Vanier Scholar reads stories written in bone

By Matt Terry, July 3, 2012
    Madeleine Mant excavating a medieval cemetery in Giecz, Poland in 2007. One of ten Vanier Scholars from McMaster, Mant will travel to England to study the skeletal remains of 1000 individuals. She will look for evidence of perimortem trauma, which will help her paint a clearer picture of post-medieval society. Photo courtesy Madeleine Mant.

Madeleine Mant wants to bring history to life by learning how 19th century Londoners  died.

Mant, one of 10 McMaster students awarded $50,000 Vanier Graduate Scholarships  Tuesday, will study evidence of "perimortem trauma" - injuries which occurred at or  around the time of death - on the skeletal remains of 1000 individuals.

She will travel to England to collaborate with the Museum of London's Centre for Human  Bioarchaeology, where she will study remains found at a range of sites. These include  lower, middle and upper class gravesites and mass epidemic and pauper graves.

Trends in types of perimortem trauma among certain populations tell researchers how  people commonly died.

The trauma is commonly found on the battlefield.

Mant says she's looking for the "stories written in bone", which give context to what's  already known about post-medieval society.

"I want to compare historical records with what's actually in the field," she said. "Once  we know where to look, we can better understand what injuries were most common  during that time, which give us the 'biocultural context' needed to paint a clearer picture  of the era."

Mant also hopes to develop a framework for other researchers to use when studying  skeletal remains found elsewhere, such as those at Smith's Knoll, near the site of the  Battle of Stoney Creek.

Her supervisor, anthropologist and Canada Research Chair Megan Brickley, is studying  the remains of more than 20 soldiers who fought the important War of 1812 battle. Like  those in London, the remains - unearthed 12 years ago from a common grave - hold  clues as to just what killed each of the individuals.

The period is of special interest to Mant, who chose to study at McMaster because of the  opportunity to work with Brickley. She hopes to one day apply the framework she  develops in London to sites on Canadian soil.

"Lots of remains located here are tied up in lengthy land claims disputes, but there are plenty of opportunities to study things like European settler cemeteries or the remains  of fur traders," said Mant. "These are all people who led very interesting lives."

The Edmonton native says she's "outrageously thankful" for the Vanier Scholarship, and  is eager to start working in the field.

"I was surprised, happy and overwhelmed when I found out I got it," she said. "The  recognition is inspiring. It shows that this work really is important, and that we're not  just scratching away in an office somewhere."

Another one of McMaster's 2012 Vanier scholars, Branavan Manoranjan, plans to  establish a molecular profile of cells that evade therapy in brain tumours. His goal:  increase the survival rates of children suffering from medulloblastoma, the most  aggressive form of pediatric brain tumour.

"To be named a Vanier Scholar is like getting the corner piece of a cake with lots of  icing," says Manoranjan, a medical/graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry & Biomedical Sciences. "It has always been a true privilege to be working under the  mentorship of some of the leading stem cell and cancer scientists at McMaster. And to  be recognized as a potential research leader provides me with a gentle reminder of my  responsibility to Canadians to translate my lab research to clinically-feasible bedside  therapies".

This year's is the largest group of Vanier Scholars in McMaster's history.

"This award highlights the fact that our graduate students are true leaders within the  University, in the broader Hamilton community, nationally and around the world," said  Allison Sekuler, associate vice-president and dean of graduate studies. "We're thrilled  that Canada has recognized their accomplishments with such a great honour."

McMaster's 2012 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship winners

Canadian Institutes of Health Research recipients:

  • Marisa Azad (Biochemistry & Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences),  researching mechanisms to battle antibiotic resistance
  • Dr. Adalberto Loyola-Sanchez (Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences), will  devise strategies to develop community health programs to improve the lives of people  with chronic conditions
  • Branavan Manoranjan (Biochemistry & Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences),  profiling brain cancer stem cells responsible for untreatable tumours in children

  • Jocelyn Wessels (Medical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences) will focus on how  endometriosis progresses, leading to new therapies and diagnostic tests
  • Dr. Reza Yousefi-Nooraie (Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Faculty of Health  Sciences) will research the role of social networks in improving public health decision- making in Canada

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada recipients:

  • Amanda Beers (Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, Faculty of Science), researching  the effect of age on visual perception
  • Jenna Gillen (Kinesiology, Faculty of Science) will focus on the regulation of skeletal  muscle metabolism as related to exercise
  • Renee St-Onge (Biology, Faculty of Science) will work towards a better understanding  of specific bacteria, which is a major producer of pharmaceutical compounds used in  medicine

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada recipients:

  • Madeleine Mant, (Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences), research focused on  breaks or injuries to bone that occur at or around the time of death
  • Cara Tigue (Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, Faculty of Science), will investigate  how voice pitch influences voters' perceptions of a politician's position on certain issues

Established by the federal government in 2009, the scholarship awards each student  $50,000 a year for up to three years.