Camilla Speller, PhD, FHEA

Current Position:

Director, Ancient DNA Laboratory, BioArCh, University of York

Lecturer, Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, UK
Research Associate, Centre for Forensic Research, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC

Previous Positions:

Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow, BioArCh, University of York 
York, UK (2012-2014)

SSHRC Postdoctoral Researcher, Ancient DNA Laboratory, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB (2010-2012)


Philip Leverhulme Prize in Archaeology (2016) 

Governor General Gold Medal (2010) 

University of Calgary Archaeology Silver Medallion (1999) 

Academic Background: 


PhD, Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC. “Investigating turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) domestication in the Southwest United States through ancient DNA analysis”: Professors Dr. Dongya Yang (Senior Supervisor), Dr. Jonathan Driver.



MA Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC

“Investigating differential distribution of salmon resources in the Pacific Northwest through ancient DNA analysis”



BA Archaeology/Anthropology, with Honours and Distinction,
University of Calgary, Calgary, AB



Research Interests: 

My research interests focus on the application of ancient DNA analysis to archaeological and anthropological questions, with a particular interest in ancient human and non-human animal microbiomes, animal domestication, environmental archaeology, and forensic DNA applications.  

Ancient Microbiomes: 
The human body hosts billions of bacteria, which play a major role in influencing our health, wellbeing and behaviour. New biomolecular methods have allowed us to gain insight into the evolution and ecology of these microbiomes through the analysis of ancient dental calculus (fossilized plaque) and coprolites. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, My research is applying metagenomic and metaproteomic analysis to investigate the ancient human microbiomes and their implications for health, disease and diet in past populations.


Animal Domestication:

The animal domestication process represents a quintessential model for examining the shifting nature and intensity of human-animal relationships. My PhD research drew upon ancient DNA and osteological techniques to examine the use of wild and domestic turkey stocks by the Ancestral Puebloans of the Southwest United States (Speller et al. 2010).


My ongoing research continues my ancient DNA research on the history and process of North American turkey domestication. This research expands from the American Southwest into Mesoamerica to investigate the domestication process on a continental scale.



Molecular Environmental Archaeology:


My research interests include the application of ancient DNA techniques to environmental issues and human-environment interactions. Ancient DNA analysis has an unprecedented ability to accurately identify biological remains from archaeological sites, making it a vital component in reconstructing past ecosystems, and revealing the extent and intensity of human impacts on the natural environment through time. This approach not only elucidates the lifeways of past peoples, but also provides unique information benefiting contemporary indigenous communities and resource managers.


ORCA – Optimizing Research on Cetaceans in Archaeology: Whale hunting has been practiced by a variety of cultures worldwide for millennia, but today whales are one of the most threatened group of mammals, almost exclusively due to recent industrial hunting practices. Archaeological investigations into the history of whaling are vital for understanding the long-term exploitation of these important marine mammals, and also because they provide essential ecological baseline data on pre-industrial whale populations. My research applies DNA and collagen-based methods (ZooMS) to investigate the taxonomic abundance and distribution of whale species through time and space, and explore how accurate species identification affects current hypotheses on the prehistory of whale hunting and exploitation in different regions worldwide (Speller et al. 2016). 

My current involvement in ‘Molecular Environmental Archaeology’ research includes a multi-disciplinary project examining the past biodiversity of herring stocks on the Northwest Coast of North America. This research brings together fisheries ecology, ancient DNA, archaeology, and traditional knowledge of First Nations elders to inform policies regarding current herring fisheries management and aboriginal rights and titles.


With Dr. Brian Kooyman of the University of Calgary, I also investigated the pre-historic distribution, abundance and genetic diversity of elk (Cervus elaphus) in Alberta. The objectives of this project were to apply archaeological and ancient DNA data to assess the former distribution, abundance and genetic diversity of elk prior to the population declines of the 19th century and to document changes in elk genetic diversity through time and space. This project has been made possible through the generous support of the Alberta Conservation Association.


Forensic DNA Analysis:

I am interested in the application of DNA techniques to forensic contexts, including both human wildlife and forensic cases. I have been involved in three now-resolved ‘cold cases’ involving the personal identification of forensic human remains, as well as a number of projects involving the development of new species identification techniques for wildlife forensic applications.