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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Postgraduate student involvement in the project

Archaeology students undertaking isotopic analysis
work with Dr Andrew Millard

Postgraduate students from the Department of Archaeology played an important role in the analysis and interpretation of the bones of the Scottish soldiers.

Their involvement allowed them to gain invaluable experience of professional archaeological practice - part of Durham University’s commitment to research-led teaching.

Students prepared bone samples and performed initial data analysis as part of the Isotopic and Biomolecular Archaeology module of their postgraduate degree programmes.

Senior Lecturer Dr Andrew Millard, who supervised the isotopic analysis* of the remains found on Durham City’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, explained the students’ role.

He said: "This project was a great opportunity for students to develop their skills and knowledge on a professional research project.

"One of the key issues we faced when attempting to confirm the identity of the bones was the lack of comparative carbon and nitrogen isotope values on 16th and 17th Century bones from the North East region.

"We therefore needed to undertake sampling work on animal bones discovered in the Durham City from the same time period to help interpret the radiocarbon dating results on the human bones. We had some suitable animal bones at the University’s Museum of Archaeology which we were able to make available to the students for them to work with.

"The isotopic work that the students carried out formed an important element of the project as their results, along with the other research, allowed us to confirm the identity of the bones as belonging to the Scottish soldiers.”

MSc Archaeology Science student, Jessica Blesch from Canada, said: "I was part of the student team that prepared the samples for isotopic analysis and, using a mass spectrometer, analysed the isotopic ratios that were used as a baseline comparison for the human isotope analyses.

"The most interesting aspect of being involved in the project was the practical application of the method and theory. Often students only get to read about certain methods; it is always good to get hands on experience. Knowing I made an important contribution was the highlight of being on the course."

Having the chance to participate in an ongoing research project involving Archaeological Services Durham University, the commercial archaeology consultancy housed within Durham University’s Archaeology department, provided the opportunity for the students to develop their professional practice.

Archaeology student, Kaity Ulewicz (pictured left) from the United States said: "Working on the project taught me laboratory procedure in obtaining bone collagen from remains. I also learned how to look at results and how to compare them to other sites known in the area."

Fellow student, Maggie Scollan, (pictured below) also from the United States said: "The course has motivated me to think creatively about how to combine my passion for understanding past societies with my knowledge of disease, genetics, and epidemiology. A highlight of my research this year was writing two research papers and one research proposal."

"This course has dramatically improved not only my scientific writing but also my ability to read scientific literature with a more critical and observant eye. For example, I have learnt the importance of questioning protocols and results and reviewing the statistics and other methods that researchers use to present their data. This is an important skill because science should always be questioned in order to make progress."

Maggie has now secured employment with a global pharmaceutical company: "Having a Masters degree in archaeological science made me an attractive candidate for research positions in various biotech and pharmaceutical labs in the US. When I return home, I will be starting a position at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, where I will be working in their genetics centre as a research associate."

Student Contribution to Supporting Academic Papers

Isotopic studies (PDF - 722KB) and
Appendix: Carbon and nitrogen isotopes in animals from Durham City (PDF - 581KB)

Additional Information

For information on the Postgraduate taught degrees offered by the Department of Archaeology see www.durham.ac.uk/archaeology/postgraduate/taughtprogrammes

For details about Durham University Archaeological Services see www.durham.ac.uk/archaeological.services

*For a more detailed explanation of the area of isotope analysis see www.pbs.org/time-team/experience-archaeology/isotope-analysis

Scottish Soldiers Project - Archaeology Student Involvement

Scottish Soldiers Project - Archaeology Student Involvement

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Postgraduate students from the Department of Archaeology played an important role in the analysis and interpretation of the bones of the Scottish soldiers. Students prepared bone samples and performed initial data analysis as part of the Isotopic and Biomolecular Archaeology module of their postgraduate degree programmes.

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