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Michelle Alexander
Senior Lecturer in Bioarchaeology, Deputy Head of Department

Profile

Biography

Michelle specialises in the application of bioarchaeological techniques to aid in understanding the dynamics of multi-faith societies in the historical periods from the dietary perspective. Her research focusses on exploring the diet and resource base of communities at the interface of major socio-cultural and economic transitions, with a particular interest in medieval Islamic and/or multicultural societies. She is also interested in the dynamics of human-animal interactions made visible through biomolecular evidence.

Michelle took up a Lectureship in Bioarchaeology in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York in January 2012 and has since pursued isotopic analysis (δ13C, δ15N, δ34S, δ18O) of historic period human and animal populations in the UK, Europe and elsewhere with a focus on the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Sicily, North Africa) but also recently expanding into research on Zanzibar. She also has expertise in DNA analysis and has co-authored publications on ancient and modern genetics chickens, geese and pigs to understand mutation rates and domestication. 

Prior to arriving at York, Michelle first studied Archaeology in Durham University in 2002 where she completed a BSc degree in Archaeology, focusing on bioarchaeology and medieval archaeology. She went on to study for an MSc degree in Biomolecular Archaeology, run jointly between the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield. She completed her Masters dissertation at Manchester in 2006, specializing in ancient DNA. Michelle then returned to Durham University to complete her PhD with an AHRC funded Durham Doctoral Fellowship where she analyzed the stable isotopes in human and animal remains to explore diet between faiths and cultural groups, geographical locations and through time in Medieval Spain.

In 2010 Michelle took up the post of Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology in Aberdeen University, returning to focus on DNA and faunal remains while acting as a Visiting Fellow at Durham University and Cornell University, USA. 

Key research interests

  • Isotopic and biomolecular (DNA, ZooMS, lipids) analysis
  • Multi-faith and multicultural societies and identities in the middle ages
  • History and archaeology of medieval Mediterranean (Spain, Portugal, Italy, North Africa)
  • Food systems and sociocultural change during the Middle Ages
  • Zooarchaeology, animal husbandry and agriculture
  • Human osteology
  • Urban provisioning in the medieval period 

You can follow her personal Twitter feed here: @MMAlexande 

Departmental roles

Deputy Head of Department (2020- )

Chair of Board of Studies (2019- )

Director of Studies, MSc in Bioarchaeology (2013-17, 2019-)

Co-director of BioArCh (2013-2017, 2020-)

Chair of Teaching Committee (2015-2018)

Departmental Library Rep (2015-2018)

Deputy Undergraduate Admissions Tutor (2012-2015)

University roles

Arts & Humanities Faculty Learning & Teaching Group (2016-17, 2020-)

University Library Committee (2015-2017)

University GTA Coordinators (2015-2017)

Research

Overview

I am a bioarchaeologist and historical archaeologist who specialises in the application of bioarchaeological techniques to aid in understanding the dynamics of multi-faith societies in the historical periods from the dietary perspective. My research focusses on exploring the diet and resource base of communities through the application of stable isotope analysis (δ13C collagen and carbonates, δ15N, δ34S, ç) to archaeological human and animal populations at the interface of major socio-cultural and economic transitions, with a particular interest in medieval multicultural societies. I am also interested in the dynamics of human-animal interactions made visible through biomolecular evidence and have co-authored genetic studies of chickens, geese and pigs to understand mutation rates and domestication.

I am interested in questions pertaining to historic period human and animal populations in the UK, Europe and elsewhere with a focus on the Mediterranean (Spain, Portugal, Italy including Sicily, North Africa, Isreal) and medieval Islamic societies in particular, and I have recently expanded into research on Zanzibar.

Michelle took up a Lectureship in Bioarchaeology in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York in January 2012 and has since pursued isotopic analysis (δ13C, δ15N, δ34S, δ16O) of historic period human and animal populations in the UK, Europe and elsewhere with a focus on the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Sicily, North Africa) but also recently expanding into research on Zanzibar. She also has expertise in DNA analysis and has published on ancient and modern genetics of chickens and geese to understand mutation rates and domestication. 

