UVM anthropology professor killed in Amazon robbery


SAO PAULO, Brazil — A University of Vermont anthropology professor on a research trip to Brazil was killed Saturday while he was being robbed in a small rainforest town near the Amazon River, an American Embassy spokesman said Sunday. James Petersen, 51, of Salisbury, Vt., died toward the end of the confrontation in a restaurant in the town of Iranduba, said the spokesman, John Wilcock. Iranduba is about 1,650 miles northwest of Sao Paulo. Three suspects were taken into custody, according to CBN radio. Wilcock said he could not confirm that information. UVM Provost John Bramley said Petersen, who was with colleagues when the robbery happened, was shot and died a short time later. “I am very saddened to inform the UVM community of a tragic incident in Brazil resulting in the death of our colleague, Dr. Jim Petersen,” Bramley said. “Dr. Petersen, associate professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, was on a research field trip with colleagues in Manaus, Brazil. Sometime on Saturday night, 13th August, he and his colleagues were attacked and robbed. Dr. Petersen was shot during the robbery and died shortly afterward. “We have no further information on the circumstances at this time and our attention is focused on ensuring that Jim’s wife and family have the help and support they need at this terrible time,” Bramley said. Federal police in the jungle city of Manaus, about 12 miles from Iranduba, could not immediately be reached to comment. Petersen also chaired UVM’s anthropology department. Before joining UVM, Petersen founded the Archaeology Research Center at the University of Maine at Farmington, where he was also a professor from 1983 to 1997. He was also a graduate school professor at the University of Maine in Orono. The American Embassy was monitoring the police investigation into the killing and helping Petersen’s family arrange for his body to be sent home, Wilcock said. “We expect Mr. Petersen’s family to receive justice,” he said. Petersen graduated from UVM in 1979 and started doctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where he developed an interest in the tropics. He then returned to the University of Vermont as a visiting professor where one of his students was Michael Heckenberger, now an assistant professor at the University of Florida. Heckenberger, who would become one of Petersen’s colleagues in the Amazon work, recalled in an article in a UVM magazine meeting Petersen in that first life-changing field course. “Jim is an infectious person and teacher,” he was quoted in the Vermont Quarterly. “He attracts so many people to anthropology. He is without a doubt one of the most powerful and influential teachers I had.” Petersen and Heckenberger worked together in partnership with the University of Sao Paulo in the Central Amazon Project. “We formally began in 1995, not fully understanding what we were into,” Petersen said in an interview with Vermont Quarterly. “It’s some of the richest, most exciting archaeology anywhere on the planet.”

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