People

CHRIS BAUMANN

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1001-8621

Dr. Chris Baumann is part of Hervé Bocherens’ Biogeology lab in Tübingen (Germany) and specialises in reconstructing the diets and niches of Late Pleistocene animals and humans. He primarily uses the ratio of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes from preserved collagen. In the Powerful Plant project, he will also measure the stable nitrogen values of individual amino acids from collagen and include them in the calculation, as this helps to determine the proportion of plants in the diet. Experimental data will also be used to study the influence of specific processing methods on plant isotope ratios. This will also provide important information for reconstructing the diet of early hunter-gatherers. 

Chris completed his PhD in Scientific Archaeology at the University of Tübingen specialising in trophic interactions between humans and small carnivores during the Late Pleistocene. He then worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki (Finland), where he was involved in a project on the reconstruction of the environment of Middle Pleistocene humans from China. In all these projects, statistical reconstructions were the main focus in addition to various isotopic analyses.


GAYANA BEXULTANOVA

Gayana Bexultanova is a PhD researcher from Kazakhstan with a diverse background in environmental studies and a passion for uncovering the relationships between humans and plants in the past. She is also a part-time intern at UNICEF HQ in the Climate, Energy, Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (CEED) group. She holds an MSc in Environmental Sciences from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy, where she graduated with honours. Gayana’s experience covers environmental data analysis, modeling, and ethnobotany. As part of the DiGe project in Venice, she has identified and catalogued over 350 wild plant species of the Soviet Union from literature sources, analysing their historical significance and regional use. Her work resulted in a comprehensive database and a scientific article on the diversity of wild food plant uses.

Gayana is currently engaged in interdisciplinary research as part of the Powerful Plants project in her PhD programme. Her research focuses on the archaeology and ecology of nutritional and medicinal plants from pre-agrarian contexts. Specifically, she explores the distribution, functional traits, and biochemical properties of plants in Siberia approximately 50,000 to 15,000 years ago. Through analysis and investigation, Gayana aims to uncover the potential uses of plants that were present in the region during that time. Her work holds valuable insights into the relationships between humans and plants, as well as their contributions to the nutritional and medicinal practices of pre-agrarian societies.


BUSHRA BIBI

Bushra is a PhD student who is passionate about exploring archaeological textiles through experimental methods. She graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in archaeology, and her final dissertation focussed on technical analysis of preceramic peruvian nets and the social implications of fibre technology. She continued onto the One Love Manchester Project involving archiving and conservation of memorial materials with the Manchester Art Gallery. It was a unique experience with thought provoking objects that prompted questions about funerary archaeology and remembrance.

Currently, Bushra is a PhD student working on the Powerful Plants project. Her research interests are ancient fibre production, the origins of fibre technology, and the social and functional implications of how such technology was manufactured and could have been used.


HERVE BOCHERENS

Born and educated in France, Hervé Bocherens obtained his PhD in palaeontology at University Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris) in 1992. Between 1992-1994, he was post-doc fellow at Carnegie Institution and Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC (USA). From 1994 to 2001, he was CNRS researcher at University  Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris, France), and from 2001 to 2008 CNRS  researcher at the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution, University Montpellier 2 (France), In 2008, he was appointed Professor of Biogeology at the University of Tübingen (Germany), from 2017 to 2022 he acted as vice-director of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment in  Tübingen, and since 2022 he is the chair of the Department of Geosciences at the University of Tübingen.

The major theme of his research is: Evolution of terrestrial ecosystems, especially during the most recent periods of the Earth history, with special interest in the late Neogene (Pleistocene). The aim of his research is to disentangle the role of climate, large herbivores and hominids in environmental changes up to today. His preferred approach is isotopic tracking of ancient mammal paleoecology. His preferred taxa are: cave bears, mammoths, neanderthals, and many others.


STEPHEN BUCKLEY

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Dr. Stephen Buckley is a Research Fellow in Biomolecular Archaeology at the University of York, UK. Having studied the materials employed in mummification across four continents, from the iconic mummies of ancient Egypt to the mummies of Peru, he has been an archaeological chemist for excavations in the Valley of the Kings since 1993. His PhD in archaeological chemistry from the University of Bristol was on the embalming materials used in ancient Egyptian mummification, before being awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship in Bioarchaeology to study: ‘Evidence for the systematic use of antimicrobial and insecticidal natural products in ancient Egyptian burial practices’. His work on mummification has been published multiple times in the science journal ‘Nature’, been the subject of a BAFTA-winning TV program ‘Mummifying Alan: Egypt’s Last Secret’ and featured in ‘Discover’ magazine, launching a new column: ‘Human Origins’ in March 2015, following inclusion in their ‘Top 100 Science Stories of 2014’. His research has also been recognised by the prestigious Times Higher Education Awards in 2015 and 2021.

