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US anthropology student gains Fulbright-Bristol postgraduate award

Jessica Galea

Jessica Galea

Press release issued: 17 May 2011

Anthropologist Jessica Galea has received a prestigious Fulbright Commission Postgraduate Scholarship Award to carry out research at Bristol into the health status of medieval archaeological populations.

From October 2011, Galea will be working towards an MPhil under the direction of Dr Kate Robson Brown in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology. Her project, entitled ‘ Cribra orbitalia as a marker of health and status in Medieval Britain’, involves determining a new method for quantifying the presence of pores, or lesions, in the bony eye sockets of skeletons. These markers can be a symptom of anaemia and dietary deficiencies. The resulting scoring system could lead to a better understanding of the condition in present populations.

The study collection was the fruit of an excavation in 2005 in Taunton, Somerset by the independent archaeological consultancy ContextOne. The remains date from approximately 1342 to 1539, a period that saw the Black Death, the War of the Roses, the Hundred Years War and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Analysis of the remains by the University’s Osteoarchaeological Research Group, headed by Dr Robson Brown and Heidi Dawson, identified 84 juvenile skeletons and 109 adults, with many skeletons showing signs of cribra orbitalia.

Galea will use a microCT scanner to undertake a high-resolution study of the tell-tale pores to examine their depth, diameter and volume. These results will be used to determine the efficiency of current scoring systems for cribra orbitalia pores, and to propose changes where necessary.

Galea said: ‘The United Kingdom has a history of excellence in historical archaeology, which examines human remains in the context of a literate society and thus gives researchers a first-hand account of events. My proposed project combines this with bioarchaeology, which is a challenging field to pursue in the United States, where conservation laws limit archaeologists’ access to human remains.’

She continued: ‘Bristol’s Anthropology Department is the only one in the UK with a microCT scanner. In the two years since Dr Robson Brown acquired it, she has employed it not only in archaeology and anthropology, but also collaboratively in forensic cases, and in biological sciences and mechanical engineering projects. The wide range of applications for these technological skills will lead to great flexibility in my own research.’

‘Throughout my year in the UK, I will also volunteer at various archaeological excavations run by the Department, such as those at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, to further my understanding of methods in British historical archaeology. By understanding how disease has affected past populations, we can apply this information to cultural practices, such as building techniques and eating habits, to better understand changes in the area’s population over time.’

Dr Robson Brown said: ‘For a decade, anthropologists and archaeologists at Bristol have been at the forefront in developing non-invasive computed tomography imaging techniques to analyse artefacts and ancient human remains. I am delighted that Jessica Galea has been awarded the Fulbright Scholarship and will be joining us later this year; she is an excellent young anthropologist, and the project presents an exciting opportunity to develop new standards in the recording and interpretation of skull pathology.’

Jessica Galea was born in Toledo, Ohio. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with dual BAs in Anthropology and History and a French minor in 2011. For the past four years, she has worked at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, an event held in the village of Bristol, Wisconsin, that recreates the visit of Queen Elizabeth I to the city of Bristol in the UK in the year 1574.

Her love of French took her to Avignon in the summer of 2009, where she completed coursework in French theatre and archaeology. The following summer she went to Amarna, Egypt, for fieldwork on ancient skeletons. This is where she discovered the symptom of childhood malnutrition that will form the subject of her work at Bristol.


Further information

The US-UK Fulbright Awards Programme is one of the most prestigious of its kind in the world. Each year up to nine awards are offered to US citizens for the first year of Master’s or PhD study in any discipline at any accredited UK university. Candidates are selected by the US-UK Fulbright Commission and the Institute of International Education to receive grants to be used towards tuition fees and maintenance costs in their first year of postgraduate study in the UK.
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