Archeological Bones Contain Evidence of Human Impacts on Lake Ontario Watershed

September 6, 2019

SSHRC-funded Anthropology post-doc at Trent Dr. Eric Guiry named finalist in Impact Awards for research on ancient fish specimens

Dissected fish and instruments

An analysis of a thousand-year record of bones from lake trout, Atlantic salmon and whitefish is connecting a shift in water quality in the Lake Ontario watershed to human causes.

Dr. Eric Guiry, Trent University’s first-ever Banting post-doctoral fellow funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has discovered, through stable isotope analysis, on archaeological fish remains that deforestation has had a major impact on the watershed’s nutrient cycles.

Now in its final year, Dr. Guiry’s archeological study, funded through a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, will add to a growing collection of published research that explores the deep history of human impacts on the environment.

“People have been living around the Lake Ontario watershed for thousands of years. This long history of human presence can tell us a lot about human impact on the area,” says Dr. Guiry. “This project is improving our understanding of past biological and cultural phenomena by examining chemical signatures on archeological specimens,” says Dr. Guiry.

Dr. Paul Szpak, associate professor and Canada research chair in environmental archaeology, supervises Dr. Guiry’s research and nominated him for a SSHRC Impact Award.

“Dr. Guiry is leading exceptional research on the health of Canada’s most populous watersheds, which is really quite unique,” says Professor Szpak. “Most of the things we can learn about past environments tell us about things happening at the base of the food chain, and we would have to infer what happens to the predators at the top. By performing these chemical analyses on ancient fish bones, Dr. Guiry is providing direct insight into what's happening at the top of the food chain.”   

Dr. Guiry was announced as a finalist in the national competition for the SSHRC Impact Award for the Talent category, which recognizes outstanding achievement by a current SSHRC doctoral or postdoctoral scholarship or fellowship holder.

“I’m very excited to have been nominated in the first place and to be a finalist is fantastic,” says Dr. Guiry. “My work has been funded by a couple of different SSHRC grants, so I’m excited to meet the other finalists and winners. SSHRC covers a broad range of academic areas so I’m really excited to learn more about the other research that has been nominated.”

Yesterday, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, minister of science and sport, announced the five winners of the SSHRC Impact Awards and the eight finalists, including Dr. Guiry.

“The brilliant work of our scientists, scholars and researchers keeps Canada strong in today’s ever-more-competitive world,” says Ms. Duncan. “Today’s recipients have greatly enriched our society with their meaningful and profound insights about people, behaviour and human thought. On behalf of the Government of Canada, please accept my congratulations on this tremendous achievement.”

Dr. Guiry is continuing research as a Banting post-doctoral fellow funded by SSHRC until September 2020.