Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Student Lauren Weingart reports on summer NSF REU program at Notre Dame

In the months of June and July, I participated in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) in Bioarchaeology at Notre Dame. This program was a perfect fit for me because it combined my interests in bioarchaeology and Near Eastern studies. The undergraduate research fellows involved worked with the human remains from three sites in the Levant: Bab edh-Dhra', Byzantine St. Stephens, and Tel Dothan. My team worked with the Early Bronze Age II and III (3000-2750 BCE; 2750-2300 BCE) remains from Bab edh-Dhra'. We were interested in determining whether or not the individuals buried at the site were locals or migrants. During Early Bronze I-III in the region, a transition from a more pastoral lifestyle to a more settled agricultural, and eventually urban lifestyle took place. While some scholars have theorized that this urbanization was an internal development, others have suggested that outside influences, perhaps from the already urbanized areas of Egypt and Mesopotamia, may have played a part in this transition. After examining the evidence for both theories, my group hypothesized that we would find individuals who appeared to be locals. In order to distinguish local from non-local individuals, we examined the radiogenic strontium isotope ratios of 25 tooth enamel samples taken from the remains unearthed at Bab edh-Dhra'. Our results are not yet available.
Lauren drills a tooth.
Participating in the program was an excellent experience. The first two weeks were spent learning human bone anatomy and biology, as well as learning to recognize some common pathologies that can affect bone. The remainder of the seven week program was spent conducting research in small groups. Throughout the program we were visited by scholars from a diverse range of fields, whose expertise all ultimately related to our research in some capacity. This was a great opportunity not only to network with eminent scholars, but to explore our interests in a wide range of fields and specialties. I learned that not only do I have a passion for research, but I have a great love and talent for drilling teeth, and I reaffirmed my active interests in bioarchaeology, Near Eastern studies, and public archaeology. The experience in conducting relatively independent research, and the opportunity to continue that research, were irreplacable experiences. Invaluable are the many connections forged with visiting and resident scholars and my fellow students. I am in tremendous debt to Dr. Sue Sheridan, Dr. Jaime Ullinger, Lesley Gregoricka, and Theresa Gilner for their hard work and guidance.

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