Profiling the dead: learning from mass fatality events
The case of skulls at the University of Sheffield Osteology Lab.
Individual 14 - University of Manchester and The Natural History Museum (Copyright 2011).
The executioner's trench - University of Manchester and The Natural History Museum (Copyright 2011).
The Museum of Natural History, London.
The Duckwork Lab - Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies (Copyright 2010).
About the project

Description of the project and research questions being asked

The Archaeological Survey of Nubia began in 1907 and over a period of only a few years over 8000 individuals were excavated, examined, and preserved for future studies on this archaeological population.  However, since the collection was established, much of it has been separated, lost, or damaged.  A recent Wellcome Trust project by the KHN Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester and the National History Museum, London has been tracking down the surviving remains from this collection and been bringing them together in an online database (link below).  As a part of this project they have identified that the remains of individuals from the Roman Period ‘executioner’s trench’ are housed at institutions here in England.

Over 100 individuals were found in this ‘executioner's trench’ with evidence of severe (and unusual) trauma and being unceremoniously buried in a mass grave.  I will be studying these remains to identify the ages and sexes of the individuals, as well as any injuries or illnesses, in order to determine the mortality profile of the victims.  This is just one case study in a much larger doctoral research project that is researching the victim profiles of mass fatality events.

Why this matters and should be exciting to backers

The aim of my larger research project is to apply new theory and methods recently developed in palaeodemography to gain a deeper understanding of mass fatality incidents.  Studies using historical demographic data have identified the distinctive demographic signatures of episodes of pandemic disease, natural disasters, and civilian and combatant victims of armed conflict.  This research project will build on these findings by recording and analysing demographic data from archaeological examples in order to distinguish the natural and social factors determining mortality profiles in past mass fatality events.

I am looking to identify the unique signatures of victim populations from different types of events in order to learn more about their immediate and long-term impacts.  The results should be applicable not just to archaeological research, but also forensic investigations, and risk management practices.  This multiple use of results is really important to me; bridging the gap between archaeology and contemporary research - helping us to learn from the past.

What your money can do

The money you donate will be used to cover the travel and expenses; laboratory bench fees; and costs of the materials for recording data.  Remains from the ‘executioner’s trench’ have so far been identified at the Museum of Natural History, London and the Duckworth Laboratory, Cambridge.  I will be travelling to these institutions to study the remains in their facilities over a period of days and weeks – research is being conducted beforehand to ensure all the time spent in with collections is productive.  Any money raised over our minimum goal will go towards studying more remains from this collection, as there are a number possible remains from the ‘executioner’s trench, but they require more research before we can say this definitively.  If we raise a significant amount above our goal then it can be used to study more collections, for use in the larger research project.

Potential discoveries

There are bound to be new discoveries from studying this material as it was last looked at over 100 years ago – the methods and techniques in osteology have advanced significantly since this period.  I will be able to give a better picture as to who these people were and the circumstances around their deaths, as well as shed a little more about this collection as a whole.  The individuals from the ‘executioner’s trench’ also show signs of very unusual trauma, so it might just be that we discover a completely new practice from the Roman Period.  In terms of the larger project, this case study will help us move toward identifying those unique signature of victim profiles from different types of events – because the more case studies the more reliable our results!


I am a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield in England.  I received my BA (Hons) in 2008 in Biological Anthropology and Archaeology fom Saint Mary's University, Canada.  Following my BA, I graduated with Distinction with an MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology from the University of Sheffield in 2009.  I was most recently been employed at the University of Sheffield, until I began my PhD studies in Autumn 2011.

I have always been fascinated with the past, especially with the lives and deaths of the people who came before us.  I am especially interested in conducting research projects with practical applications to modern issues – notably the role of forensic archaeology in mass fatality investigations.  This particular research project grew out of my Master’s dissertation where I identified a lack of research into the application of demographic methods to mass fatality incidents – and so I (along with my supervisor) thought we should start to change that!

I am currently a member of the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, British Association for Human Identification, the Institute for Archaeologists, and the Centre for Criminological Research (University of Sheffield).

This research project is partially funded by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Research Scholarship at The University of Sheffield - this covers tuition fees for the period of the doctoral degree.

Additional Links

Information on the recent project on the Archaeological Survey of Nubia collection:

Research profile on University Department website:

Personal research profile on

I can be contacted by e-mailing:

Monday November 12, 2012

Hi everyone.  This is just a quick update to let you know that the project is still coming along well.  The funding finally came through and it is being used to off-set costs that have already been outlaid - Petridish and the University of Sheffield did a fantastic job of working together to resolve the issues that international financial transactions tend to throw up!  Now on to the fun things!  I have a bonus reward for everyone involved!  If you are interested in seeing a copy of the poster that was presented at the BABAO conference, you can find a PDF version here ( on my profile.  If you supported this project and would like a copy, but have problems downloading it there, please get in touch and I can send you a copy via e-mail or a flash-drive in the post (it is a mighty big file).  In related news, I have been in contact recently with Dr Jenefer Cockitt from the University of Manchester, KNH Centre for Biomedical Research (a member of the Wellcome Trust funded ASN Collection project team) and there is some potential for the results of my studies to be incorporated with their results for publication.  I have a feeling that we may discover some intruiging things once everyone involved gets together to discuss their work on the project!  I will definitely keep you updated.  And finally, this is also a reminder that in order for you to get your reward I need your details, so please send me an e-mail or contact me through any of my social media accounts.  I will begin sending everything out soon and I wouldn't want anyone to miss out!

