Dr Helen Whelton

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Background

I completed my undergraduate degree in Forensic Science BSc (Hons) at the University of Kent (Canterbury), in 2005. Since graduating I have worked in industry as an Analytical Chemist in both the pharmaceutical sector and for a life science and custom chemistry company in Bristol and the surrounding area. During this time I gained practical experience in HPLC - maintenance, troubleshooting and method development (including Chiral, Ion-pair, Reverse and Normal Phase). I also have experience in Mass Spectrometry and LC-MS method development as well as NMR, Prep LCMS, Karl Fischer Titration and FT-IR. joined the Organic Geochemistry Unit in February 2010. As a research analyst, I worked with Professor Richard Evershed and Dr Lucy Cramp performing analysis on archaeological ceramics in order to identify absorbed organic residues.

My PhD was completed in 2016 within the Organic Geochemistry Unit at the University of Bristol under the supervision of Professor Richard Evershed (Title: Reconstructing diet and mobility in the Neolithic of northern Greece: a multi-proxy biomolecular and stable isotope approach). The overall aim of my Ph.D. was to apply an extensive range of stable isotope proxies to investigate the Neolithic in northern Greece, providing new insights into the relationship between human mobility, livestock management, and diet and subsistence practices. The main objectives were to reconstruct diet using bulk δ13C and δ15N stable isotope analysis of human and faunal skeletal remains and biomolecular and isotopic analyses on absorbed lipid residues from archaeological potsherds. It also included using strontium isotope ratios from human and faunal tooth enamel to determine the extent of mobility within the Neolithic of northern Greece and establishing a local range of bioavailable strontium to identify any ‘non-locals’ present in the population. 

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Research

Post-doctoral Research Associate (from August 2017) – Organic Geochemistry Unit, University of Bristol.

I am currently working on a NERC funded project entitled “Investigating the nature and timing of the earliest human occupation of North America using a novel integration of biogeochemistry and micromorphology”.

The question of how, when and why people first settled the Americas has been a subject of intense debate which continues to the present. There are two schools of thought, the ‘Clovis First’ and ‘Pre-Clovis’ theories, with the former asserting that the Clovis culture was the earliest human presence in North America arriving ca.13,500 cal BP. Evidence of ‘Pre-Clovis’ human occupation in North America obtained through DNA analysis of coprolites from the Paisley Caves, south-central Oregon, has dated the earliest occupation to 14,300 B.P., one thousand years earlier than previous evidence suggests. Coprolites (fossil faeces) contain a suite of lipid biomolecules and are an invaluable source of palaeobiological and palaeoecological information. The identification of faecal matter through the presence of highly-specific lipid biomarkers (5β-stanols and bile acids) has been used to identify and characterise faecal input from a range of different sources. Differentiation of these faecal markers is enabled through the diet, digestion and metabolism of the source animal. Lipid analysis of coprolites has also been used to identify dietary biomarkers, providing information regarding available plant resources. A lipid biomarker approach will be applied to sediment and coprolite samples from the Paisley Caves with the aim of identifying the timing of the earliest occupation of North America by characterising the origin of coprolites found in well-stratified archaeological deposits. Biomarker analysis will also be applied to investigate diet which will enhance our understanding of the relationship between early humans and their environment.

This research is part of a broader project investigating site formation processes and human occupation of the caves using biogeochemical, plant micro- and macrofossil, and micromorphological analyses in collaboration with colleagues at the Newcastle University.

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Publications

Further details of publications can be found in the University of Bristol publications system and Google Scholar

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