Elizabeth Sawchuk, PhD

Pronouns: She/her/hers


Faculty of Arts - Anthropology Dept


Area of Study / Keywords

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 Networkhttps://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 Magazine1-Jan-2019  http://discovermagazine.com/2019/jan/archaeology

Ritual cemeteries—for cows and then humans—plot pastoralist expansion across Africa, Smithsonian Magazine1-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 


Ancient DNA

Author(s): E.A. Sawchuk
Publication Date: 10/28/2021
Publication: The Encyclopedia of Ancient History: Asia and Africa
DOI: 10.1002/9781119399919.eahaa00606
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119399919.eahaa00606

Ethics of DNA research on human remains: five globally applicable guidelines

Author(s): Alpaslan-Roodenberg, S; Anthony, D; Babiker, H; Bánffy, E; Booth, T; Capone, P; Deshpande-Mukherjee, A; Eisenmann, S; Fehren-Schmitz, L; Frachetti, M; Fujita, R; Frieman, CJ; Fu, Q; Gibbon, V; Haak, W; Hajdinjak, M; Hofmann, KP; Holguin, B; Inomata, T; Kanzawa-Kiriyama, H; Keegan, W; Kelso, J; Krause, J; Kumaresan, G; Kusimba, C; Kusimba, S; Lalueza-Fox, C; Llamas, B; MacEachern, S; Mallick, S; Matsumura, H; Morales-Arce, AY; Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, G; Mushrif-Tripathy, V; Nakatsuka, N; Nores, R; Ogola, C; Okumura, M; Patterson, N; Pinhasi, R; Prasad, SPR; Prendergast, ME; Punzo, Luis Punzo, J; Reich, D; Sawafuji, R; Sawchuk, E; Schiffels, S; Sedig, J; Shnaider, S; Sirak, K; Skoglund, P; Slon, V; Snow, M; Soressi, M; Spriggs, M; Stockhammer, PW; Szécsényi-Nagy, A; Thangaraj, K; Tiesler, V; Tobler, R; Wang, C-C; Warinner, C; Yasawardene, S; Zahir, M
Publication Date: 10/20/2021
Publication: Nature
Volume: 599
Page Numbers: 41-46
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04008-x
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04008-x

Human burials at the Kisese II rockshelter, Tanzania

Author(s): Laird MF, Sawchuk EA, Kwekason A, Mabulla AZP, Ndiema E, Tryon CA, Lewis JE, Ranhorn KL
Publication Date: 2/21/2021
Publication: American Journal of Physical Anthropology
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.24253

Ancient genomes reveal complex patterns of population movement, interaction and integration in sub-Saharan Africa

Author(s): Wang K†, Goldstein ST†, Bleasdale M, Clist B, Bostoen K, Bakwa-Lufu P, Buck LT, Crowther A, Dème A, McIntosh RJ, Mercader J, Ogola C, Power R, Sawchuk E, Robertshaw P, Wilmsen EN, Pretraglia M, Ndiema E, Manthi FK, Krause J, Roberts P, Boivin N, Schiffels S († = co-first authors)
Publication Date: 6/12/2020
Publication: Science Advances
Volume: 6
Issue: 24
Page Numbers: eaaz0183
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaz0183

“M. C. Gatto, D. J. Mattingly, N. Ray, and M. M. Sterry (Eds.): Burials, Migration, and Identity in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019, 561 pp., ISBN 978-1-108-47408-5”

Author(s): Sawchuk, EA
Publication Date: 2/15/2020
Publication: African Archaeological Review
Volume: 37
Page Numbers: 319-321
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-020-09371-0

Ancient West African foragers in the context of African population history

Author(s): Lipson M, Ribot I, Mallick S, Rohland N, Olalde I, Adamski N, Broomandkhoshbacht N, Lawson AM, Lopez S, Oppenheimer J, Stewardson K, Asombang R, Bocherens H, Bradman N, Cornelissen E, Crevecoeur I, Lavachery, de Maret P, Mbida Mindzie C, Orban R, Sawchuk E, Semal P, Thomas MG, Van Neer W, Veeramah KR, Kennett DJ, Patterson N, Hellenthal G, Lalueza-Fox C, MacEachern S, Prendergast M, Reich D
Publication Date: 1/22/2020
Publication: Nature
Volume: 577
Page Numbers: 665-670
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-1929-1

Late Pleistocene to Holocene human palaeoecology in the tropical environments of coastal eastern Africa

Author(s): Roberts P, Prendergast M, Janzen A, Shipton C, Blinkhorn J, Zech J, Crowther A, Sawchuk E, Ndiema E, Petraglia M, Boivin N
Publication Date: 2020
Publication: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Volume: 537
Page Numbers: 109438
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2019.109438

Archaeological discoveries are happening faster than ever before, helping refine the human story

Author(s): Sawchuk E, Prendergast M
Publication Date: 12/23/2019
Publication: The Conversation (US)
External Link: https://theconversation.com/archaeological-discoveries-are-happening-faster-than-ever-before-helping-refine-the-human-story-128743

