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Our People

Our team of researchers span the University of Cambridge (UK), Sapienza University of Rome (Italy) and the University of Tartu (Estonia) and bring together the fields of osteobiography, taphonomy, Ancient DNA, bioarchaeology and isotope analysis.

Professor John Robb

Principal Investigator

John studied medieval English literature at the University of Chicago and anthropology, European prehistory and human skeletal studies at the University of Michigan. He has taught at Cambridge since 2001, and has carried out major  interdisciplinary projects on the history of the human body from the Palaeolithic through the present, on skeletal evidence of lifestyle and ritual, on Calabrian archaeology and on medieval England. He is also interested in theories of art and material culture. As this suggests, he specialises in being a generalist.

Jess is a bioarchaeologist with a background in the European Neolithic and a research focus on reconstructing interactions between the dead and the living through funerary taphonomy. Jess is interested in how funerary treatment relates to people’s lived experiences and identity, and how death and burial can be ritually and politically significant events for shaping communities. On the Ancestors Project, Jess is analysing human remains from the Neolithic to the Iron Age in Italy, intertwining traces of everyday life preserved in bones (such as health, trauma, and physical activity), with evidence for treatment after death, to investigate social differentiation. Jess is also involved in research projects in Malta and Britain.

Susan is the Project Coordinator for the Ancestors project, based at the McDonald Institute at the University of Cambridge. She has many years' experience working on European Funded projects in the University of London colleges of King's, Queen Mary, University, City and Westminster. Sue helps ensure the smooth day-to-day running of the project and co-ordinates the Cambridge, Rome and Tartu teams.

Dr. Christiana L. Scheib


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Susan Barker

Project Coordinator

Dr. Jess Thompson

Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dr. Christiana L. Scheib is head of the Ancient DNA laboratory at the Institute of Genomics, University of Tartu (Estonia) and a Research Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge. Her PhD from the University of Cambridge optimised protocols and explored the complex genetic history of Native American populations. Following this, she shifted her focus to include pathogen aDNA and the role of disease in human evolution. Her current work integrates a multi-omic approach to gain a better understanding of host-pathogen dynamics and how they have affected our genomes today.

Elliot Elliott

Research Assistant

Elliot is a Research Assistant based at the Institute of Genomics at the University of Tartu aiding in the analysis of the genomic minimum number of individuals (MNI) for the Ancestors project. He holds a MPhil in Medieval Archaeology from the University of Cambridge, a MSt in Archaeology from the University of Oxford, and a BFA from Chapman University. His research focuses on paleopathology and osteoarchaeology of the early medieval period, and is currently working on investigating sex ratios in prehistoric burials in Ireland and the UK.

Sofia Panella

Research Assistant

Sofia è assistente di ricerca nel team di Roma, svolge attività di documentazione archeologica e ricerca scheletrica nell'ambito del progetto Ancestors e con sede presso la Sapienza Università di Roma (Dipartimento di Biologia Ambientale). Diplomata come Diagnosta dei Beni Culturali, per la sua tesi di laurea Sofia ha svolto un'analisi paleopatologica per identificare evidenze scheletriche di stress metabolico nelle popolazioni altomedievali di Selvicciola e Povegliano Veronese. Il suo lavoro di ricerca si concentra sulla paleodieta e sullo stato di salute delle popolazioni antiche attraverso la Paleopatologia e l'analisi degli isotopi stabili del carbonio e dell'azoto.

Mary Anne Tafuri is lecturer at the Department of Environmental Biology at Sapienza University of Rome, where she is the Head of the Isotope Laboratory. Her research interests are in human osteology, bioarchaeology, and stable isotope investigations of human remains. She has worked for many years between Italy and the UK. She teaches human osteology and bioarchaeology for BA and MSc courses in Italy. She is a member of several archaeological missions in Italy, Africa and the Near East. Her research projects have received funding from the European Union and from various Italian Institutions. She has published numerous papers in international journals and curated or contributed to edited volumes and monographs.

Biancamaria Bonucci

PhD Student

Biancamaria is a PhD student at the Institute of Genomics, University of Tartu (Estonia). After graduating with a Master's in Genetics and Molecular Biology from Sapienza University of Rome, Biancamaria spent three months focusing on DNA extraction from Anglo-Saxon calculus samples and bioinformatic analyses. Her current role in the Ancestors project is investigating whether shifts in the oral microbiome correlate with shifts in ancestry, diet, pathology and culture between Neolithic and Bronze Age populations in Italy.

Dr. Mary Anne Tafuri


Silvia Soncin

Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Silvia is a Postdoctoral researcher for the Ancestors project, based at the Department of Environmental Biology at Sapienza, University of Rome. For her MSc thesis, Silvia investigated the health and diet of two Middle Bronze Age Italian populations through metaproteomic analysis of human dental calculus. Subsequently stable isotope analysis of collagen amino acids became her main research focus during her PhD at the University of York, where she has applied this method to the human assemblage from AD 79 Herculaneum. In the Ancestors project, Silvia investigates dietary and mobility patterns of prehistoric Italian communities using stable isotope analysis.

Dr. Toni de Dios Martínez

Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Toni is a post-Doctoral researcher at the Institute of Genomics at the University of Tartu (Estonia). During his PhD at the Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona, he focused on the retrieval of ancient pathogens’ DNA data (mainly Salmonella enterica and Plasmodium parasites) from different sources, including medical collections and human remains. Those genomic sequences were used to establish phylogenetic relationships between extant and extinct strains of the pathogens, with the aim of having a better understanding of how infectious diseases spread and how they acquire advantageous traits. Toni’s role in the Ancestors project is to implement the bioinformatical pipelines necessary to process the metagenomic data and also to analyse the different metagenomic profiles obtained. 

Advisory Board

We are extremely grateful to the members of our Project Advisory Board for their advice, critical review and creative input over the course of the project:

Prof. G. Belcastro (Bologna) 

Dr. A. Dolfini (Newcastle) 

Prof. C. Knüsel (Bordeaux)

Dr. G. Robin (Edinburgh)

Prof. P. Stockhammer (Munich)

Prof. A. Vanzetti (Rome)

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