Interview by Michael Flatt
Theodore Steegmann, a leading anthropologist on the biology of adaptation to cold climates, has been on the UB faculty for almost 50 years. But that doesn’t mean he has stayed in one place—far from it. In the course of his career, he has traveled to countries near and far and has had many an adventure along the way, including being mistaken for a CIA agent in the Philippines. If you’re looking for a glimpse of the other side of the world, look no further than Spaulding, Building 6.
I’ve always been interested in building models, and I saw that in a market in Budapest. That is a standard central European style of wagon used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were using it as a display, and I asked if they would sell it to me.
That’s a stylized rooster illustration. In the Philippines they have fighting roosters—cock fights. It’s part of their tradition. I saw one cock fight there; it was kind of messy. It was in the 1990s, when the government was fighting the New People’s Army, the leftist guerilla group, and so there might have been some danger there if you started asking questions. But I felt pretty safe in this village, because I had a grad student who worked there.
This is a snake backbone made into a headpiece for a woman—also from the Philippines. They believe it increases fertility and protects you from lightning. I don’t know what happens if you’re a man and you wear it. Probably something bad.
That’s a Chinese distilled grain liquor. It’s an indescribable flavor. When you first try it, you say, “That’s the worst stuff I’ve ever tasted,” but it’s an acquired taste, like beer. The Chinese have all kinds of opinions about the different distilleries, just like we have about beer.
I make some of my own tools for certain studies. Right now I’m starting a study comparing raccoons, deer and humans in tropical environments and arctic environments. We’re pretty sure that human nose width varies according to how dry and cold the climate is. Some of the measurements are hard to do with standard tools because the bone inside the nose is delicate, so I make little devices that can do the job.