Steph explores the effects of diagenesis (physical and chemical change) in tooth enamel and the implications it has on radiocarbon and stable isotope analyses. She examines possible locations within the enamel matrix that may house exogenous carbon compounds (carbonates) that contaminate skeletal remains following deposition, altering radiocarbon and stable isotope ratios. Using histological techniques, she explores links between the accuracy of radiocarbon age estimates on Pleistocene and Holocene pig teeth (Sus scrofa) and enamel microstructure and fissuring. This work with hopefully contribute to pre-treatment protocols which help increase the accuracy of radiocarbon estimates.
What is it that drew you to this research?
I have been interested in the application of histological techniques in archaeological research since being introduced to it by Dr Justyna Miszkiewicz at the ANU and I wanted to explore potential avenues for its use. Upon meeting Dr Rachel Wood, this evolved into using enamel thin sections to explore possible avenues and locations for carbon contamination that can cause radiocarbon age estimates to be significantly underestimated. From there it developed further to include the effects of diagenesis on carbonate stable isotope results. For me this was exciting as I was able to incorporate several techniques into my research.
What are your career goals and aspirations?
For the moment, my goals are to get my research published! From there, I am aiming to secure a PhD position. All I really know for sure is that I love learning and sharing what I have learnt. So, for me, research is the perfect avenue for that!
What are you most proud about so far in terms of your achievements?
I am proud that I have been able to be involved in this kind of research at all, to be honest. To then be able to submit my research for publication… it just astounds me. I feel really privileged. As someone who suffers from quite a bit of anxiety, I feel this is a huge achievement for me. I am proud that I have proven to myself that I can accomplish what I set out to, regardless of anxiety! It has done wonders for my confidence and I’m excited to see where it leads.
What is one thing you have found surprising while researching your focus?
I found it surprising how much improvement can be seen on radiocarbon age estimates of Holocene teeth depending on pre-treatment protocols. Pleistocene teeth are still way off, but the results on Holocene teeth are exciting. The extent of the link between carbonate contamination and stable isotope results also surprised me.
What is one thing about your research you want people to take away with them?
I think perhaps that there is still more to learn about diagenesis in tooth enamel and the extent of the effects on stable isotope results. Further understanding where contamination sits within the enamel matrix will hopefully allow for the development of improved pre-treatment protocols which will remove exogenous carbonates more effectively and thus improve radiocarbon age estimates. If this can be achieved, then we will be able to more accurately radiocarbon date skeletal remains in areas where bone collagen preservation is poor. It is really important and exciting stuff!