Esther M. Schechter, Ph.D.

I received my Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Chicago in 1965, and worked for over 20 years at Rush Medical Center where I taught and did research on animal models of human herpesvirus infections.

When I retired, I began volunteering in the Anthropology Department at the Field Museum, and was made a Research Associate in 2003.

Most of my time at the museum was spent working with Dr. John Terrell studying artifacts that he and Dr. Robert Welsch had brought back in 1996 from their archaeological excavations at Aitape, Papua New Guinea.

In addition to identifying ancient shells found in the excavations, I worked with Dr. Terrell to analyze designs found on potsherds and pots dating from 1,500 to 2,000 years ago to the present.

This work led to the publication of a paper relating the designs found on ceramics in the Aitape area to motifs on ancient Lapita pottery, a ceramic style found in the Western Pacific with certain designs on them that were previously thought to depict the human face.

Our paper presents evidence that these designs represent turtles as well as humans, and that turtles formerly played an important role in the religious cosmology of Pacific Islanders, just as they still do in some parts of the Pacific today.

Currently I am studying historic and modern pottery from Papua New Guinea in the Field Museum collections to show how historic and modern ceramics in New Guinea relates to the ancient tradition excavated by Terrell and Welsch.

Esther Schechter on a visit to New Guinea in 2007

2007, Esther M. Schechter)