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Anthropology

Temples at Bagan, Myanmar

Anthropology

Paul Szpak

 Paul Szpak

 Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
 B.A. (McMaster), Ph.D. (Western)

 Life & Health Sciences DNA C227, ext.6373, paulszpak@trentu.ca

 Research Interests: stable isotopes, palaeoecology, historical ecology, archaeological science, environmental archaeology, bone chemistry, palaeodiet, domestication and animal husbandry; North American Arctic, Peru and Chile, British Columbia, California

 

 

Current Projects

Listed below are a series of ongoing research projects. There are opportunities for graduate students to work on all of these projects.

Long-term Environmental History of the Canadian Arctic

This is one of my primary research interests and consists of a number of interrelated projects aimed at understanding how the environment has changed in the Canadian Arctic over the last 4,000 years through stable isotope analysis of animal remains (seals, walrus, polar bears, whales, foxes) from archaeological sites. Major research themes include: the productivity of sea ice through the Holocene, niche partitioning among marine mammal species, modification of the landscape by past human populations. This research involves collaboration with many other scholars, including: Lisa Hodgetts (Western University), James Savelle (McGill University), Chris Darwent (University of California, Davis), and James Woollett (Laval University).

Origins of Urbanism on the North Coast of Peru

This is a new research project (2016-21) will be investigating early city life on the north coast of Peru. The fieldwork will be centered at the site of Cerro Arena in the Moche Valley. My focus for this project will be the isotopic analysis of plant and animal remains found at the site, potentially examining prehistoric human diet, animal husbandry practices, and agricultural strategies. This project is led by Jean-François Millaire (Western University) and will likely involve a fieldwork component.

Examples of published research on related topics:

Szpak, P., Millaire, J.-F., White, C.D., Longstaffe, F.J., 2014. Small scale camelid husbandry on the north coast of Peru (Virú Valley): Insight from stable isotope analysis. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 36, 110-129.

Szpak, P., Chicoine, D., Millaire, J.-F., White, C.D., Parry, R., Longstaffe, F.J., 2016. Early Horizon camelid management practices in the Nepeña Valley, north-central coast of Peru. Environmental Archaeology 21, 230-245.
 

Production and Trade of Animals and Wool in the Atacama

This is a new research project in collaboration with colleagues from Chile. It seeks to evaluate the origins of textiles manufactured from camelid (llama and alpaca) wool and to examine the nature of animal management practices and trade in the coastal fringes of the Atacama Desert (northern Chile) using stable isotopes.

Examples of published research on related topics:

Szpak, P., Millaire, J.-F., White, C.D., Lau, G.F., Surette, F., Longstaffe, F.J., 2015. Origins of Prehispanic Camelid Wool Textiles from the North and Central Coasts of Peru traced by Carbon and Nitrogen Isotopic Analyses. Current Anthropology 56, 449-459.

The Historical Ecology of California Kelp Forests

Kelp forests are very productive nearshore marine environments. This project seeks to understand the long-term history of kelp forests in the Channel Islands of southern California. I will be conducting stable isotope analysis on faunal remains (fish, marine mammals, birds) recovered from archaeological sites in the Channel Islands. This is a collaborative project with Todd Braje (San Diego State University), Torben Rick (Smithsonian), and Seth Newsome (University of New Mexico).

Examples of published research on related topics:

Szpak, P., Orchard, T.J., McKechnie, I., Gröcke, D.R., 2012. Historical ecology of late Holocene sea otters (Enhydra lutris) from northern British Columbia: isotopic and zooarchaeological perspectives. Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 1553-1571.

Szpak, P., Orchard, T.J., Salomon, A.K., Gröcke, D.R., 2013. Regional ecological variability and impact of the maritime fur trade on nearshore ecosystems in southern Haida Gwaii (British Columbia, Canada): evidence from stable isotope analysis of rockfish (Sebastes spp.) bone collagen. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 5, 159-182.

