It’s said there is no such thing as wasted time. This maxim can have as its proof the slightly circuitous route into archaeology taken by Professor Charlotte Roberts. Initially training as a nurse, she segued into the study of human remains, incidentally becoming the subject of a 1994 Women’s Weekly article about changing career paths: “I changed my life and you can change yours! Charlotte’s Back to Basics”. Introduced to the study of disease in the past by Keith Manchester, she married her medical training to her love of the past, to leading the way in kickstarting the field of palaeopathology. In fact, she literally wrote the book on it: The Archaeology of Disease. Her expertise in the field was recently recognised through her appointment as a Fellow of the British Academy.
The study of disease in archaeological populations is notoriously tricky, but by being a strong promoter of interdisciplinarity and holistic research, Prof. Roberts has used ancient DNA, ancient lipid analysis, and more traditional osteological methods to look at tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis and other major sources of morbidity and mortality in human groups. Her nurse’s training shines through in her passion for re-humanising the past, constantly impressing upon her students the importance of viewing human remains as people and not case studies.
Despite her successes, Prof. Roberts remains down to earth, claiming her many achievements are due only to her willingness to take the opportunities that came to her. She is an inspiring mentor to students, heavily involved in building and supporting the bioarchaeological community through presidency of BABAO. She is also a strong-proponent of work-life balance, being herself a fanatical cyclist, runner and fan of the outdoors, as well as being an occasional bell-ringer in the village where she lives.
Portrait of Charlotte Roberts used by permission, photographed by Jeffrey Veitch, Durham University. Not to be re-used without prior permission. Landscape still from Archaeosoup Productions and used with permission. Check out Archaeosoup’s interview with Charlotte Roberts here.