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The University of Alabama

UA Researcher Earns National Award from Cuba Academy of Sciences

Dr. Vernon James Knight

Dr. Vernon James Knight

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A University of  Alabama professor’s archaeological research in Cuba has earned him the National Prize from the Cuba Academy of Sciences, a major national award in that country.

Dr. Vernon James Knight, a professor in the department of anthropology and curator of southeastern archaeology at UA, received the award for research he conducted at the archaeological site of El Chorro de Maíta in eastern Cuba. The international collaborative research project lasted from 2006 to 2012 and involved researchers from five countries and seven institutions.

The award for the project was given, in part, because of the large amount of publicity the project received worldwide. At least 36 articles were published about the project, including publicity generated by the BBC, the New York Times, the National Geographic Society, and American Archaeology magazine.

Thanks to information uncovered by the researchers, the project has also radically changed the way scholars understand the historic site, which is now recognized as a village of indios encomendados, or indigenous individuals who served the Spanish colonizers under a regime of forced labor.

“I feel honored to be a part of the international team that carried out this project,” Knight said. “Because of the obvious tensions, U.S.-Cuban collaboration in the field sciences is not easy, but with perseverance, we showed that it could be done at a high level involving the education of our graduate students. Everyone involved has benefited from the intellectual exchange, and we have made lasting friendships.”

Knight obtained two grants from the National Geographic Society in order to determine the size of the village, identified preserved domestic areas within the site, excavated some of those areas, and dated the deposits and the site’s central cemetery using the radiocarbon method.

A team of University of Alabama graduate students, including Paul Noe, who earned his Master of Arts in 2007, and Brooke Persons, who earned her doctorate in 2013, worked alongside Cuban archaeologists during the project and based their own research projects, in part, on their work in Cuba.

Knight, an archaeologist, has published on field work and museum studies in the eastern United States and the Caribbean. His research interests include prehistoric social archaeology and the archaeology of early European-Indian contact.

His recent books include “The Search for Mabila” (editor, 2009, University of Alabama Press), “Mound Excavations at Moundville: Architecture, Elites, and Social Order” (2010, University of Alabama Press), and “Iconographic Method in New World Prehistory” (2013, Cambridge University Press).

The department of anthropology is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, UA’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships, Truman Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Stephanie Brumfield Kirkland, communications specialist, College of Arts and Sciences, 205/348-8539,