Key research interests

  • Isotopic and biomolecular analysis
  • Multi-faith and multicultural societies and identities in the middle ages
  • History and archaeology of medieval Mediterranean (Spain, Portugal, Italy, North Africa)
  • Food systems and sociocultural change during the Middle Ages
  • Zooarchaeology, animal husbandry and agriculture
  • Human osteology
  • Urban provisioning in the medieval period 

Projects

Other Eyes

Landscapes of (Re)conquest 

Urban Ecology and Transitions of the Zanzibar Archipelago

Sicily in Transition

SeaChanges

ArchSci2020 

Research group(s)

Postdoctoral Researchers

Marcos García García (Landscapes of (Re)Conquest)

Mik Lisowski (Urban Ecology - Zanzibar)

Efrossini Vika (EcoNoMy)

Supervision

Current PhD students

Sarah Delaney dental calculus micro debris and Medieval society

Alice Ughi (Sicily in Transition) Isotopic approach to understanding diet in Medieval Siciliy through time

James Nottingham (co-supervisor) Human-dog relationships in medieval and post-medieval England 

Katrien Dierickx (SeaChanges) Exploitation of Flatfish around the North Sea during the medieval period

Liz Quinlan (SeaChanges, co-supervisor) Exploitation of Salmon around the North Sea during the medieval period 

Guro Rolandsen (Co-Supervisor, University of Stavanger, Norway) Medieval and Post-Medieval diets in Noway: biomolecular approaches

Mackenzie Masters 

Jordí Ruiz Ventura  Non-adult health and diet in catastrophic and non-catastrophic medieval assemblages

Completed PhD students

Sophy Charlton Biomolecular approaches to Mesolithic and Neolithic populations in Britain 

Anita Radini Microdebris in Medieval dental calculus 

Alice Toso Isotopic approaches to understand diet in multi faith societies of medieval Portugal 

Alison Harris (ArchSci2020) Novel isotopic approaches to Arctic human and dog populations 

Blessing Chidimuro Characterising Post-Medieval diet in England using isotopic approaches 

Visting students and researchers

Supervisory role for visiting PhD students Jan Bakker and Giorgia Tulumello

Erasmus+ students, Laura Viñas Caron conducted an isotopic analysis of Bronze Age communities in Aragon and Catalonia, Northen Spain (2017-18) 

Teaching

Undergraduate

Year 1

Introduction to Archaeological Science

Year 2

Practical Skills: Biomolecular Archaeology

Team Project: Biomolecular Archaeology

Themes in Historical Archaeology: Medieval Iberia

World Archaeology I Mummification

Year 3

Assessed Seminar: Paleodiet

World Archaeology II Mummification

Dissertation - I have supervised undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations on a range of topics relating to the bioarchaeological study of historic period populations both in and out of the lab. Past titles include:

  • Food for thought: dietary trends and the implications for social change at Anglo-Saxon Norton
  • North and South: The Isotopic analysis of four body tissues assessed alongside historical sources to reconstruct a comparative palaeodietary analysis of two post-medieval sites. 
  • An isotopic investigation of the deserted medieval villages of Apigliano and Quattro Macine, Southern Italy
  • Survivorship in post-medieval Halifax: Analysis of pathology related fractionation using dietary isotope data from serial sections of dentine 
  • Feeding the Poor, the Poorly, and the Pilgrims: An Isotopic Investigation into the Medieval Hospital and Almshouse of St. John’s, Lichfield, and the Associated Faunal Baseline of Friary Outer
  • Isotopic and ZooMS Analysis of Islamic and Christian Animal Remains from Granada: Exploring the Potential for Differing Husbandry Practices at the Time of the Reconquista 
  • Roman Leicester and York:  A Stable Isotope Investigation 

 

Past module contributions: 

Prehistory to the Present

Special Topic ancient DNA

 

Postgraduate

MSc in Bioarchaeology

Ancient Biomolecules

 

Past module contributions:

Medieval Settlement and Communities

Bones: Matters of Life and Death

 

 

Michelle Alexander

Contact details

Dr Michelle Alexander
Senior Lecturer, Deputy Head of Department
University of York
BioArCh, Environment Building 2nd Floor
Wentworth Way
Heslington
York
YO10 5DD

Tel: (44) 1904 328714

@MMAlexande