Person holding grass and smiling directly at camera

Emily Briggs

Research Q & A

What’s your hometown?

My hometown is Albuquerque, New Mexico.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a distribution map of the natural strontium (Sr) and oxygen (O) isotope values present in the natural landscape within Minnesota. These isotopes are incorporated into plants and animals during their growth, and therefore reflect the local variations of these isotopes in their region of origin. By establishing a baseline distribution map of these values using non-human materials, it creates the possibility to compare these natural isotope values with the isotope values preserved within human skeletal material and thus estimate where that individual originated.

How did you get started/what drew you to your area of study?

I’ve always loved history, but I wasn’t introduced to archaeology until the end of my undergraduate degree. I decided to apply to archaeology graduate programs, and from there began specializing in human skeletal analysis and Indigenous archaeology. This led me to my dissertation research, which is to develop a methodology using isotope geology that could be used to assist in the repatriation of Indigenous skeletal remains whose geographic provenience is unknown.

Why are you focusing your work in that area?

As someone who works in North American Archaeology, I observed persistent challenges that Indigenous communities faced when attempting to repatriate their ancestors under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. I wanted to develop a methodology that could be used at the discretion of Tribal communities to assist in cases where the repatriation process hasn’t been completed due to a lack of information on the geographic provenience of the ancestor’s skeletal remains. Isotope geology has long been used in archaeology to estimate the movements of individuals, and therefore could be a suitable application within this context.

How are you working toward that goal?

I am collecting a variety of plant and animal samples from across Minnesota and evaluating their Sr and O values. From this data I will be able to create a distribution map.

What will your next steps/research be?

After this project is completed, I envision applying a similar methodology to other regions of the country to assist in repatriations for Tribes in other parts of the country.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t mistake a fear of failure for an inability to do a task! There have been many times where I thought I wasn’t capable of completing this project, but then I realized I was just afraid to fail. I decided that the only real failure was to not try, so I continue to put in my best effort and take things one step at a time!

What 5 songs do you listen to most while you work?

  • West Coast by Phillip Larue
  • Steady by Poliça
  • Backward in Love by shy kids
  • Marinade by DOPE LEMON
  • Cool For A Second by Yumi Zouma


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