He has pioneered a new and highly specialised area of research on the chemical analysis of dental calculus (tartar), with his collaborator Karen Hardy, to reveal major insights into ancient diets and environments, from Victorian period individuals to a 1.2 million year-old hominin, and recognised in ‘Archaeology’ magazine’s ‘Top 10 Discoveries’ in 2012 for findings on the ingestion of medicinal plants by Neanderthals. Continuing his research on dental calculus, he has been part of the ERC project: ‘FoodTransforms’, before joining the Power Plants project and publishing with Karen in ‘Nature Communications’ on ‘The human consumption of seaweed and freshwater aquatic plants in ancient Europe’.


CARLA CASANOVA

Carla Casanova is a PhD researcher at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology – CSIC in Barcelona who is interested in employing cutting-edge statistical and programming techniques to study evolution and genetic diversity. Her academic background includes a BSc in Biology and a MSc in Bioinformatics from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. It was during her Master’s degree that she developed a strong interest in studying hidden and complex patterns in omics data by employing Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques to overcome the limitations of current statistical methods.

Before starting her PhD Carla participated in different research projects at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, with a focus on transcriptomics. Her involvement included studying gene co-expression trends and variant discovery. This experience provided her a comprehensive understanding of bioinformatic pipelines and approaches used to investigate genomic variability, particularly in repetitive regions of the genome.

Carla is now part of the Powerful Plants project with the objective to provide further insight into the evolutionary history of diet-related phenotypes. Therefore, comparison of multiple human populations from different periods will be performed by analyzing genetic variants associated to diet susceptibility. Furthermore, during this project machine learning algorithms will be developed for analyzing DNA of ancient individuals in order to increase the statistical power.


DOROTHEE DRUCKER

Dr. habil. Dorothée Drucker is a research fellow of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen (Germany). She is specialised in the study of stable isotopes from teeth and bones during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene, with a focus on climatic influences on the ecology of animals and the evolution of the human diet in ancient hunter-gatherers. Her approach incorporates elements of Evolutionary Biology, Human Evolution and Environmental Sciences. She teaches palaeoecology of terrestrial ecosystems in the Masters of Geoecology, Geosciences and Archaeological Sciences & Human Evolution. 


KAREN HARDY

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1127-2397

Karen was awarded the POWERFUL PLANTS project as an ERC Advanced grant in 2022. This was the first year that ERC funding to the UK was blocked. Therefore, the project now receives its funding from the UKRI Europe Horizon Guarantee Fund.

Karen is a prehistoric archaeologist focused on the study of later human evolution and on how humans lived and adapted before agriculture. Following a PhD at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, Karen spent the following 12 years working on the Mesolithic occupation of north-west Scotland while taking care of her five children. Her interest in the earliest occupation of Scotland continues, and she has recently discovered a Late Upper Palaeolithic site on the Isle of Skye.

Her interest in the use of plants began when she was asked to study an ethnographic collection of stone tools from Papua New Guinea. Here, she realised that most of these were used to process plants, and specifically in construction of material items including tools, clothes and ceremonial artefacts. She also became aware of the crucial role of twisted fibres, or string, as a pivot in construction of technological items, and on the impact string manufacture had on the lives of the women who made it.  An interest in plants as food was developed with an EU Marie Curie grant at the Universities of Sydney and York between 2005-8.  After spending 14 years working in Barcelona as an ICREA Research Professor, Karen has returned home to Scotland and is now based at the University of Glasgow. During her time in Barcelona, she identified the potential of dental calculus as a direct link to individual biographical information. She and her collaborator, Stephen Buckley, were the first people to identify directly, the ingestion of medicinal plants by Neanderthals. They also identified the earliest evidence for ingestion of raw starchy food in the genus Homo.


SUSANNA HARRIS

Dr Susanna Harris is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. She specializes in the study of textiles and fibre from deep history to the early medieval period across the Mediterranean and Western Europe. Her approach incorporates technical and scientific analyses, experimental and theoretical approaches with the aim to understand materials, process of making, using, and the significance of these materials in past societies.

