Archaeologist fulfills ambition to serve his country

U.S. Border

Andy Laurence, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M University, will fulfill his intent to serve his country upon completing his Ph.D. in archaeology. Currently an intern for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), he plans to continue working full-time with the agency in facilitating and enforcing lawful international trade and travel.

“How does being an archaeologist fit into all of this?” Laurence said. “It comes down to environmental reconstruction.”

According to Laurence, every region of the world has a unique pollen signature generated by the local plants. In a process called “geolocation,” archaeologists trained in palynology, which is the study of pollen and spores, can identify and trace the origin of a pollen sample.

“It’s like playing ‘Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?’” Laurence said.

Laurence and the CBP work to resolve trade law violations, such as false claims of a product’s country of origin to avoid higher tariffs or in attempts to bypass US bans on harmful products.

Geolocation, Laurence said, can be used to enforce trade laws—and in the case of contraband, criminal laws —by verifying where people or objects have been using traces of pollen collected from them.

“Both archaeology and forensics use the scientific method to reconstruct past events,” Laurence added, “whether using pollen, starch, artifacts, or other types of data.”

After sustaining an injury during his training at the United States Merchant Marine Academy that prevented him from flying for the US Navy, Laurence completed his undergraduate studies at Kent State University with a degree in archaeology.

“I fell in love with archaeology, though I still had a soft spot for forensics,” Laurence said.

Upon learning that Vaughn Bryant, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, was working with both archaeological and forensic palynology, Laurence decided to pursue his graduate studies at Texas A&M University.

“For me, it was the best of both worlds,” Laurence said.

After working as a teaching assistant for Bryant, who is not only one of the world’s leading palynologists but also the only forensic palynologist in the nation, Laurence was offered an opportunity to work for CBP.

“Basically, I happened to be at the right place at the right time with the right skill set,” Laurence said. “In the end, my motivation for joining CBP was because I can finally serve my country and help to keep people safe.”