Atmosphere

The Bone Collector

A local professor uncovers pieces of humanity's past.

January 2010

Name Dr. Charles Musiba, 49
Occupation Assistant professor of anthropology, University of Colorado Denver
Worldly cred English is only one of the 10 languages he speaks.

Strolling through the Auraria campus on a warm fall morning, Dr. Charles Musiba flashes a toothy grin at students who call his name as he walks by. The native Tanzanian has been a scholarly celebrity since arriving at UC Denver in 2005, bringing with him an impressive anthropology CV and a valuable teaching collection of early human bones, some of them millions of years old. He also offers one of the most popular courses on campus: a monthlong summer field expedition to northern Tanzania, to excavate at the Laetoli site for early human remains.

Musiba and his students' most recent work has made headlines, including the launching of an exhibit that preserves a set of 3.5 million-year-old hominid footprints—arguably the world's oldest—at Tanzania's National Museum and House of Culture this past summer. In coming weeks, when the Tanzanian president opens a second groundbreaking exhibit about our species' earliest ancestors, visitors worldwide will have the professor and his Colorado crew to thank for the information and design.

Despite the international praise, Musiba sees the study of bones and cultures as an altruistic pursuit. He developed the field school as an essential part of students' education, giving them the kind of hands-on experience that originally hooked him, when he worked under famed anthropologist Mary Leakey. "The reality is, you're not making a lot of money," Musiba says. "But if you're interested in people and travel, it's the job for you. You'll get a better understanding of humanity."