Bioarchaeology Labs

Sheilagh Brooks Osteology Research Lab

The Bioarchaeology Program has a large museum- and research-quality storage facility where skeletal collections are housed named after Dr. Sheilagh Brooks who was one of the first bioarchaeologists hired at UNLV in the 1960s. Sheilagh and her husband Richard (both now deceased) traveled the world doing field work together and their legacy to the department is the many skeletal collections permanently housed there. The collections are from historic and forensic contexts. In addition to this, Sheilagh obtained a large donated skeleton collection of bone elements from the Smithsonian that is from individuals who lived in the early 1900s.

Tell Abraq Collections Room

Tell Abraq Collections Room

In an adjacent lab, a large Bronze Age (circa 2000 BC) collection of human skeletal remains are curated and housed. These represent over 400 individuals who were buried inside of a single tomb. It was excavated in the 1990s by Dr. Debra Martin who began working at UNLV in 2006 and brought the collection with her. It is relatively unstudied, and has formed the basis for many projects for graduate students interested in the ancient Near East.

Bioarchaeology of Violence Research Lab

Bioarchaeology of Violence Research Lab

This lab is dedicated to graduate student projects and houses a large collection of teaching casts of trauma, fractures, bone wounds and paleopathology.

Osteology and Biological Anthropology Teaching Lab

Osteology and Biological Anthropology Teaching Lab

This lab has a large teaching collection of casts used in teaching courses on early hominins, human variation, forensic anthropology, osteology and other subdisciplines within biological anthropology.

Current Research Projects

Belén Project

The city of Belén, New Mexico was founded in the 1700s as a Pueblo Indian mission, with the Catholic Church, Nuestra Señora de Belén and its associated plaza and cemetery as its social and spiritual center (Sisneros, 2016a). The residents of colonial Belén were not traditional Puebloan communities, but a multi-ethnic mix of Genízaro and Mestízo families. The former site of the colonial church, plaza, and cemetery is now situated on private property in a residential neighborhood in the heart of old Belén. The work to be undertaken is the archaeological excavation and delineation of the church foundations and the recovery, analysis, and respectful re-burial of the human remains at the Catholic Church. During Season 1 (Summer 2017) we exposed and delineated the foundations of the church. The goal of the 2018-2020 field season will be to excavate the mission church and the over 2000 burials associated with it.

S. Nevada Violence Project

This study draws on 50 years of lethal firearm homicide data from the Clark County Coroner and Medical Examiner Office (CCCMEO) in southern Nevada that serves the large metropolitan city of Las Vegas as well as a few bedroom communities and historic towns. The data being collected comes from a variety of reports kept by the CCCMEO since 1966 including the pathologist and coroner report, the investigative team report, interviews with family and friends of the deceased, and other medical and forensic documentation. While almost all prior studies rely on basic demographic data such as age at death, sex, ethnicity and economic and employment status, much of the rich, nuanced information in those files remains unutilized. Using an anthropological approach to the reports and narratives, key aspects of the victims of lethal firearm violence will be collected in order to understand the life history and lived experience of the victims prior to death. Using an innovative methodology from anthropology to systematically collect thematic information from narratives will permit a contextualized profile of the victims so that larger patterns of risk and vulnerability can be better understood. Finally, the data will be interpreted using a theoretical approach that emphasizes the integration of direct (physical) violence with the institutional and structural aspects of society that influences things like inequality and differential access to resources for subgroups within the larger society. This large body of quantitative and qualitative data from 50 years of firearm deaths will provide a unique insight into when, how and where victims are most vulnerable, and there point to places for intervention and prevention. The contextualized profiles will contain more accurate information on factors other than demography that shape patterns of firearm violence because there will be information on home life, education, prior nonlethal violent episodes, religion, beliefs, politics, health and well-being and other information gleaned from interviews with family and relatives as well as investigators and law enforcement. These contextualized profiles of the victims of firearm violence have the potential to clarify with more specificity places for prevention or intervention, thus sparing lives.

Current PhD Bioarchaeology Students

Maryann Calleja

Maryann Calleja went to Sudan with an ASU team and is working on a project on taphonomy of burials. She also constructed a 3-D GIS program to situate the Tell Abraq human remains within the tomb in order to reconstruct where particular bones came from and what that might mean for understanding taphonomy. Maryann won 2nd best prize for research on the Tell Abraq sacrum at the Western Bioarchaeology Group conference in 2016. She is working on a more expansive project to analyze Bronze Age skeletons throughout the Arabian Peninsula (in repositories in Oman) in order to better understand how people handled the extreme climate change patterns at the end of the Bronze Age. Her PhD work will focus on the Mogollon population (Point of Pines) which represents a site where there was endemic warfare.

Amber Osterholt (ABD)

Amber Osterholt (ABD) is working on the Hardin collection, a late woodland skeletal population that likely experienced a lot of violence and trauma. She submitted her NSF and Wenner Gren proposals for dissertation support funding. She is working on patterns of violence before and during colonization. She has organized a session on Mississippian and Woodland violence prior to contact that she is turning into an edited volume.

Claira Ralston

Claira Ralston has worked extensively on skeletal remains and excavation in Romania but has recently settled on her PhD project that will examine violence and health at a Southwestern Mogollon site called Turkey Creek. She is also one of the lead investigators on the Belen Project, a historic cemetery that is being excavated, analyzed and relocated due to erosion.

Alecia Shrenk (ABD)

Alecia Shrenk (ABD) is analyzing the large collection of burials from Carrier Mills currently house at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale for her Ph.D. She has been focusing on developing the theoretical application of the bioarchaeology of care to past populations. Alecia also is co-Editor of a recently published volume entitled “The Bioarchaeology of Care: Case Studies” based on an SAA session she co-organized last year with Lorna Tilly. Alecia has a 1st authored paper published in IJPP on the individual from Tell Abraq with poliomyelitis.

Diana Simpson

Diana Simpson just started the PhD program this Fall 2017 and is interested in identity and forms of violence that reify it including trophy bones. She is organizing a session for the AAA meetings in 2018 on the bioarchaeology of mercy killing.

Cristina Tica (ABD)

Cristina Tica (ABD) is a recent Fulbright Fellowship awardee and she will spend this upcoming year in Hungry looking at 1st century migrants from Asia and Russia into the Hungarian Plains with an eye towards understanding the interactions along borders and frontiers as Romanized groups interact with local and migrant groups. Cristina co-Organized a session for the SAAs (2016) on Bioarchaeology at Frontiers and Borderlands and she has a co-Edited volume (with UPF) based on this session under review.

Mark Toussaint (ABD)

Mark Toussaint (ABD) has been working on his PhD which is based on several collections housed in Poland representing the late Bronze Age. He is interested in identity and gender and so has been collecting mortuary and health/trauma data from several collections housed in various museums in Poland.

UNLV PhD Bioarchaeology Graduates:

UNLV PhD Bioarchaeology Graduates:

  • 2014 Dr. Ryan Harrod, Asst Professor at University of Alaska, Anchorage
  • 2014 Dr. Animikha Dutt, Curator at the Fowler Museum, UCLA
  • 2015 Dr. Katie Baustian, Visiting Asst. Professor at Skidmore College
  • 2015 Dr. Anna Osterholtz, Asst. Professor at Mississippi State in Starksville
  • 2017 Dr. Cheryl Anderson, Visiting Asst. Professor at Boise State University in Idaho.
  • 2017 Dr. Caryn Tegtmeyer, Postdoc at the POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii