years ago, Indiana University anthropology professors Nicholas
Toth and Kathy Schick set out to find land suitable for building
a world-class research facility.
Photos by Chris Meyer
Kathy Schick , professor of anthropology at IUB, stands inside the CRAFT Stone Age Institute.
Schick (left) and Toth look over trays full of bones excavated from a hyena den that will be studied at the CRAFT Stone Age Institute.
Toth, a guitarist by avocation, hopes to see the research facility, which is closed to the public, host community events that will bring the arts and the sciences together.
Nicholas Toth, professor of anthropology, talks about a few of the items on display in the entryway of the CRAFT Stone Age Institute. Casts of early bipedal species and genuine stone tools spanning many stages of human evolution are encased there.
Casts of hominid skulls are encased above library stacks.
Exterior of the 11,400-square-feet Stone Age Institute building.
IU’s Toth and Schick have made a name for themselves in the world of anthropology. The authors of “Making Silent Stones Speak: Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology” (1993) found architectural inspiration for their institute in ancient Scottish castles and George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in California.
“I think we drove almost every road in Monroe County. It felt like we drove at least 5,000 miles,” said Toth, who, along with Schick, co-directs the Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology (CRAFT) at IU. They have been IU professors since 1986.
After finding a building site, attention turned to construction for the 11,400-square-feet Stone Age Institute. The facility, which was completed late last year, is now occupied by researchers and is home to a library collection of 50,000 books and artifacts. Later this month, CRAFT will host its first international conference at the newly constructed institute.
Both Toth and Schick agree that the new facility raises the profile of IU in the area of human origins research. Although the Stone Age Institute is a separate entity from IU—supported largely by private donations—it hires IU researchers, helps support fieldwork and provides space for data analysis upon completion. Currently, an IU researcher from the institute is in Ethiopia for fieldwork at Gona, a significant archaeological site known for the world’s oldest stone tools discovery. After he completes his research, he will return to analyze his findings, working from his office at the institute. The support from CRAFT will give him opportunity to publish his findings. See “World’s oldest kitchen?”.
Toth and Schick said moving into the new facility was a dream come true. In fact, scouting for a location took several twists and turns before they located the final location. An early tip led them on a tour of recording artist John Mellencamp’s former home and studio and other existing commercial properties for sale around Bloomington.
After touring various locations, the idea to find an already constructed building was scrapped. The task of retrofitting and renovating to house the center’s artifact and literary collections proved too extensive. Toth and Schick—along with the center’s board of directors—decided to build a facility from the ground up, embarking on a year-long location search and a two-year construction phase. Money for the project came from private funds donated to the non-profit organization, Friends of CRAFT Inc.
The hunt paid off when the husband and wife co-directors decided on 30 acres in northern Monroe County. The find was all the more satisfying after they discovered that the wooded property surrounding the location was owned by the Sycamore Land Trust, meaning the scenic landscape would remain unaltered. Expansive windows from the centerpiece library/great room offer magnificent views overlooking the rolling, wooded terrain of southern Indiana.
Toth and Schick said inspiration for the architecture came from a varying realm of commercial buildings and historic structures. They credit Scottish castle ruins as inspiration for the institute’s stone entry. Other sources of inspiration include Skywalker Ranch, the sprawling California movie-making compound built by Star Wars creator George Lucas, and Oliver Winery, a popular Bloomington wine purveyor. Both the winery and ranch serve as models as to the type of environment Toth and Schick wanted to create for the library, research space, offices and meeting rooms housed at the institute.
“We wanted to build a facility to house researchers—not just for today but the next 200 years. I see this place being around for the next 200 years, producing new research,” co-director Schick said.
The bulk of research documents were inherited by the couple from their professor, J. Desmond Clark, at the University of California at Berkeley. The 50,000 books and articles from Clark’s collection are now housed at the institute, available for scholars. Just one of the many items contained in the collection is primatologist Jane Goodall’s digging sticks, tools fashioned by chimpanzees that she acquired during field research.
As a nod to their study of Stone Age tools, the building incorporates natural stone: flint, limestone and sandstone. The entrance’s circular tower is built using a dry stone method creating an homage to Scottish castles.
The interior of the tower holds a collection of artifacts, ranging from skulls to ancient stone blades and axe heads. Many of the artifacts were discovered during fieldwork. A grid floor re-creates an archeology dig, complete with an unearthed square in the middle revealing finds. Additionally, the skulls and tools lining the circular entry represent the various time periods in which technology and tool-making has evolved.
The limestone found on the property and building site was transformed into a retaining wall, and incorporated into the two-story fireplace that anchors the great room/library. The couple said it was important to them to include such extensive use of stone in the project. They said it is a visual reminder of the work they have embraced.
A research facility like the Stone Age Institute couldn’t happen anywhere but here in Indiana, they claim. Partially due to the expense of land on the West and East coasts, but mainly because of the support and alliances they have formed within IU.
“It is just a remarkable opportunity for the institute to be affiliated with the university,” said Toth, who has focused his research on tool-making by human species, including manufacturing stone tools and archaeological fieldwork. A weekly seminar brings the researchers together, offering a chance to review new literature and discuss findings from work in the field.
Closed to the public, the institute hopes to host a variety of events of educational demonstrations. Future plans include launching the publication arm of the institute, with the goal of publishing two books per year.
“I see this place as a way to bring the arts and sciences
together,” said Toth, referring to musical concerts he hopes
to host at the institute. Toth, himself a guitarist, was once
photographed in National Geographic, not with stone
tools but with a guitar in his hands.
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