Thursday September 13, 2012

Wow!  I am completely overwhelmed by the support this project was shown over the course of its campaign and I am ecstatic that it is has been fully (nay, over) funded!  I am in the process of having the funds released, which will go a long way towards helping complete this project.  If you are one of my kind backers, please do get in touch using my e-mail address above so that I can provide you with your reward in the coming months!  I will also do my best to contact each of you directly, by e-mail, to update you on the progress of this project, as it continues.

In related news, I am travelling to the BABAO 2012 conference this weekend, where I will be presenting some of the preliminary results from the initial examinations of this collection completed during the summer.  Following this I will be looking into making a copy of this presentation available online through one of my academic profiles - please let me know if you would be interested in access to this!

I will continue to use Petridish to update you as this project moves along.  Thanks again!

Saturday August 18, 2012

Only ten days left to run on the campaign and I am still amazed by the incredible support that you all have shown to this project.  The preliminary findings from Duckworth and the NHM are very interesting.  I am working away on some of the data collected and if it all goes well I should be able to present some interesting information at the ritish Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology conference in September.  I may be able to give you a little sneak preview though... if everything is as it seems so far... then not everything is as it seems!

Monday August 13, 2012

Wow!  It is just past the halfway point of the campaign and there are only another two weeks left to run.  I'm posting today with another update on the project progress.  The visit to Cambridge last week went very well and the first look at the remains from the Duckworth suggest we may have some very interesting results in the future!  I am off to NHM, London tomorrow for my first look at their portion of the ASN collection 'executioner's trench'.  I am very excited to see if my preliminary results hold up after examining them as well - so keep your fingers crossed.  I just know that travelling through all of the post-Olympic traffic will be worth it!

I am incredibly happy to see that this project is still being supported and shared.  It will be even more rewarding when I get to start sharing the discoveries with all of you!  I did receive word today that this project does not qualify for a waiver of the bench fees at the NHM, but thanks to your support it is still able to go ahead!  I cannot express my gratitude enough.  I am so proud to be part of such an innovative academic endeavour!  And you should be too!

Sunday August 05, 2012

Wow!  It makes me so proud to see that this project is still being supported.  The fact that you were all so keen even got the attention of the Petridish staff and they interviewed me for their blog.  If you haven't seen it yet, you should go check it out (and the other great interviews posted there).  I haven't just written this update to say that though... I have exciting news with regards to the project - I am going to get my first look at the collection on Tuesday!  I will be heading down to Cambridge for the day to visit the Duckworth Lab to see their part of the 'executioner's trench' from the ASN collection.  I will be sure to post another update once after I'm back on Wednesday, but isn't it neat that I'll be able to let you know more about this collection before the funding campaign has even finished? :)

Tuesday July 31, 2012

I have been so excited to see that even though this project has already met its minimum goal there are people still interested in learning more about it by visiting this page - and there are people still supporting it through additional donations.  It not only means a lot to me to have the financial support, but it really does mean a lot to know that the results of this research will be enjoyed by people outside of my direct field of research!  I will let you know once my visits to the NHM and Duckworth labs have been confirmed, but in the meantime keep up the huge level enthusiasm you have already shown for this project!  And, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  :)

Wednesday July 25, 2012

Hi everyone.  This is my first update here since this project went live yesterday and I could not believe my eyes when I logged in to see that it has already reached it's minimum goal... and more!  I cannot express the gratitude I feel to everyone who has donated so far.  I know this project can now go ahead and I am in contact with both the NHM and Duckworth labs to arrange my dates to access the collection, so I will keep you all updated on any progress!  In the meantime I am still going to be trying to share this project with as many people as I can that are interested in this area of research, as I really want people to be a part of this project as it develops - regardless of whether we continue to increase the amount raised over the minimum goal.  Thank you to everyone who has shown interest in this project by learning more about it.  And another huge thanks to everyone is going to help make it happen!

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This project was successful!
$1 +
I don't need a reward, thanks! I am just happy to help contribute and I look forward to hearing about your results on your blog.
$5 +
For $5, you will receive a handwritten thank you letter.
$10 +
For $10, you will receive all of the above plus a photograph related to our research.
$25 +
For $25, you will receive all of the above plus a personal mention (named or anonymous) on the blog.
$50 +
For $50, you will receive all of the above plus an original art-work based on the results of the research.
$100 +
For $100, you will receive all of the above plus plus a proper thank you over the telephone or Skype with a chance to talk about the research.
$250 +
For $250, you will receive all of the above plus a mention of thanks (either named or anonymous) at the end of any publications or presentations based on this research.
$500 +
Congratulations, you have just funded the whole project! You will get all of the above, plus a specially written report of the results that will be produced in such a way you can display it in your home or office!
$1,000 +
Well now you're just being incredibly generous! You will get all of the above, plus if it is possible we'll find a way to meet in person to discuss the project and the results.
$2,500 +
If you are in a position to help us out this much, know that it is only only funding this particular project but it will help to fund parts of the larger doctoral project. You will get a one on one introduction to osteology (travel costs and lab facility dependent).