A New Paper from the CPL

I’m going to turn this blog post over to Kevin Smith, archaeologist and associate museum director to introduce some exciting work using the Giddings Cape Krusenstern Collections:

Bacterial tetraether lipids in ancient bones record past climate conditions at the time of disposal“.
This paper is the outgrowth of a Seed Grant from Brown’s Vice President for Research to enable truly innovative collaborative research linking the Museum with colleagues in the department of anthropology, the Joukowsky Institute, and the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences to develop and test a method that allows us, for the first time ever, to take a bone from an archaeological site and pull out from it data on the temperature (and in some cases precipitation and soil pH) at the time the bone was thrown out and began to decay. Initial success in that Seed Grant led to $60,000 in additional funding to bring students into the project through UTRA grants two summers ago.
Why’s all that important, generally? If the method holds up, it means that our colleague Yongsong Huang (here at Brown) with our help has developed a way to turn every archaeological site in the world into a new library of high-precision climate data. Potentially “ground-breaking stuff” (as one colleague has already said), and “transformative” (as another did).
Why’s it important for us? A few reasons –
  • first, the primary archaeological data that we used to test the method were bones of caribou and seals from Giddings’ excavations at Cape Krusenstern. Thus, the first test also became a demonstration that old “legacy” collections can be used for cutting-edge research and have value for current research (e.g. climate change) beyond the expectations of those who recovered them 50-60 years ago.
  • Second, from a university perspective, the Seed Grant linked us to three other departments in a research partnership that demonstrates the interdisciplinary approaches that Brown hails as a hallmark of the university’s approaches.
  • third, much of the work was done with graduate students and by six undergraduate students who we had working with us on an UTRA grant from Brown. This project gave students direct involvement in cutting-edge research, just as Giddings began the museum 60+ years ago.
  • finally, this is only the first of the papers to come from that Seed Grant and UTRA funding – two others are in preparation from the research we did through the Museum on NSF-funded grants at the sites of Gilsbakki and Surtshellir, Iceland.

Click here to read the paper!

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