Bioarchaeology Sub-Saharan Africa Health and Disease Food Production Dental Anthropology Holocene Climate Change Mortuary Archaeology Ancient DNA Ethics
Dr. Sawchuk is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anthropology. She holds a B.A. (Hon) (2008) and M.A. (2012) in Anthropology from the University of Alberta and a Ph.D. (2017) in Anthropology from the University of Toronto. After completing a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stony Brook University in New York, she returned to the University of Alberta in 2019 as a Lecturer and Adjunct Professor. She began her Banting Fellowship in May 2020. She is currently also a Research Assistant Professor with the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University and Research Associate with the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya.
Dr. Sawchuk is a bioarchaeologist and anthropological archaeologist who studies the biological and social impacts of the spread of food production in Africa. Her work investigates how herding and farming spread into sub-Saharan Africa beginning ~5000 years ago, and how ancient peoples navigated issues of climate change, shifting economic/land use strategies, and contact with foreign groups. She has worked at field sites across Kenya and Tanzania, and has recently begun directing excavations in northern Kenya as part of the Later Prehistory of West Turkana (LPWT) project. She also collaborates on an international Archaeology-Ancient DNA project looking at human population structures in Holocene Africa, and advocates for ethical approaches to aDNA and other research involving human remains. Her work integrates diverse lines of evidence from osteology, dental anthropology, mortuary archaeology, paleogenomics, material culture studies, and ethnographic records to understand how past peoples coped with major changes in their world and what lessons can be learned from their experiences. Her research has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Turkana Basin Institute, and the National Geographic Society.
Building on her previous doctoral and postdoctoral work on how food production spread, Dr. Sawchuk’s current project investigates how this transition affected peoples’ lives and bodies. She was recently awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant with co-PI Professor Lesley Harrington to explore patterns of ‘health’ among the earliest herders in eastern Africa. In bioarchaeological terms, that means looking for signs of stress and disease in the bones and teeth of archaeological skeletons. Dr. Sawchuk's recent excavations with the LPWT project have recovered a number of burials from sites around Lake Turkana, Kenya, establishing one of few skeletal collections worldwide to document a local transition from foraging to herding. Studying these individuals permits, for the first time, an investigation into the biocultural impacts of adopting mobile pastoralism. Leading an international team of collaborators, Drs. Sawchuk and Harrington will compare macro- and microscopic skeletal indicators of stress between herders and earlier fisher-foragers living around the lake. While the adoption of food production tends to be associated with negative health consequences in ancient societies, most research has focused on early agriculture—far less is known about the effects on people who did not settle down or farm. Yet this is highly relevant in places like eastern Africa, where today millions of pastoralists face threats from climate change, food insecurity, resource extraction, and sedentarization policies. This project will provide deep-time perspectives on pastoralist health and resilience and contribute to debates about the future of this important way of life.
If you would like a PDF copy of any of Dr. Sawchuk's publications, please email her and she will be happy to share!
