Snapshot: Deborah Bolnick, St. Catherines Island

Erosion along the banks of Wamassee Creek on St. Catherines Island caused a tree to fall in 2013, exposing a burial ground from the period just before and just after European contact. Intensive excavations followed to recover and protect burials threatened by erosion. Following consultation with appropriate Indigenous representatives, the St. Catherines Island Foundation partnered with multiple research groups to explore the archaeology, bioarchaeology, ancient DNA, stable isotopes, geophysics, radiocarbon dating, geoarchaeology, and ancient proteomics at the Fallen Tree site. Photo by Caitria O’Shaughnessy.
Erosion along the banks of Wamassee Creek on St. Catherines Island caused a tree to fall in 2013, exposing a burial ground from the period just before and just after European contact. Intensive excavations followed to recover and protect burials threatened by erosion. Following consultation with appropriate Indigenous representatives, the St. Catherines Island Foundation partnered with multiple research groups to explore the archaeology, bioarchaeology, ancient DNA, stable isotopes, geophysics, radiocarbon dating, geoarchaeology, and ancient proteomics at the Fallen Tree site. (Caitria O’Shaughnessy Photo.)

Reconstructing the histories of those who lived long ago, piecing together their stories from DNA evidence as well as historical records, archaeological information, and insights from descendent communities, is part the work of Deborah Bolnick, associate professor of anthropology.

All of this is tied to efforts to gain a clearer, more unbiased picture of the past, and a better understanding of how historical events and social inequalities shape human genetic variation. In particular, she works with Indigenous partners and other researchers to investigate how colonialism impacted Native populations.

This Snapshot is a glimpse into one of her projects, based on St. Catherines Island off the coast of Georgia. The island was inhabited by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, and was the site of one of the earliest Spanish missions during the colonial period. Here, Bolnick and her colleagues study the impacts of Spanish missionization on the Guale people in the 16th and 17th centuries.