Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Darryl Butt


Transdisciplinary research involves cooperation, exchange of information, sharing of resources and integration of disciplines to achieve a common scientific goal. In this study, collaborators utilized tools and knowledge of materials science, anthropology, archaeology, geosciences and biology in an attempt to determine the provenience of skeletal remains of unknown origin. The exchange of ideas and skills along with the crossing of disciplines in this study sucessfully allowed the incorporation of expertise from many team members. This transdisciplinary approach to research provided a more comprehensive and detailed analysis than any one field alone could provide. An archaeological assessment of a human skull recovered in rural Idaho recognized cranial deformation and post-mortem application of a red pigment. A combination of scanning electron microscopy (SEM), x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) identified the major and trace elements present in the red post-mortem pigment as cinnabar and rare earth metals. Analysis via carbon and oxygen stable isotopes from teeth and bone to provided insight into the diet and habitat for distinct segments of the individual’s life, indicating a regional separation in early life versus late adulthood. Radiocarbon dating determined the approximate age of the skull to be between 600-700 years old and a forensic mtDNA assessmentcategorized a mitochondrial haplogroup for the remains as originating from the East African or Arabian Peninsula.