Unearthing history in the soil

June 18, 2014

IMAGE_STORY_Kari_CarterClay pots, ancient tools, coins and pieces of bone leap to mind when most people think about studying archeology, but Kari Carter, a recent MacEwan University anthropology grad, isn’t digging for artifacts. The answers she’s looking for are hidden right in the dirt.

When Kari begins her graduate studies at McMaster University this fall, she’ll be contributing to a larger research project looking at changes in people’s economic use of fisheries at Namu, one of the oldest-known sites on British Columbia’s central coast. She will explore soil samples from the site in search of clues about what people in the area were doing thousands of years ago.

Searching for secrets in ancient kitchen waste

An x-ray fluorescence machine will be her regular lab partner as she analyzes trace elements in a series of soil samples collected from shell middens – essentially piles of kitchen waste made of empty shells. What’s Kari looking for in these ancient shellfish leftovers?

“Middens are complex soil environments that can tell us a lot about the different refuse activities of the people who created them,” says Kari. Finding out what the people responsible for the middens ate and the other things they were throwing away will help create a picture of what was happening during that time.

Merging anthropology with earth and atmospheric science

Learning about the past and applying that knowledge to the present and the future is what drew Kari to study anthropology, but her interest in the stories that soil can tell began with an introductory soil science course early in her undergraduate degree. Later, when her anthropology faculty member, Paul Prince, offered up some soil samples he had collected from an archeological site in Northern B.C., Kari’s anthropology major and earth and atmospheric sciences minor merged into an independent study project. Looking at the changes people make to the soil where they live not only gave her valuable experience – it also inspired her graduate research.

“I’ve been so fortunate to learn from great mentors and see many examples of fantastic research,” says Kari. “I’m excited about the opportunity to explore in detail something I find so interesting and focusing all of my efforts on my research.”

MacEwan University is proud to celebrate the 2,117 members of the Class of 2014, its largest graduating class ever. Congratulations to this year's graduates, medal recipients, and distinguished citizens and alumni.

Photo: This summer, Kari Carter is spending her days hiking through the woods in Northern B.C. in search of potential archeological sites as part of her summer job doing consulting archeology work. In the fall, she’ll head indoors to continue her research at McMaster University.

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