Skip to main content
McMaster University Menu Search

Prowse Tracy, Associate Professor; Associate Dean Academic, Faculty of Social Sciences

Biological Anthropology


Current Research

Deadly Lead? An Interdisciplinary Study of Lead Production, Lead Exposure, and Health on an Imperial Roman Estate in Italy

Research and Supervisory Interests

My research explores diet, health, and mobility in past populations, using palaeopathological and isotopic analyses of human bones and teeth. My approach is interdisciplinary, combining skeletal, isotopic, and archaeological evidence embedded within the historical and archaeological context of the people I study. 

My ongoing research project is a bioarchaeological investigation of a rural Roman cemetery on an Imperial estate at Vagnari, south Italy.  Learn more about the Bioarchaeological Field School at Vagnari here. I am also working on the following projects:

1) A SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2017-2019) entitled 'Deadly Lead? An Interdisciplinary Study of Lead Production, Lead Exposure, and Health on an Imperial Roman Estate in Italy'. This research focuses on lead production, lead use, and associated lead exposure at the Roman period site of Vagnari (south Italy). My co-PI on this project is Dr. Maureen Carroll from the University of Sheffield, UK. Learn more about the Deadly Lead Project here.

2) A SSHRC-sponsored project exploring Vitamin D deficiency in the Roman world led by my colleague, Dr. Megan Brickley. We also co-direct the Centre for Integrated Research on Health, Diet, Disease, and Migration (Bioarch-HDDM), a state-of-the art research facility for macroscopic, microscopic, radiological, and stable isotope analyses of human skeletal remains. 

3) A SSHRC-sponsored project led by Dr. Bonnie Glencross and Dr. Gary Warrick (Wilfred Laurier University) exploring the use of dogs as proxies for stable isotope analysis of diet in prehistoric populations from southern Ontario.

My teaching and supervisory interests include; bioarchaeology, skeletal biology, palaeopathology, palaeonutrition, forensic anthropology, anthropological applications of stable isotope analysis, and Roman bioarchaeology.


  • PhD McMaster University
  • MA University of Alberta
  • BSc University of Alberta


Courses (2018-19)


  • ANTHROP 746 - Bioarchaeology

Summer 2019

  • ANTHROP 3BF3 - Bioarchaeological Field School (Italy) 

Courses (2017-18)


  • On Research Leave


  • ANTHROP 2FF3 - Human Skeletal Biology and Bioarchaeology
  • ANTHROP 703 - Writing the Field (graduate seminar)


Current Graduate Students 

Creighton Avery (PhD - with M. Brickley)
Jess Hider (PhD - with H. Poinar)
Samantha Price (PhD - with H. Poinar)
Hana Salahuddin (MA)
Akacia Propst (PhD)


Recent MA and PhD Thesis Supervision


Robert Stark (2016) Ancient lives in motion: a bioarchaeological examination of stable isotopes, non-metric traits and human migration in an Imperial Roman context. 
Stephanie Marciniak (2016) Scourge of the Empire? Ancient Pathogen Genomics and the Biosocial Context of Malaria in Imperial-Era Southern Italy (1st-4th c. A.D.).
Rebecca Gilmour (2017) Resilient Romans: Cross-sectional evidence for long term functional consequences of extremity trauma. (co-supervisor with M. Brickley)
Matthew Emery (2017) The biogeographic origins of Iron Age Iapygians and working-class Romans from southern Italy(co-supervisor with H. Poinar) 2012 – 2017
Lori D’Ortenzio (2017) Tooth tales: What internal dental structures reveal about vitamin D deficiency and age estimation(co-supervisor with M. Brickley) 2013 – 2017


Lisa Semchuk (2016) A stable isotope investigation of diet in the Vagnari cemetery. 
Taylor Smith (2018) Breastfeeding and weaning histories in a 19thcentury Spanish sample.




2019 Gilmour RJ, Brickley MB, Jurriaans E, and Prowse TL. Maintaining mobility after fracture: A biomechanical analysis of fracture consequences at the Roman sites of Ancaster (UK) and Vagnari (Italy). International Journal of Paleopathology 24: 119-129. DOI 10.1016/j.ijpp.2018.09.002.

2018  Prowse TL. Infant Feeding. In, S. Lopez Varela (ed.): The SAS Encyclopedia of Archaeological Sciences. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. DOI: 10.1002/9781119188230.saesas0320.

2018 Prowse TL, Stark R, and Emery M. Stable isotope analysis and human migration in the ancient Mediterranean world. In J. Yoo, A. Zerbini, and C. Barron (eds.): Migration, Diaspora and Identity in the Near East from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. London: Routledge, pp. 125-152.

2018 Brickley MB, Mays S, George M, and Prowse TL. Analysis of patterning in the occurrence of skeletal lesions used as indicators of vitamin D deficiency in subadult and adult skeletal remains. International Journal of Paleopathology 23: 43-53. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2018.01.001.