She currently leads the fibre and fabric analysis of Must Farm, Bronze Age pile-dwelling settlement with Cambridge Archaeological Unit, and is co-investigator of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project, ‘Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard’: a Viking Age hoard, with National Museums Scotland.

Dr Harris supervises students and teaches courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels on archaeology, artefacts, cloth and clothing at the University of Glasgow.


OYUNMAA JAMSRAN

Oyunmaa Jamsran has a long and dedicated career in environmental conservation and education. Currently, she leads the NGO “Mother Khuvsgul Lake” society, where she focuses on protecting the environment and preserving Mongolian history and culture. Oyunmaa also serves as the Director of an environmental consulting company “Khatan Dalai” LLC. She is an author of 5 books and over 30 articles.

Oyunmaa’s PhD in Biology from Mongolian National University focused on the vegetation dynamics of the Southern part of Khuvsgul Lake. Her career includes roles as Chief of the geography and tourism management department and teacher of Geography, Environmental Science, and Tourism Management at the “Dalai van” college in Muren of the Khuvsgul aimag.

Oyunmaa has been actively involved in environmental and civil society organisations for many years, advocating for transparent governance, community engagement, and environmental protection. Her ongoing dedication and practical experience continue to make a significant impact on Mongolia’s environment and heritage.


OSCAR LAO

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8525-9649

Dr Oscar Lao is the PI of Algorithms for population genomics at Institut de Biologia Evolutiva (IBE). His group addresses questions related to the genomic origin of a given individual, which are the demographic and selective factors that shaped the genetic variation present in a population, and how ultimately this variation influences and allows us to detect the individual risk in complex common diseases.

In order to achieve these goals, his group is actively working on developing new tools and machine learning algorithms for describing population substructure in the genome and understanding the biological implications of such structure, identifying the fingerprint of polygenic adaptation in complex phenotypes and evaluating the impact of archaic introgression in phenotypes of interest. In particular, his lab has pioneered the use of Deep Learning coupled to Approximate Bayesian Computation on analysing population genomics, with six papers using this approach, five of them produced at his lab. 

During his scientific career, he has published more than 70 papers and book chapters. Since 2018, Dr Lao has been teaching the subjects Statistical learning and Clustering methods and algorithms in genomics and evolution at the grade of Bioinformatics (ESCI), and since 2019 he is teaching at the MSc of Bioinformatics at UAB.


CYNTHIA LARBEY

Cynthia Larbey
Cynthia Larbey plant sampling in Klasies River ravine, South Africa

Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9632-2746

Cynthia studied and completed her archaeology and anthropology training at the University of Cambridge, culminating with the Renfrew Post-Doctoral Fellowship. Her under-graduate dissertation, MPhil and PhD focussed on archaeobotanical research questions, the latter two specifically on the Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer starch diet.

Her major research interests are: The human carbohydrate diet and its role in our evolution; how Homo species used their ecological intelligence and knowledge of plant processing as food and raw materials to support their plasticity in new environments. Cynthia’s PhD research resulted in new methods of searching for evidence of cooked roots and tubers in challenging preservation conditions, and produced direct evidence of early modern humans cooking, processing and mixing plants foods from as early as 120 kya from the renown sites of Blombos Cave and Klasies River Main Site, on the Cape Coast of South Africa.  Her research has included human starch genetics; she conducted collaborative research with the State University of Novosibirsk, Siberia on the early hunter-gatherer plant exploitation in the Trans-Baikal, Siberia; and has another collaboration with the University of Montana on early but stratified plant processing and consumption in northwest Canada. In her most recent project, Cynthia is focussing on the emergence of ‘string’ technology. This twisted fibre platform technology predates the divergence of Homo sapiens, Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Denisova; without it hunter-gatherers could not have made hafted spears, fished, strung beads, carried fire wood or shell fish, made bows and arrow, made boats or clothes. The indirect evidence of the use of string by three human species is abundant, but direct evidence is rare and until now, has been discovered by accident.

Cynthia lives at the end of Loch Long in the Central Highlands of Scotland and loves life to the full with her husband, Labrador and family.


