**Marina Elliott was one of six scientists that made up the Advance Science Team on the Rising Star Expedition. Read more here**
Marina Elliott has form when it comes to fieldwork in extreme environments. Prior to the Rising Star Expedition she worked on excavations at Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, and at the northernmost archaeological site in the USA: Nuvuk on Point Barrow, Alsaka. “Seems I kind of specialize in ‘inhospitable’ environments!”
Elliott’s research specialism is the archaeology and anatomy of the human skeleton, including forensic anthropology and the archaeology of death and burial (‘mortuary archaeology’). Whether it’s an ancient human from a cave in South Africa, hunter-gatherers who lived 9000 years ago at Lake Baikal, or the 9th-12th Century Thule people at Nuvuk, we can learn a lot about people from the study of their bones and teeth: their age, their height and weight, whether they suffered from any illnesses. In forensics this information is used to create a ‘biological profile’ of an unidentified body and, given the high-stakes of criminal investigations, accurate profiling is paramount.
Recently, Marina Elliott’s research showed that FORDISC 3.0, a forensics tool used by crime labs all over the world to identify the ancestry of human remains, had such a high error rate that it should be used with extreme caution, if at all (you can read the paper here). She is now focussed on assessing methods for a different aspect of biological profiling – the accurate estimation of a person’s body mass from their bony remains. Her PhD work should be finished by next summer, and Elliott is keen to get back in the field. “[I] haven’t done much digging since I started the PhD, so this has definitely reminded me that I want to do more primary excavation work,” she says. “I have to say, that for caving or field work, the current expedition tops them all! It has everything: exotic locale, amazing finds, a bit of danger and great science. It really doesn’t get much better than this.”
Written by Tori (@toriherridge)