Radio and podcasts:
The emerging ethics around ancient DNA. Edmonton AM, CBC Radio. 28-October-2021. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-17-edmonton-am/clip/15875040-the-emerging-ethics-around-ancient-dna
What’s new in the study of the past? News and politics, WORT 89.9FM Madison, 13-Jan-2020. https://soundcloud.com/wort-fm/whats-new-in-the-study-of-whats-old
A 5000 Burial Site in Kenya with Elizabeth Sawchuk, The Archaeology Show Podcast, 6-Oct-2018 Archaeology Podcast Network, https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/archaeology/49
The Newsroom, BBC World Service https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172w4hsn47p873#play 20-Aug-2018 (starts 16:22)
U of A post-doc helps develop global guidelines for ethical research on ancient DNA, Folio Magazine, University of Alberta. 20-Oct-2021, https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2021/10/u-of-a-postdoc-helps-develop-global-guidelines-for-ethical-research-on-ancient-dna.html
Global standards created for the ethics of ancient DNA research, Stony Brook News. 20-Oct-2021, https://news.stonybrook.edu/newsroom/global-standards-created-for-the-ethics-of-ancient-dna-research/
A scientist on the great responsibility of using ancient DNA to rewrite human history, Vox.com, 24-Mar-2021, https://www.vox.com/22256790/ancient-dna-archaeology-ethics-podcast-unexplainable
Africa’s Ostrich Eggshell Beads Offer Hints of Cultural Contact, Archaeology Magazine, 9-Dec-2019, https://www.archaeology.org/news/8277-191209-africa-eggshell-beads?fbclid=IwAR1yFZGJ1e6MvHnlxScG9-cCBq8U-sVvn2ZXSXY3rvHNd42YlKvO2MqkRL4
Ostrich eggshell beads reveal 10,000 years of cultural interaction across Africa, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, 27-Nov-2019, https://www.shh.mpg.de/1572356/Miller-Ostrich-Eggshell?fbclid=IwAR270gR6Ei8S2iZFJOLQ_x9y2ZICMtv4SV94fK8Rk8QpqaHSg3rNLBXtnq4; Republished by https://phys.org/news/2019-11-ostrich-eggshell-beads-reveal-years.html
Study raises questions about roots of lactose tolerance in Africa, Science Magazine, 30-May-2019 https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/05/study-raises-questions-about-roots-lactose-tolerance-africa
DNA study illustrates the complex story of ancient herders and farmers in East Africa and how food production entered sub-Saharan Africa, Stony Brook News, 30-May-2019 https://news.stonybrook.edu/newsroom/dna-study-illustrates-the-complex-story-of-ancient-herders-and-farmers-in-east-africa-and-how-food-production-entered-sub-saharan-africa/
Africa’s first herders spread pastoralism by mating with foragers, Science News, 30-May-2019 https://www.sciencenews.org/article/africa-ancient-herders-spread-pastoralism-mating-foragers
With Ancient Human DNA, Africa’s Deep History is Coming to Light, Discover Magazine, 8-Feb-2019 http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2019/02/08/ancient-human-dna-africa/#.XF31Hy0ZPPB
State of Science: Ancient DNA starts answering archaeology’s big questions, Discover Magazine, 1-Jan-2019 http://discovermagazine.com/2019/jan/archaeology
Ritual cemeteries—for cows and then humans—plot pastoralist expansion across Africa, Smithsonian Magazine, 1-Nov-2018 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ritual-cemeteries-cows-humans-pastoralist-expansion-across-africa-180970683/
When is it OK for Archaeologists to Dig Up the Dead? Discover Magazine, 7-09-2018 http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2018/09/07/when-is-it-ok-for-archaeologists-to-dig-up-the-dead/
Massive 5,000-year-old burial monument unearthed in Kenya, CNN 23-Aug-2018 https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/23/health/ancient-burial-ground-kenya-africa/index.html
Bodies in 5,000-Year-Old Kenyan Cemetery Reveal Ancient Egalitarian Society, Inverse.com 22-08-2018 https://www.inverse.com/article/48255-lothagam-north-kenya-cemetery-monument
Their World Was Crumbling But These Ancient People Built a Lasting Memorial, Smithsonian Magazine 22-Aug-2018 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/when-their-world-was-chaos-these-ancient-people-coped-building-monument-180970087/
Lessons From a 5,000-Year-Old Kenyan Cemetery, Atlas Obscura 21-Aug-2018 https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/ancient-monument-cemetery-kenya
Archaeologists explore East Africa’s ancient monumental cemeteries, Ars Technica 21-Aug-2018 https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/08/archaeologists-explore-east-africas-ancient-monumental-cemeteries/
Massive Monumental Cemetery Built by Eastern Africa’s Earliest Herders Discovered Near Lake Turkana, Kenya, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History 20-Aug-2018 http://www.shh.mpg.de/1030272/lake-turkana
ANTHR 150: Race and Racism
ANTHR 206: Introduction to Archaeology
ANTHR 209: Introduction to Biological Anthropology