Dr. Christine White
  Department of Anthropolgy     University of Western Ontario

Areas of Interest

Osteology, odontology and mummies

Isotopic Anthropology
Paleodiet, paleonutrition, infant feeding behaviour
Paleopathology, paleomigration
Social, political and economic organization in complex states                                                                
Geographic identities and migration studies
Medical and Nutritional Anthropology
Culture Areas: Mesoamerica, Nile Valley


CRC Research Program

1)Infant Feeding Behaviour in Ancient Populations:
This research explores the use of oxygen and carbon isotope ratios for reconstructing cultural diversity in infant feeding behaviour. These methods will add to the known use of nitrogen isotope ratios for determining the timing and length of the weaning process by also offering a means of characterizing macronutrient shifts in weaning diets and supplementation with water. The topic relates to cultural variability in childhood and female health and their implications for population morbidity and mortality. Jocelyn Williams has recently completed some of this work. (Collaborator: Fred Longstaffe)

2) The Political and Economic Nature of New World States:
Much of my research over the last 8 years has focused on Teotihuacan, a multi-ethnic city located outside the modern Mexico City, contemporaneous with and about the same size as Rome, and arguably the earliest state-level society in the Americas. Teotihuacan exerted strong influence on the rest of the Mesoamerican world and appears to have had an army, but its political structure is enigmatic, as is the nature of its imperialism (e.g. military, economic, ideological).
In order to address the enigmatic issue of state leadership, this research will be extended with analysis of the recently discovered sacrificial victims from the Pyramid of the Moon. In order to understand the nature of Teotihuacan imperialism at previously analysed sites in Mexico (Monte Alban), Guatemala (Kaminaljuyú), and Belize (Altun Ha), more Maya sites will be analysed (Rio Azul, Montana. (Collaborators: Fred Longstaffe, Ruben Cabrera Castro, Gregory Perriera, Saburo Sugiyama, Richard Adams, Fred Bove)
Models for ethnic structure in the big city will be further developed using a newly discovered ethnic neighbourhood and its possible donor site west Mexico (Michoacan). (Collaborators: Fred Longstaffe, Michael Spence, Sergio Chavez Gomez, Helen Pollard, Laura Cahue)

3)The Geographical and Social Identification of “War Dead”
There is much evidence of violent behaviour among the Maya but its reasons are debated. Isotopic data are being used in the analysis of suspected war dead at several sites in order to determine: 1) if members of mass graves were war dead or if people of lower social class or certain lineages were exploited for sacrifice4, 2) what role warfare played in both the rise and decline of complex Maya society. (Collaborators: Fred Longstaffe, David Pendergast, Norman Hammond, Robert Tykot, David Reed, Steve Whittington)
Another illustration of this theme is the isotopic analysis of soldiers from Fort William Henry and the later War of 1812 Battle of Stoney Creek to reconstruct their life histories and national identities. Lisa Blyth has recently completed this work.

4)Migration and Colonization Studies:
One of the major issues in the emergence of agriculture in Europe is whether or not it diffused from southwest Asia or arose independently. Recent DNA analysis supports diffusion theory, as does archeological evidence from LinearBandKeramic villages. By contrast, botanical evidence from the site of Lepinski Vir, Czechoslavakia, supports an indigenous development model. Oxygen isotopic data will be combined with strontium isotope data previously analysed by Doug Price, University of Wisconsin, to identify migrants in Lepinski Vir and LinearBandKeramic sites from several regions of central Europe. (Collaborators: Fred Longstaffe, Doug Price, Jens Luning, Joachim Wahl, Peter Schroeter, Mike Richards)
A second colonization study in collaboration with Doug Price will test the veracity of Icelandic sagas that say the country was colonized during the Viking period in 874 A.D. over an approximate 60 year period by people from northern Norway. This assertion has been recently challenged and is a major popular issue in Iceland. Remains from 2 cemeteries will be used, one early or pagan (.i.e., prior to 1000 A.D) and one later or Christian (post 1000 A.D.), along with samples of mammals from possible source areas. (Collaborators: Fred Longstaffe, Doug Price, Hildur Gestdotirr)
In 1992, a large 18th century graveyard of African slaves was found in New York City. This find was one of the most significant bioarchaeological discoveries in the U.S. in the last decade. Physical anthropologists have been using forensic techniques to reconstruct their life histories, from poor childhood health to habitual skeleto-muscular strain and assault trauma. Isotopic analhyses will contribute to their homeland identities. It is expected that most will have come from Africa, the Caribbean and the southern US. This project will have its most profound impact on the American Black population as their ancestors bear witness to the dislocation and living conditions involved with the institution of slavery in the North. (Collaborators: Fred Longstaffe, Alan Goodman, John Reed, Michael Blakey)

5) Environmental Change:
Because oxgyen isotope ratios reflect climatic differences, they can also be used to reconstruct environmental change. One of the hypotheses fro the fall of the Moche civilization in Peru is the effect of El Ninos on food production. Microscopic analysis of teeth from the Jequetepeque Valley in Peru has revealed some anomalies that may correspond with El Nino occurences. To test this hypothesis, laser technology will be used to reconstruct diet and climate in discrete growth increments of enamel and dentin in teeth from several different time periods. (Collaborators: Andrew Nelson, Gisela Grupe).
Environmental change (i.e. dessication) has also been suggested as the cause of the fall of the Tarascan civilization in Mexico. Oxygen and strontium isotope ratios will be used to test this hypothesis, comined with isotopic paleodiet data from two sites in the Patzcuaro basin representing the time frame from A.D. 350 to 1525. Collaborators: Laura Cahue, Doug Price, Helen Pollard, Gabriela Urunuela)
These projects resonate with modern concerns about the social, economic and health effects of global climate change and El Ninos.

6)Post-mortem Chemical Alteration (Diagenesis):
Such basic studies are fundamental to understanding isotopic, DNA, and paleopathological data and also have forensic applications. Currently, Lisa Munro is investigating alterations to the structure and composition of skeletal tissues caused by burning, and Allyson Brady is examining the same in relation to organic/mineral interactions. Collaborators: Fred Longstaffe, Gordon Southam

7) Bone Remodelling and Life Histories:
Because teeth form at relatively constant times from one individual to another and do not remodel after formation, they provide fairly reliable age frames for reconstructing the timing of geographic relocations from before birth to approximately age 15. The rest of the skeleton, however, does remodel and different bone types (compact vs. spongy) remodel at different rates. It is assumed that compact or cortical bone remodels over a period of perhaps longer than a decade, whereas spongy or trabecular bone may only take several years. The relationship between isotopic ratios and remodelling times is a major interpretive issue. The program investigates the use of isotopic analysis at the level of osteons to address this issue. Collaborator: Henry Schwarcz.



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