Braje, T.J., Rick, T.C., Szpak, P., Newsome, S.D., McCain, J.M., Smith, E.A.E., Glassow, M., 2016. Historical Ecology and the Conservation of Large, Hermaphroditic Fishes in Pacific Coast Kelp Forest Ecosystems. Science Advances.

 

The Effect of Fertilizers on Plant Stable Isotope Values

This is a long-term and ongoing area of research. Fertilizers have the capacity to change the stable isotope values (‘signatures’) recorded in plants. This complicates our ability to interpret the diets of humans or animals from stable isotope data. Controlled studies (in field and growth chamber settings) are necessary to document how fertilizers change the isotopic compositions of plants. 

Examples of published research on related topics:

Szpak, P., Millaire, J.-F., White, C.D., Longstaffe, F.J., 2012. Influence of seabird guano and camelid dung fertilization on the nitrogen isotopic composition of field-grown maize (Zea mays). Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 3721-3740.

Szpak, P., Longstaffe, F.J., Millaire, J.-F., White, C.D., 2012. Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry of Seabird Guano Fertilization: Results from Growth Chamber Studies with Maize (Zea mays). PLoS One 7, e33741.

Szpak, P., 2014. Complexities of Nitrogen Isotope Biogeochemistry in Plant-Soil Systems: Implications for the Study of Ancient Agricultural and Animal Management Practices. Frontiers in Plant Science 5, 288.

 

Bone Chemistry and Method Development

Bone is a major substrate for isotopic analysis in archaeological contexts. I am interested in research projects that advance our understanding of the chemistry and ultrastructure of bone, particular as it relates to taphonomy. I am also interested in research projects that make methodological contributions to stable isotope analysis and related fields. 

Examples of published research on related topics:

Szpak, P., 2011. Fish bone chemistry and ultrastructure: implications for taphonomy and stable isotope analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science 38, 3358-3372.

Guiry, E.J., Szpak, P., Richards, M.P., 2016. Effects of lipid extraction and ultrafiltration on stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic compositions of fish bone collagen. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 30, 1591-1600.

Selected Publications

Jaouen, K., Szpak, P., Richards, M.P., 2016. Zinc Isotope Ratios as Indicators of Diet and Trophic Level in Arctic Marine Mammals. PLoS One 11, e0152299.

Guiry, E.J., Szpak, P., Richards, M.P., 2016. Effects of lipid extraction and ultrafiltration on stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic compositions of fish bone collagen. Rapid Communications
in Mass Spectrometry 30, 1591-1600.

Szpak, P., Millaire, J.-F., White, C.D., Lau, G.F., Surette, F., Longstaffe, F.J., 2015. Origins of Prehispanic Camelid Wool Textiles from the North and Central Coasts of Peru traced by
Carbon and Nitrogen Isotopic Analyses. Current Anthropology 56, 449-459.

Szpak, P., 2014. Complexities of Nitrogen Isotope Biogeochemistry in Plant-Soil Systems: Implications for the Study of Ancient Agricultural and Animal Management Practices. Frontiers in Plant Science 5, 288.

Szpak, P., Longstaffe, F.J., Millaire, J.-F., White, C.D., 2014. Large variation in nitrogen isotopic composition of a fertilized legume. Journal of Archaeological Science 45, 72-79.

Szpak, P., Millaire, J.-F., White, C.D., Longstaffe, F.J., 2014. Small scale camelid husbandry on the north coast of Peru (Virú Valley): Insight from stable isotope analysis. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 36, 110-129.

Szpak, P., Orchard, T.J., Salomon, A.K., Gröcke, D.R., 2013. Regional ecological variability and impact of the maritime fur trade on nearshore ecosystems in southern Haida Gwaii (British Columbia, Canada): evidence from stable isotope analysis of rockfish (Sebastes spp.) bone collagen. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 5, 159-182.

Szpak, P., White, C.D., Longstaffe, F.J., Millaire, J.-F., Vásquez Sánchez, V.F., 2013. Carbon and Nitrogen Isotopic Survey of Northern Peruvian Plants: Baselines for Paleodietary and Paleoecological Studies. PLoS One 8, e53763.