Bryant convinced Dr. George F. Bass and the Institute for Nautical Archaeology to join his department and move to Texas A&M University.  That addition made the department the world’s leading academic and research program in the field of nautical archaeology.  In 1978, the Texas Coordinating Board approved anthropology's request to offer graduate courses and grant a MA degree.  By 1980, the Coordinating Board approved a request to separate anthropology from sociology and form a new department of anthropology.  In 1988, the department was granted permission to offer a doctoral degree in anthropology.  Dr. Bryant was appointed as the department's first department head and held that leadership position until 1999.  Next, he accepted the position as Director of the Center for Ecological Archaeology at Texas A&M University in 1999, but resigned that position in 2001 to become Director of the Texas A&M Palynology Laboratory.

He is a devoted teacher at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  In 1974, Dr. Bryant received the highly coveted Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching (University level).  Only six university-level teaching awards were presented annually when he received that award.  Today, Dr. Bryant continues to maintain an active teaching load.  He regularly teaches large sections (250-300 students) of introductory-level anthropology courses as well as smaller, specialized graduate courses.  Most recently, Dr. Bryant became the first professor in the College of Liberal Arts to teach anthropology as a distance-learning course via the media of television and the internet.  He continues to teach two distance-learning courses with current enrollments of around 300 students and also teaches additional in-class courses each semester.

Dr. Bryant’s leadership and administrative skills were acknowledged in 1990, when he received the Texas A&M University Distinguished Achievement Award for Administration.  Only one such award is presented annually.

He is internationally known for his research in archaeology, forensic pollen analysis, prehistoric diet reconstruction, honey research, and in the reconstruction of paleoenvironments.  In the early 1960s, he pioneered research in the new emerging field of prehistoric diet reconstruction using the analysis of components of fossilized human fecal materials.  Since then he has continued this research and most recently is working with the DNA markers found in coprolites as evidence not only of ancient diets, but also of the genetic origins of the individuals who created the fecal material.  During the 1970s, his fossil pollen studies led to the first reconstruction of the vegetational and climatic history of Texas during the past 30,000 years.  Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s Dr. Bryant pioneered efforts in three new and emerging areas of pollen research including: 1) identifying the floral sources used by honeybees to produce honey and the development of pollen coefficient data to identify and verify premium grades of honey as well as determining the geographical origin of commercially-imported and exported honey; 2) the use of pollen data to track and help eradicate agricultural insect pests such as the boll weevil, corn earworm, root worm, and celery looper; and 3) the use of pollen as an important forensic tool used to track and convict criminals, identify terrorists, and determine the origin of illegally-imported marijuana and other drugs.

In addition to his active research, Dr. Bryant had written over 150 scholarly articles and edited or co-authored a number of books.  By the 1980s, he had edited a book on fossil pollen research in North America, completed the second edition of his textbook, Through the Looking Glass, co-authored an atlas on the modern pollen flora of the Southeastern United States, and edited a book on techniques used in pollen sampling and analysis.  His most recent book, Reflections: A Four-Field Reader in Anthropology was published by McGraw Hill and was a popular reader used in introductory courses until recently. He currently serves on the editorial board of North American Archaeologist, Dig Magazine, and Annual Editions in Anthropology.

He has discussed his research on many local and national TV programs including such network programs as: the Today Show, 3-2-1 Contact (produced by the Children's Television Workshop in New York City), CNN, Fox-Network News, and he was a contestant on the quiz program To Tell the Truth.  Most recently, his research was the central focus of a BBC special, a Discovery Channel program, a short feature on CBS News and an interview on his forensic work with Gretta van Sustern on the Fox-Network.   

He has served as journal editor, managing editor, vice president, and as president of the Palynology Society (AASP).  In 1994, he also served as the Chair for the Organizational Committee of the Ninth International Palynological Congress held in Houston.  Currently he serves as one of four trustees and is the Secretary of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation.  In 1999, Dr. Bryant was honored as the recipient of the AASP Distinguished Service Award—only 14 such awards have been presented during the more than 40-year history of that professional society.  Six years later, in 2005, Dr. Bryant became only the eighth member to be awarded an Honorary Membership in AASP.  In 2010, the 7,500 membership of the Society for American Archaeology honored Dr. Bryant with a presentation of the Fryxell Award for outstanding botanical research in the field of archaeology.  This award is presented only once every five years. In 2013, Dr. Bryant was awarded the Outstanding Educator Award by the Palynology Society, only the fourth time that award has been given during the past 50 years and in 2016 he was awarded the Medal for Scientific Excellence by the Palynology Society, only the fifth time that award has been given by this international society.

Research interest:

He’s regularly writes articles about his research for popular media sources and his research has been featured in popular U.S. magazines including: People, Reader's Digest, Popular Science, Biblical Archaeology, Science Digest, Scientific American, Seventeen, Forbes, Dig, Odyssey, Calliope, Bee Culture, Appleseeds, the National Geographic Magazine, and National Geographic World.