LAURA LONGO

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6562-3047

Laura is a micro-wear analyst with a background in Natural Science (MSc) and a PhD in Anthropology. Since her PhD (Alma Mater University of Bologna) Laura’s research interests revolve around the Paleolithic having spent several years studying Pleistocene flaked industries from sites like Monte Poggiolo, Isernia La Pineta. She has worked in the Caucasus since 2004 and is a member of the Dmanisi Field School. This, and the acquaintance with the Team of the Georgian National Museum enabled access to several Late Pleistocene lithic assemblages. Laura was a museum Curator between 1998-2015. This has given her a perspective that focuses closely on extracting from museum collections their universal values and the contemporaneity of their meaning. This approach to museum collections is deeply embedded in her strategic vision for their advancement: integrating humanities and science to deal with the complexities amidst biological development and cultural behaviour. 

After pivotal work (2010) where she was part of a team that found evidence for mechanically processed starchy plants on ground stone tools from Gravettian sites, from 2015 – while working as an Associate Professor at ADM-Nanyang Technological University in Singapore – she continued sampling pebbles and stones from Late Pleistocene sites across the Eurasian steppe. The wide range of conditions, provenience, settings and management of the lithic industries led her to develop a heuristic that integrates a cross-methodological approach to investigate artefacts conserved in museum collections, from the perspective of single object biography. The application of several analytic techniques from the meso to sub-micron scale was revealing simple pebbles, slabs and plaquettes as powerful archives in which both tangible and intangible evidence of past behaviour are still entrapped. Over the years, she has become adept at a range of imaging techniques – using the resolution of the different types of microscopes – and chemo-profiling of the biogenic residues associated with utilized areas of the ground stone tools, by applying different spectroscopic techniques including those aided by the brilliance of the synchrotron light.    

Laura’s research is devoted to unfolding the sophisticated cognitive abilities of Homo sapiens to transform different plants into useful items for daily use, such as turning rhizomes into flour, fibers into string, or leaves into dye. Through this approach, Laura deals with the complex relationship shared between human behaviour and the environment. 

On returning to Italy after her period in Singapore, Laura was Visiting Professor at the L. Vanvitelli University of Campania invited by Prof. C, Lubritto (Chair of Physics applied to Cultural Heritage) and was involved in international research projects such as ANR (France) Starch4Sapiens (AAPG2020 CE03-0002) with Dr. S. Condemi (PI)  and A. Carbone (bioinformatics) and Mill(e)-Stones: Ground stones and plant food processing during MIS 3 in the Caucasus, funded by The Leakey Foundation (USA). Laura currently serves as Vice President of the UISPP Commission “Functional studies of prehistoric artifacts and their socio-economical meaning.


MAURIZIO MENCUCCINI

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0840-1477

Professor Maurizio Mencuccini is a plant and ecosystem ecologist whose interest is to improve our understanding of how woody plants regulate their structure and physiology to cope with extreme events, such as droughts and heat waves. He has ongoing research on this theme in the Mediterranean and in the Neotropics. He has contributed to improve our understanding of how plants regulate water use over time, the importance of acclimation and plasticity in regulating stress responses, and the importance of size and ageing in the physiology of trees. In the context of the study of the drivers of climate change, he explored the significance of nitrogen and sulphur deposition for the carbon cycle of boreal and temperate trees.

Previously, he worked closely with the British forestry sector, on themes including the regional modelling of growth and carbon sequestration by forests using a combination of process-based modelling, Bayesian data assimilation and LiDaR remote sensing. Following a PhD at the University Florence (Italy) and a postdoc at Cornell University (USA), he spent many years at the University of Edinburgh, eventually becoming Professor of Forest Ecology. He is currently ICREA Research Professor in Barcelona (Spain) and Honorary Professor of Forest Science at the University of Edinburgh. Since 2018, ranked as a Highly Cited Researcher (top 1% by citations) in the field of Plant and Animal Science by Clarivate Analytics and ranked among the top Italian Scientists in the area of Natural & Environmental Science by Via-Academy (https://www.topitalianscientists.org/top-italian-scientists).


LISA-MARIE SHILLITO

ORCID: Lisa-Marie Shillito (0000-0002-6176-531X)

Lisa-Marie Shillito is Professor of Geoarchaeology and Director of Labs in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle University.  She has expertise in sediment micromorphology and phytolith analysis, and the application of lipid biomarkers in archaeology. Her research focuses broadly on human-environment interactions in a range of environments, and the integration of environmental and archaeological evidence. She is currently PI on “Fuelling the Northern Frontier”, a British Academy project looking at the environmental impact of resource extraction in the Hadrian’s Wall region during the Roman period, and CoI on a BBSRC project using micro CT as a novel imaging tool to examine changes in cell morphology in barley that occur through modifying the PXY gene.