Britney McIlvaine, Assistant Professor for Anthropology Department
Britney McIlvaine is an assistant professor in the Anthropology Department. She earned her PhD in Anthropology from The Ohio State University in 2012. Britney is a biological anthropologist who seeks to understand how humans respond and adapt to their environments in settings undergoing rapid change, often under social, cultural, and environmental disruption. Britney’s recent research has primarily focused on the eastern Mediterranean basin, investigating the impacts of Greek colonization of the Balkans from the 8th-6th centuries BC by studying human skeletal remains from a series of archaeological sites in Albania. In her free time, Britney enjoys skiing, hiking, and camping with her husband and dog.
What is your own research background? Please discuss any research that you are currently involved with (with or without students).
My research background involves examining human skeletal material to better understand past human behavior. I’ve worked with skeletons from Albania, Nubia, Fiji, and Greece in an effort to answer questions about changing health, nutritional quality, and population structure.
I am currently working on a project that investigates the biological impacts of Greek colonization (8th-6th centuries BC) on health and wellbeing among local populations throughout the Mediterranean. Ultimately, this project aims to shed light on the nature of colonial relationships within the larger Greek Diaspora. To do this, I’m working with an international team to examine human skeletons from nine archaeological sites for evidence of skeletal pathology among both local populations and Greek colonists. Our research critically examines whether colonization always results in negative outcomes for the colonized, as is generally understood to be the case, allowing for a reinterpretation of current conceptions of colonization. This project involves both undergraduate and graduate student researchers.
Please discuss one significant and/or noteworthy undergraduate research project where you served as a fellow researcher and/or mentor.
This past summer, I brought three UNC undergraduate anthropology students (Jennifer Wright, Kaytlyn Devers, and Katelyn McEachern) with me to Albania for two weeks to analyze human skeletons from the Corinthian colony of Epidamnus (established in 627 BC). Two of these students (Jennifer and Kaytlyn) formulated their own, independent research questions that are tangential to my own research. They have both done literature reviews, identified hypotheses, and were able to collect data on an actual human skeletal collection. They are currently in the process of analyzing the data they collected. Later this year they will present their results at a national anthropology conference. Jennifer is also a McNair Scholar and will publish her results in UNC’s Undergraduate Research Journal. Both Jennifer and Kaytlyn plan to go to graduate school next year. I feel that undergraduate research experiences like these are so important, especially for students who plan to attend graduate school. There is no substitute for seeing a research project from initial hypothesis formation to completion.
How many undergraduate students are doing research in your department?
The Anthropology Department at UNC strives to include undergraduate research in many of our classes. We want students to have research experience by the time they graduate. For this reason, many of our classes have a substantial hands-on project that students must complete. For example, in my forensic anthropology course, students participate in a mock excavation at the Poudre Learning Center. They then must work in groups to analyze the skeletons they excavate. At the end of the class, they write a forensic report, detailing their findings, and take part in a mock trial, where they must defend their results. Our archaeology and cultural anthropology courses have similar hands-on projects that require students to collect and analyze real data. In addition to the research opportunities we offer in our classrooms, each year we also have five to ten students who decide to pursue their own, independent research projects. Many of these students devote their weekends to participating in archaeology projects or cultural field experiences where they gain important skills that will serve them later in life.
What is most rewarding about working with undergraduate students on original research projects?
Personally, I love watching undergraduate students grow into independent researchers. Most students I encounter, who want to do research, have no idea where to start. At the beginning of the process, I have to explain how to formulate a research question and how to do background research. After a while, students gain the confidence to work more and more independently. They take real pride in their research projects and work very hard to create a spectacular finished product. Learning to work independently is a skill that any employer will value, regardless of what field a student plans to pursue.