2018 D'Ortenzio L, Prowse T, Inskip M, Kahlon H, and Brickley M. Age estimation in older adults: Use of pulp/tooth ratios calculated from tooth sections. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 165:594-603. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.23371

2018 Emery MV, Schwarcz HP, Murchie TJ, Elford S, Stark RJ, and Prowse TL. Assessing the origins of Imperial workers at a 1st - 4th century CE Roman period cemetery at Vagnari, southern Italy, using 87Sr/86Sr and delta 180 variation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa/23473.

2018 Emery MV, Duggan AT, Murchie TJ, Stark RJ, Klunk J, Hider J, Eaton J, Karpinksi E, Schwarcz HP, Poinar HN, and Prowse TL. Ancient Roman mitochondrial genomes and isotopes reveal genetic relationships and geographic origins at the local and pan-Mediterranean scales. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 20: 200-209. DOI: 10.1016/j/jasrep.2018.04.036.

2018 Marciniak S, Herring DA, Sperduti A, Poinar HN, and Prowse TL. A multi-faceted anthropological and genomic approach to framing Plasmodium falciparum malaria in Imperial period central-southern Italy (1st - 4th c. C.E.). Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 49:210-224. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2018.01.004.

2018 Mays S, Prowse T, George M, and Brickley M. Latitude, urbanization, age, and sex as risk factors for vitamin D deficiency in the Roman Empire. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 167: 484-496. DOI: 10.1002ajpa.23646.

2018 Moffat CS, and Prowse TL. Biocultural and bioarchaeological approaches to infant and young child feeding in the past. In, P. Beauchesne and S. Agarwal (eds.):  Children and Childhood in Bioarchaeology. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, pp 98-126.

2018 Sperduti A, Bondioli L, Garnsey P, Craig O, Prowse T, and Garnsey P. Bones, teeth, and history. In, W. Scheidel (ed.): Science of Ancient History: Biology, Climate and the Future of the Past. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp 123-173.

2017 Prowse T. Lo studio antropologico dei resti scheletrici. In, L. Cossalter and M.R. Depalo (eds.), Il Paesaggio Storico Ricostruito. L'insediamento di Piana San Felice a Gravina in Puglia. Bari: Edipuglia, pp. 127-130.

2017 Emery MV, Prowse TL, Elford S, Schwarcz HP, and Brickley M. Geographic origins of a war of 1812 skeletal sample integrating oxygen and strontium isotopes with GIS-based multi-criteria evaluation analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 14:323-331.

2016 Marciniak S, Prowse TL, Herring DA, Klunk J, Kuch M, Duggan AT, Bondioli L, Holmes EC, and Poinar HN. Plasmodium falciparum malaria in 1st – 2nd c. CE southern Italy. Current Biology 26:R1205-R1222.

2016 Prowse TL. Isotopes and mobility in the ancient Roman world. In, L de Ligt and LE Tacoma (eds): Migration and Mobility in the Early Roman Empire. Leiden: Brill Publishers, pp. 205-233.

2016. Mant M, Nagel A, and Prowse T. Investigating residential history using stable hydrogen and oxygen isotopes of human hair and drinking water. Journal of Forensic Sciences, doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13066

2015 Emery M, Prowse T, Schwarcz HP, and Brickley M. Exploring dietary variability in a War of 1812 skeletal collection from Stoney Creek, Ontario, Using Stable Carbon and Nitrogen Isotopes. Journal of Historical Archaeology 49(4):54-70.

2015 D'Ortenzio L, Brickley M, Schwarcz HP, and Prowse TL. You are not what you eat during physiological stress: Isotopic evaluation of human hair. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 157(3): 374-388.

2014 Prowse T, Nause C, and Ledger M. Growing up and growing old on an Imperial estate: preliminary palaeopathological analysis of skeletal remains from Vagnari. In, AM Small (ed): Beyond Vagnari: New Themes in the Study of Roman South Italy. Bari: Edipuglia, pp. 111-122.

2014 Brent L, and Prowse T. Grave goods, burial practices and patterns of distribution in the Vagnari cemetery. In, AM Small (ed): Beyond Vagnari: New Themes in the Study of Roman South Italy. Bari: Edipuglia, pp. 99-110.

2014 Prowse TL. Burial practices and tombs in the Roman world. In, C. Smith (ed.): Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. DOI: 10.1007/SpringerReference 401584 2014-02-28 14:30:49 UTC

2012 Prowse TL. Isola Sacra. In, R Bagnall, K Brodersen, C Champion, A Erskine and S Huebner (eds.): Encyclopedia of Ancient History. London: Wiley-Blackwell Press, pp. 3520-3521.

2011 Favia P and Prowse T. La sepoltura nella parte settentrionale del sito. In, AM Small (ed.) Vagnari: the village, the industries, the imperial property. Vagnari: il villaggio, l'artigianato, la proprieta' imperiale. Bari: Edipuglia, pp. 287-289.

