I study human diet as a link between biology, culture and environment, focusing on stable isotope analysis of archaeological human skeletal remains. My bioarchaeological work is informed by ties to human biology and primatology. I chiefly work with European skeletal samples, and also use stable isotope analysis to study diet and stress among modern humans and non-human primates. The Bioarchaeology and Biochemistry Laboratory is equipped to facilitate a wide variety of sample preparation for isotopic analyses, ranging from mineralized tissues, to soft tissues, to plant tissues. Some current projects are described below.
Diet change in Eastern Europe: With long-term collaborators based at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland and Vilnius University in Lithuania, I research diet patterns among human populations in what today are Poland and Lithuania. We have conducted projects comparing the diets or elites and non-elites under different sociopolitical regimes (e.g., monarchy; oligarchy), rural and urban populations, and adults and children, to see what diet tells us about human organization and subsistence concomitant with environmental and social change.
Culture contact: The Bioarchaeology and Biochemistry Laboratory collaborates with the University of Northern Colorado and institutions in Albania, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria to study diet change and the role of migration in the context of ancient Greek colonization through isotopic analysis (C, N, O, Sr). Isotopic techniques can identify “locals” from “non-locals” in the colony cemeteries, toward better characterizing the extent of migration, and who was migrating (men, women, children). Isotopic data are used in tandem with bioarchaeological estimations of stress, relatedness, and health at both colonies and mother-cities, estimations of cultural affiliation through mortuary analysis, and with ancient DNA evidence for ancestry.This research is funded by an NSF REU grant, which brings eight undergraduate students to the Mediterranean each summer to undertake independent research.
The Bioarchaeology and Biochemistry Laboratory also examines changes and continuity in diet and health associated with European contact in the New World in the 16th c. AD, in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History. St. Catherines Island was the site of a Spanish mission in the 16-17th c. and indigenous inhabitants of the region were strongly impacted by culture contact. Bioarchaeological and archaeological evidence from mortuary contexts on the island sheds light on the lived experiences of non-dominant populations that have left no modern-day descendents.
II. Diet, Physiology, Life History, and Health
The Bioarchaeology and Biochemistry laboratory is equipped to work with a variety of biological materials. A particular area of interest, in addition to diet and mobility in the past, is the application of stable isotope analyses to modern human populations to understand physiology, stress and disease.
Early-life nutrition is implicated in a broad spectrum of later-life outcomes and mortality. Current research in the laboratory compares cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from multiple tissue types toward understanding diet's role in growth and development, and in early mortality, in the southeastern United States, Poland, and the Mediterranean region (Greece, Italy, Albania).
III. Primate Weaning and Dietary Ecology
Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis can reveal diet and weaning among living non-human primates. Ultimately, long-term effects of early versus late weaning can be explored, once weaning trajectories are precisely mapped. Current research in the lab in collaboration with Stony Brook University, Duke University, and the University of Michigan examines the social context and biological outcomes of weaning among wild gelada monkeys (Theropithecus gelada) in the highlands of Ethiopia.