“Employment in mining engineering takes students to interesting places."

Sept. 29, 2022

David Killick

David Killick at the lab

A Student, Inspired

David Killick, Professor of Anthropology and Adjunct Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, came across the study of prehistoric metallurgy as an undergraduate when his professor introduced him to a project on prehistoric copper use in Africa that piqued his interest. Killick was born and raised in what is now known as Malawi in Central Africa. He left to study geology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa but switched to African history and completed a degree in history and archaeology.

Killick went on to pursue a PhD in Anthropology at Yale. During his PhD research he returned to Africa where he studied indigenous iron smelting. While writing his dissertation he worked as a laboratory manager at Harvard. He was hired by the University of Arizona in 1991 during the “David Kingery era”. (David Kingery was a major figure in Materials Science at MIT before coming to the University of Arizona, a split appointment between the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Materials Science (MSE). Killick was the first hire in Kingery’s Culture, Science and Technology (CST) program, and has taught courses on the history of technology cross-listed with MSE, Classics and Africana Studies.

Why Arizona?

Killick has particularly enjoyed the visible archaeological aspects of the Southwest, and the institution’s predominance in the field of anthropology. "There are so many people here in so many fields."

Killick teaches four courses each year. One is a general education class called World Archaeology, that draws a wide range of students from all backgrounds. His upper division courses are cross-listed between the Anthropology, Material Sciences, and Africana Studies departments. Killick, a true interdisciplinary scientist, encourages collaboration between various UArizona departments in spite of structural barriers to interdisciplinary instruction.

While his focus began mainly on early African metallurgy practices, his research interests now span the globe. Some of his research involves collaboration with Joaquin Ruiz, University of Arizona’s former Dean of the College of Science and Professor of Geochemistry. The research involves using lead and strontium isotopes to trace the origins of materials from their original geologic deposits as well as the mobility of humans over time. Half a dozen of his PhD students have done part of their own dissertation research in the Ruiz laboratory.

Lasting impacts of archaeology and the history of mining
David Killick at the mine

Even though Killick is planning on retiring in 2023, he urges students to get to know him and ask any questions they may have about archaeology and the history of materials. Students can also find his research in the video series "How Minerals Made Civilization" which he contributed to, made by Isabel Barton, Assistant Professor of Mining and Geological Engineering.

When Killick first started teaching, many people were skeptical about the focus of his interdisciplinary work in geology, anthropology and material science. However, over time, the field’s range of scientific techniques has expanded enormously, and this advancement has produced new and more interesting questions. Killick has opportunities for students to explore the field and get involved in projects, like his mentors before him, so students can find their passions.

“There’s no doubt that employment in mining engineering and economic geology is expanding rapidly and it takes students all over the world to interesting places. I would like them to be educated to be the eyes and ears of archaeologists because open pit mining is destroying evidence of past mining at an unprecedented pace” says Killick. Knowing the history of their profession will “enrich their lives.”


David Killick