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Panoramic image of animal skeletons from University of Copenhagen Zoological Museum


Trent Environmental Archaeology Laboratory

Trent Environmental Archaeology Lab logoResearch Focus

The Trent Environmental Archaeology Lab (TEAL) uses chemical techniques (stable isotope analysis) to better understand how humans interacted with their environment in the past.

Current research areas are:

  • the long-term ecodynamics of marine environments in the North America Arctic (Canada, Alaska, and Greenland) and the Northeast Pacific (British Columbia and California)
  • better understanding how humans managed or herded domestic animals in the past, with a particular emphasis on the Andean region and Pacific coast of South America (Peru and Chile).
  • experimental studies to provide a basis with which to better interpret the archaeological record and gain greater insight into how what happened in the past
  • methodological studies aiming to improve our ability to measure the isotopic compositions of archaeological materials

Prospective graduate students please contact Dr Szpak to discuss potential ideas for projects, as he has a number of defined projects for students to work on in the research areas listed above. Possible graduate programs would be through the Department of Anthropology's MA program, or the Environmental & Life Science (EnLS) graduate program (MSc or PhD).

Lab Personnel

Paul SzpakDr Paul Szpak - Principal Investigator

Ph.D. Western University, 2013
B.A. (Honours) McMaster University, 2007

Paul Szpak has worked at Trent University as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Environmental Archaeology since 2016. Paul's research focuses on applying chemical analyses, especially stable isotope analysis, to archaeological and historic materials to better understand how humans interacted with and may have impacted their environment. Presently his research focuses on two geographical areas: the Andean regions of northern Peru and Chile and North American Arctic (Canada, Alaska, Greenland).  

Office: LHS-DNA C227 
Telephone: 705 748-1011 ext. 6373
Email: paulszpak@trentu.ca

Dr Eric Guiry - SSHRC Banting Postdoctoral Fellow (2018-)

Ph.D. The University of British Columbia, 2016
M.A. Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2012
B.Sc. (Honours) Lakehead University, 2009

Project: Historical ecology of the Lake Ontario Watershed


Kate DoughertyKate Dougherty - Environmental & Life Sciences Ph.D. Student (2016-)

M.A. Western University, 2003
B.Sc. (Honours) Trent University, 2000

Project: Organic residue analysis of Great Lakes pottery: Methodological and interpretive challenges for understanding variability in Woodland paleodiets.

Kate has worked for the Department of Anthropology since 2003, currently as Curator and Demonstrator/Technician. In her other life, she is a part-time PhD student in Environmental & Life Sciences. Her proposed research focuses on food residues taken from pottery spanning the Middle to Late Woodland transition (c. AD 700 to AD 1300) in Rice Lake and the Kawarthas.




Corrie HylandCorrie Hyland - Anthropology M.A. Student (2018-)

B.Sc. (Honours) Trent University, 2018

Project: Exploring the life histories of sacrificial victims in the Virú Valley (northern Perú) through isotopic analyses of multiple tissues.

Corrie began working at TEAL as an undergraduate research assistant. She also completed an honours thesis analyzing the diet of arctic foxes through stable isotope analysis to assess the impacts of human culture on fox ecology. Corrie continues to work at TEAL as a research assistant while she completes her MA in anthropology. Her research is focused on the use of scientific and quantitative methods to understand past human cultures. Her thesis project will use stable isotope analysis to understand the diet and migration of humans that were sacrificed during the Late Intermediate Period (A.D. 1100-1476) at the site of Huaca Santa Clara in northern Peru. 



Jennifer Routledge - Anthropology M.A. Student (2018-)

B.A. (Honours) Trent University, 2018

Project: Palaeoenvironmental study focused on the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in Mongolia.

Jen is currently in the first year of her graduate studies at Trent University. Jen's main research interests involve the use of stable isotope analysis for paleoclimate reconstruction. During her undergraduate degree, Jen was involved in research that utilized stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis to examine the impacts of changing sea ice conditions on polar bear ecology in Lancaster Sound (Canadian High Arctic). For her MA degree, Jen will be performing carbon, oxygen, and strontium isotope analyses on ostrich eggshells from the Gobi Desert to determine the importance of climatic shifts in the local extinction of this species from this region.

Michael ScottMichael Scott - Anthropology M.A. Student (2018-)

B.A. (Honours) Simon Fraser University, 2018

Project: Exploring the potential of lipid biomarkers in skeletal tissues as palaeoecological indicators.

Michael's honours research focused on the analysis of weaning practices in the Central Zagros Mountains of Iran interpreted on the basis of stable isotope measurements of juvenile human remains from a Chalcolithic site. Michael chose the MA program in Anthropology at Trent University on the basis of department's strong reputation for biomolecular research. The main focus on Michael's MA thesis research includes the development of a protocol for analyzing lipids through GC-MS and GC-C-MS for palaeoecological reconstruction. This research explores the relationship between the abundance and isotopic composition of fatty acids in different tissues (particularly bone) and will demonstrate the potential of these high resolution techniques to help us to better understand long-term variation in marine food webs. Following the completion of his MA, Michael hopes to continue his research in bioarchaeology, applying these techniques in novel ways and exploring new ones.


Melissa MertsisMelissa Mertsis - Anthropology B.Sc. Student (2018-)

B.A. (Honours) Trent University, 2019 (in progress)

Project: Reconstructing camelid management practices in northern Chile using stable isotope analysis.

Melissa's thesis research utilizes stable isotope analysis to examine camelid (llama and alpaca) husbandry practices in the far north of Chile. Melissa is analyzing the isotopic compositions of her favourite animal in order to determine whether these animals actually lived in the extremely arid northern Atacama Desert or if they were brought to the area via trade with the high altitude grasslands.

Melissa is interested in the implementation of outreach programs focused on education and archaeology.

JoyJoy - Lab Mascot (2017-)

No known degrees

Project: Diet-tissue discrimination factors for canids provisioned with a wide range of meats and cheeses.

Joy's past is shrouded in mystery but she joined the group from Istanbul, Turkey in 2017. She has a cauliflower ear and a friendly disposition. Her favourite piece of anthropological literature is "How Dogs Dream" by Eduardo Kohn, although she admits that she doesn't really understand it. Her primary research interests include the anthropology of sleeping and laziness, experimental archaeology focusing on the taphonomy of large mammal bones exposed to carnivore gnawing, and the behavioural ecology of squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits. 


Trent Environmental Archaeology Lab
Science Complex - SC 145
705 748-1011 x7419