The tiny ostrich eggshell beads that tell the story of Africa’s past

Author(s): Sawchuk E, Miller JM
Publication Date: 12/18/2019
Publication: The Conversation (Africa)
External Link: https://theconversation.com/the-tiny-ostrich-eggshell-beads-that-tell-the-story-of-africas-past-128577

Ostrich Eggshell Bead diameter in the Holocene: regional variation with the spread of herding into southern and eastern Africa

Author(s): Miller JM, Sawchuk EA
Publication Date: 11/27/2019
Publication: PLoS ONE
Volume: 14
Issue: 11
Page Numbers: e0225143
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225143

The bioarchaeology of mid-Holocene pastoralist cemeteries west of Lake Turkana, Kenya

Author(s): Sawchuk EA, Pfeiffer S, Klehm C, Cameron ME, Hill AC, Janzen A, Grillo KM, Hildebrand EA
Publication Date: 11/1/2019
Publication: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Volume: 11
Page Numbers: 6221-6241
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00914-4

How ancient DNA is revealing the origins of livestock herding in Africa

Author(s): Prendergast M, Sawchuk E
Publication Date: 5/30/2019
Publication: The Conversation (US)
External Link: https://theconversation.com/ancient-dna-is-revealing-the-origins-of-livestock-herding-in-africa-114387

Ancient DNA reveals a multi-step spread of the first herders into sub-Saharan Africa

Author(s): Prendergast ME†, Lipson M†, Sawchuk EA†, Olade I, Ogola C, Rohland N, Sirak KA, Adamski N, Bernardos R, Broomandkhoshbacht N, Callan K, Culleton BJ, Eccles L, Harper TK, Lawson A-M, Mah M, Oppenheimer J, Stewardson K, Zalzala F, Ambrose SH, Ayodo G, Louis Gates Jr H, Gidna A, Katongo M, Kwekason A, Mabulla A, Mudenda GS, Ndiema EK, Nelson C, Robertshaw P, Kennett DJ, Manthi FK, Reich D († = co-first authors)
Publication Date: 5/30/2019
Publication: Science
Volume: 365
Issue: 6448
Page Numbers: eaaw6275
External Link: http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw6275

Ancient DNA is a powerful tool for studying the past – when archaeologists and geneticists work together

Author(s): Sawchuk E, Prendergast M
Publication Date: 3/11/2019
Publication: The Conversation (US)
External Link: https://theconversation.com/ancient-dna-is-a-powerful-tool-for-studying-the-past-when-archaeologists-and-geneticists-work-together-111127

Cemeteries and the spread of pastoralism from the Sahara through eastern Africa

Author(s): Sawchuk EA, Goldstein ST, Grillo KM, Hildebrand EA
Publication Date: 9/1/2018
Publication: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology
Volume: 157
Page Numbers: 187-205
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2018.08.001

A monumental cemetery built by eastern Africa’s first herders near Lake Turkana, Kenya

Author(s): Hildebrand EA, Grillo KM, Sawchuk EA, Pfeiffer S, Conyers L, Goldstein ST, Hill AC, Janzen A, Klehm C, Helper M, Kiura P, Ndiema E, Ngugi C, Shea J, Wang H
Publication Date: 8/20/2018
Publication: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume: 115
Issue: 36
Page Numbers: 8942-8947
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1721975115

Snail Shell Beads in sub-Saharan African Archaeological Record: When, Where and Why?

Author(s): Miller JM†, Sawchuk EA†, Reedman A, Willoughby PR († = co-first authors)
Publication Date: 7/30/2018
Publication: African Archaeological Review
Volume: 35
Issue: 3
Page Numbers: 347-378
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-018-9305-3

Boots on the ground in Africa’s ancient DNA “revolution”: archaeologist perspectives on ethics and the need for best practices

Author(s): Prendergast ME†, Sawchuk EA† († = co-first authors)
Publication Date: 6/1/2018
Publication: Antiquity
Volume: 92
Issue: 363
Page Numbers: 803-815
External Link: https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2018.70

New archaeological investigations at the Lothagam harpoon site at Lake Turkana

Author(s): Goldstein ST, Hildebrand EA, Storozum MJ, Sawchuk EA, Lewis JE, Ngugi C, Robbins LH
Publication Date: 12/1/2017
Publication: Antiquity
Volume: 91
Issue: 360
Page Numbers: e5
External Link: https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2017.215

A Terminal Pleistocene Later Stone Age to Recent Iron Age Record at Mlambalasi Rock Shelter, Southern Tanzania

Author(s): Biittner KM, Sawchuk EA, Miller JM, Werner JJ, Bushozi P, Willoughby PR
Publication Date: 5/27/2017
Publication: African Archaeological Review
Volume: 34
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 275-295
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-017-9253-3

Terminal Pleistocene Later Stone Age human remains from the Mlambalasi Rock Shelter, Iringa Region, Southern Tanzania

Author(s): Sawchuk EA, Willoughby PR
Publication Date: 9/1/2015
Publication: International Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Volume: 25
Issue: 5
Page Numbers: 593-607
External Link: https://doi.org/10.1002/oa.2323