2011 Prowse TL. Diet and dental health through the life course in Roman Italy. In, S. Agarwal and B. Glencross (eds.), The Handbook of Social Bioarchaeology.  Wiley-Blackwell Press, pp. 410-437.

2011 Holobinko A, Meier-Augenstein W, Kemp H, Prowse T, Ford S. 2H stable isotope of human tooth enamel: a new tool for forensic human provenancing? Communications in Mass Spectrometry 25: 910-916.

2010   Prowse TL, Barta JL, von Hunnius TE, and Small AM. Stable isotope and mtDNA evidence for geographic origins at the site of Vagnari, South Italy. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Supplement 78: 175-198.

2010   Prowse TL, Saunders SR, FitzGerald C, Bondioli L, and Macchiarelli R. Growth, morbidity, and mortality in antiquity: a case study from Imperial Rome. In, T. Moffat and T. Prowse (eds.), Human Diet and Nutrition in Biocultural Perspective. Biosocial Society Series.  Berghan Press.

2010   Moffat T and Prowse TL. (editors) Human Diet and Nutrition in Biocultural Perspective.  Biosocial Society Symposium Series. Berghan Press.

2008   Prowse TL, Saunders SR, Schwarcz HP, Garnsey P, Bondioli L, and Macchiarelli R.   Isotopic and dental evidence for weaning and young child feeding practices in an Imperial Roman skeletal sample. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 137(3): 294-308.2007  

2007   Prowse TL. Burials/cemeteries: burials, excavation and recording techniques. In, DM Pearsall (ed.): Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Academic Press. pp. 944-948.

2007   Prowse TL, Schwarcz HP, Garnsey P, Bondioli L, Macchiarelli R, and Knyf M. Isotopic evidence for age-related immigration to Imperial Rome.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 132(4):510-519.

2007   Prowse TL. The human skeletal remains.  In, Excavation in the Roman Cemetery at Vagnari in the Territory of Gravina in Puglia (2002) edited by Alastair Small and Carola Small. Papers of the British School at Rome, Volume LXXV, pp. 150-162. The British School at Rome, Rome (Italy).

2005   Prowse T, Schwarcz H, Saunders S, Bondioli L, and Macchiarelli R.  Isotopic evidence for age-related variation in diet from Isola Sacra, Italy.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 128(1):2-13.

2004   Prowse T, Schwarcz H, Saunders S, Bondioli L, and Macchiarelli R.  Isotopic paleodiet studies of skeletons from the Imperial Roman cemetery of Isola Sacra, Rome, Italy. Journal of Archaeological Science. 31(3):259-272.

1998   Small A, Small C, Campbell I, MacKinnon M, Prowse T, and Sipe C.  Field Survey in the Basentello Valley on the Basilicata-Puglia Border.  Echos du Monde Classique/Classical Views.  XLII: 337-371.

1996   Prowse TL and Lovell NC.  Concordance of Cranial and Dental Morphological Traits and Evidence for Endogamy in Ancient Egypt. American Journal of Physical Anthropology.  101(2): 237-246.

1995   Prowse TL and Lovell NC.  Biological Continuity between the A- and C- Groups in Lower Nubia: Evidence from Cranial Nonmetric Traits. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 5(2): 104-114.


Book Reviews

2017    Prowse TL. Bones: Orthopaedic Pathologies in Roman Imperial Age. Andrea Piccioli, Valentina Gazzaniga, Paola Catalano, with contributions by C. Caldarini, S. Marinozzi, M.S. Spinelli, F. Zavaroni. Springer, Heidelberg (2015). 171 pp. International Journal of Paleopathology 18: 5-6.


Site Reports

2017 Prowse TL and Carroll PM. Exploring the Roman Imperial estate at Vagnari, Puglia (Comune di Gravina in Puglia, Provincia di Bari, Regione Puglia). Papers of the British School at Rome 85: 330-334.

2016 Carroll M and Prowse T. Research at the Roman Imperial estate at Vagnari, Puglia (Comune di Gravina in Puglia, Provincia di Bari, Regione Puglia). Papers of the British School at Rome 84:333-336.

2014 Carroll M and Prowse T. Exploring the vicus and the necropolis at the Roman Imperial estate at Vagnari (Comune di Gravina in Puglia, Provincia di Bari, Regione Puglia). Papers of the British School at Rome 82: 353-356.

2013 Prowse TL. Vagnari cemetery (Gravina in Puglia, Provincia di Bari, Regione Puglia). Papers of the British School at Rome 81: 384-386.

2012 Prowse TL. Excavations at Vagnari, 2011. Papers of the British School at Rome 80: 378-380.

2009. Prowse T and Small M. Excavations in the Roman cemetery at Vagnari, 2008. Preliminary report. The Journal of Fasti Online.