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Remembering Pierre Colas

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The College of Arts and Science and the entire Vanderbilt community mourn the loss of anthropology professor Pierre Colas, 32, and his sister, Marie Colas, 27. The pair was shot during an apparent robbery at Pierre Colas’ home in East Nashville on August 26, 2008.

Pierre Robert Colas joined the College of Arts and Science in 2006. Friendly, generous, and with an infectious sense of humor, the assistant professor taught courses in Mayan language, Mayan culture and comparative writing systems. He was popular with students and colleagues alike, and made his office a place for faculty to gather informally in the afternoon to talk over espresso and M&Ms.

“Professor Colas was an accomplished teacher and mentor to his students, and an emerging researcher in the culture and language of the Mayan people,” said Interim Dean Carolyn Dever. “In his time at Vanderbilt, Pierre won the respect and deep affection of his colleagues in both anthropology and Latin American studies. He and his sister, Marie, will be missed by this community and so many others around the world.” 

As an anthropologist, Colas produced groundbreaking work on Maya epigraphy—he was one of a handful of people in the world who could read Mayan hieroglyphs—and focused his ethnographic studies on the Yucatec Maya of Belize. A native of Germany, Colas earned his Ph.D. at the University of Bonn. While a student, he received two grants of the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes, a prestigious award that has been compared to the Fulbright Scholarship. A prolific scholar who spoke
six languages, Colas published three books on the Maya and numerous articles. At the time of his death, he was working on two more books and a monograph based on his field work. 

Also a scholar, Marie Colas was visiting her brother during a break from her postgraduate studies at the University of Zürich. 

The Colases are survived by their father and a brother. A university-wide memorial service was held October 29 in All Faith Chapel.

photo credit: Michael Tauchert

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