Through my undergraduate and early graduate years in biological anthropology, I did not hear about the field of “ancient DNA” until I started my doctoral work at McMaster University (Hamilton, ON). After a course or two on the topic, I was definitely hooked. Fast forward a bit, and I received my doctorate, combining anthropology with ancient pathogens. For me, ancient DNA provides a complementary anthropological approach to ask questions about what makes us human, how we got here and what happened along the way.

SM_lab
Me! In the ancient DNA lab at Penn State.

I am fascinated by the interplay between humans and their microbes, specifically the evolution of infectious diseases and adaptive responses that have impacted human biology throughout our history.  I focus on how health outcomes in the past may be accentuated or mitigated by social, cultural and ecological factors, and so I use an approach that combines ancient DNA with bioarchaeology, historical analysis and archaeology.

Currently, I am a postdoc in the Department of Anthropology working in the laboratory of Dr. George (PJ) Perry. My latest research at PSU examines how human stature has changed over thousands of years in response to dramatically shifting environments using individual ancient DNA and skeletal data.