Cachel, Susan

Associate Professor
Areas of Interest: 
Human and non-human primate evolution, palaeoanthropology, evolutionary theory, primatology, vertebrate palaeontology.
My Story: 

I suppose that my adventures in science began when my cousin, Thomas Mysliwiec, my brother Henry, and I founded the Prehistoric and Astronomy Club. The intent of the club was to promote the study of natural history, which we all loved. Tom was supposed to be the specialist in astronomy, because he had a 6” reflector telescope and a mini-planetarium. I was supposed to be the specialist in All Things Prehistoric, which included both paleontology and archaeology, because I could not make up my mind from day to day which of these things I liked the most. The astronomy angle was also fascinating — I just could not get use of the telescope and planetarium all that often, since they belonged to Tom. 

Tom thought that every club should have a constitution, and so he wrote a multi-page document for our club. Because he thought that a respectable constitution should resemble the U.S. Constitution, he wrote the document out with an ink pen and many fancy flourishes, and then took a match and charred the edges of the pages to give the document a proper semblance of antiquity.

I thought that every club should have a flag. I got a 3 ft. by 4 ft. square of white cloth, and then elaborately chain-stitched on it the following two things: a brontosaurus (we are supposed to call it Apatosaurus now) and a star. The brontosaurus faced right, as animals should do in heraldry, and its neck reached up to the star. My brother Henry then pointed out that there should be shrubs or something on the ground, and so I then stitched in a few green herbs on the lower part of the flag. 

My grandmother, Helena Kułas Piotowska, was an honorary member of the club, because we would hold meetings on the inside front stairs of her house. It was always cool and dim there, and the oak stairs gleamed and smelled of floor polish. My grandmother facilitated meetings by bringing out to us huge plates of crackers spread thickly with unsweetened butter. 

When I got to college, I intended to study Mayan archaeology. I thought that the decipherment of the Mayan hieroglyphics was fascinating. However, I took a course called Introduction to Physical Anthropology from Professor Charles Merbs, and decided right then that I was going to be a physical anthropologist. Later, in graduate school, I took courses in vertebrate paleontology, and so my interests in paleontology emerged again. I was happy to be asked to give a paper at a recent symposium honoring Charles Merbs as he retired. I told the audience that, if it were not for Professor Merbs, I would be a Mayan archaeologist. However, the Prehistoric and Astronomy Club was also an important influence. My brother Henry is an analytical chemist; my cousin Tom is a Franciscan monk with a nursing degree — the influences of the Prehistoric and Astronomy Club have been varied