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The Laboratory for Integrated Bioarchaeological Research in Health, Diet, Disease, and Migration (Bioarch-HDDM) is a world-leading facility, enabling innovative research on life in the past.

The Bioarch-HDDM facility enables comprehensive analysis of human remains in one location, using the most up-to-date technological equipping, and providing an essential interface between field and lab-based research. The portability of key equipment also permits access to collections around the world that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Our facility is composed of four integrated laboratory spaces:

The Bioarcheology Analytical Suite:

The BIOARCHAEOLOGY ANALYTICAL SUITE is dedicated to cleaning curating skeletons brought from archaeological sites for research. The centrepiece of this facility is the Portable Digital X-ray and X-ray lead box that is used for radiographic analyses of human remains. It also serves as a workspace for graduate students and visiting scholars when analyzing our skeletal material or working with archives of our previous bioarchaeological work.

The Microscopy Suite

The Microscopy Suite houses 3 high-powered microscopes, including a Keyence Portable Digital microscope (with resolution up to x1000). The portable microscope can be used to examine and digitally record pathological lesions and trauma on skeletal samples from around the world. These images can then be brought back to McMaster University for analysis and integration in the digital image database and will be available for future research even if the original samples are no longer accessible.

The Isotope Sample Preparation Suite

The Isotope Sample Preparation Suite provides a secure sample prep facility to prepare human tissues for staple isotope analysis, focusing on diet and migration in past human populations. This facility can also be used for the preparation of modern human tissues for isotopic analysis.

The Brickley Bioarcheology Lab

The Brickley Bioarcheology Lab has the equipment and capacity to prepare a wide range of bone and tooth samples for further analysis, particularly histological work. Facilities include equipment for embedding bone and tooth samples in a variety of media, thin-sectioning equipment, and preparation of blocks for SEM analysis.

Current Research Projects:

Social-cultural Determinants of Community Health in the Western Roman Empire

This SSHRC-sponsored project is quantifying evidence of vitamin D deficiency in populations from different parts of the Roman Empire and explore reasons for differences identified. Our research has three linked objectives:

1. To examine the social and cultural factors that might contribute to vitamin D status.

2. To assess the vitamin D status of individuals of differing age, gender, and socio-economic groups, from a range of urban and rural sites from different regions and climates (England, Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal).

3. To consider the possible consequences of Vitamin D deficiency in different groups in the Roman social hierarchy across status and gender boundaries through an integration of paleopathological, funerary (e.g., grave goods) and conventional textual sources.

The Vagnari Bioarchaeological Project

Ongoing excavations of the Roman period cemetery at Vagnari (1st to 4th centuries AD) in southern Italy have uncovered over 100 burials of the people who lived and worked on this rural Imperial estate.

Research projects on the collection include:

  • analyses of burial practices and distribution of grave goods
  • skeletal and dental evidence for childhood stress
  • diet and dental health
  • breastfeeding, weaning, and childhood health
  • trauma and markers of occupational stress
  • geographic origins, genetic diversity, and migration

The Smith’s Knoll Project

Re-analysis of the bone fragments excavated from the Smith’s Knoll memorial site in Stoney Creek (Ontario) has contributed to on-going research on geographical origins and diet through analysis of stable isotopes, disease and trauma experienced by past groups, and development of techniques used for estimation of age at death. This 19th century sample from the War of 1812 has also been used to evaluate issues linked to disarticulated, fragmented and commingled human remains.


The Vagnari Bioarchaeological Field School

photo of Megan Brickley

Megan Brickley

Professor | Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Bioarchaeology of Human Disease

photo of Tracy Prowse

Tracy Prowse

Ph.D., Anthropology, McMaster University2001

(she/her); Associate Professor; Associate Dean Academic, Faculty of Social Sciences; Associate Editor, American Journal of Biological Anthropology

Current Graduate Students and their Projects:

Doctoral Research:

  • Matthew Emery – Migration and genetic origins in pre-Roman and Roman Italy
  • Lori D’Ortenzio – The Invisibility of old age: The potential value of tooth dentin for age estimations in older adults
  • Rebecca Gilmour - The long-term effects of healed fracture trauma on the northern Roman frontiers
  • Kalyna Horocholyn - The relationship between childhood health and long term effects on bone growth in medieval Poland
  • Laura Lockau - Bioarchaeological examination of vitamin D deficiency in Roman Italy
  • Madeleine Mant - Perimortem trauma in skeletal remains of individuals from 19th century London, UK
  • Robert Stark – Migration and biological distance using stable isotopes and nonmetric traits
  • Lelia Watamaniuk – Qualitative and quantitative analysis of histological techniques in the differential diagnosis of anemias in past populations

Masters Research:

  • Lisa Semchuk – Status and isotopic evidence for diet at Vagnari, Italy
  • Xuan Wei - An evaluation of transition analysis and mandibular ridge resorption in age estimation of older individuals
  • Sarah Timmins - Rickets, socio-economic status and their effects on juvenile growth from the Western Roman Empire
  • Creighton Avery – Exploring gender inequality in Roman social classes through dental health


Completed Bioarch-HDDM Masters Theses:

  • Lia Casaca – The Representation and Weathering of Human Remains
  • Lori D’Ortenzio – An Isotopic Evaluation of Human Hair from Belleville, Ontario
  • Matthew Emery – A Stable Isotopic Investigation of the Smith’s Knoll Sample
  • Joelle Ingram - Activity and Aging in Adult Males: Investigation of Entheses and Cortical Bone from the Late Roman Site of Lisieux-Michelet in Northern France
  • Laura Lockau – Bioarchaeological Analysis of Trauma in a Skeletal Sample from Smith’s Knoll Historic Cemetery
  • Annabelle Schattman - The co-occurrence of scurvy and rickets in 16th-18th century skeletal material from Douai, France


USRA Projects (Undergraduate Student Research Awards)

Completed through McMaster’s Experiential Education program:

  • Mara Dragomir (2011) - Analysis of Smith's Knoll Human Skeletal Remains
  • Marissa Ledger (2012) - Analysis of Traumatic Injury on a Roman Imperial Estate (Vagnari, Italy)
  • Murray Clayton (2013) – Gender Divisions of Labour in Imperial Rome: An Investigation of Bone Loss through Paleopathological Analysis in Southern Italy
  • Marissa Ledger (2014) -
  • Helena Ramsaroop (2015) – Use of Transition Analysis for Aging Adult Skeletons


Learn more about USRA's via Experiential Education