Accessibility statement

Alice Ughi

Research Project

Diet in transition: Stable isotope analysis of multi-faith populations in medieval Sicily

Supervisor: Michelle Alexander

Focused on Sicily, the ERC funded project “Sicily in Transition” (SICTRANSIT) sets out to discover what drove the different transitions and what happened to people from the 6th to the 13th century AD. During this range of time Sicily experienced four radical changes in regime: from Byzantine to Aghlabid to Fatimid to Norman to Swabian. Each of these transitions saw new groups of migrants, new forms of agriculture and settlement, new networks of exchange, new distributions of wealth and new types of social control. My research is aimed at investigating and documenting diet, economy and demographic movement across these changes of religious political control through the isotopic analysis of human and animal remains. Carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) bulk stable isotope analysis of bone collagen will be applied to directly assess an individual’s average diet. Oxygen isotopes analysis (δ18O) of enamel bio apatite will provide direct information relating to the lifetime mobility of an individual. I will also work on the development and application of new approaches for measuring amino and fatty acids from bone by gas/liquid chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC/LC-c-IRMS).


I obtained a BSc in Technology for the Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Heritage and an MSc in Sciences and Technologies for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage at the University of Florence, Italy. Both dissertations were focused on the chemical, biological and physical characterization of archaeological waterlogged wood from Poggiomarino, a Neolithic site near Naples. In the first work I used FT-IR spectroscopy to quantify the grade of degradation of the wood in terms of lignin/olocellulose ratio, whilst in the second one I tested the effectiveness on improving the physical, chemical and biological properties of the wood of a new class of preservatives synthetized from saccharides.

After working for 12 years in the science outreach department of the University of Florence, I moved to the UK and started working as teaching assistant and science technician in secondary schools until I was hired by the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Reading as a Teaching and Research Technician.

In this role I carried out analyses on organic materials (GC, EA, EA-IRMS, LCMS, HPLC), preparing specimens and samples, maintaining and operating standard laboratory equipment, writing SOP’s, looking after the H&S measures needed, developing methodologies that suited the newest lines of research in the field, and training users in the use of the analytical instruments.

During the 3 years I spent in this role, I was involved in two research areas: environmental chemistry and archaeology, in particular societal-environment interactions, sustainability policy and practice, food security, water security, environmental pollution, toxicology and diet reconstruction using stable isotopes analyses.

Contact details

Alice Ughi
Research Student
University of York
Wentworth Way
YO10 5DD