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Department of Archaeology



After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008, Jenna worked for several years as a commercial archaeologist in the United States before pursuing a MSc in Human Osteology and Palaeopathology at the University of Bradford in 2010. Her PhD, completed at the University of Cambridge (2016) focused on how the examination of tool marks on dissected individuals from hospital cemeteries can increase our understanding of medical history.


Research Interests

  • Paleopathology
  • Osteoarchaeology
  • Biological Anthropology
  • Museum Studies
  • Socio-Politics of the past

Geographical areas/regions

  • Britain
  • Cambridgeshire
  • East Asia

As a specialist in human osteology and paleopathology, Jenna utilises a multidisciplinary approach to questions about diseases and medical intervention in past populations. Much of her previous work (MSc, PhD) has focused on how the examination of tool marks on dissected individuals from post-medieval hospital cemeteries can increase our understanding of medical history in Britain.

Jenna is presently involved in the Wellcome funded project entitled, ‘After the Plague: Heath and History of Medieval Cambridge’. This multidisciplinary project examines the historical and biological effects of the catastrophic Medieval plague epidemic, known as the Black Death. Archaeological, historical and genetic (aDNA) studies will enable a discussion about the previously unstudied consequences of this major epidemic in Cambridgeshire by revealing how the plague changed human well-being, activity, mobility and health.

In parallel to this, Jenna is a co-investigator on a collaborative project entitled, ‘Health, Disease and Diet in the Qijia Culture of the Chinese Bronze Age (2,300-1,700 BCE),’ which examines health in the Bronze Age.

I am presently involved in the following research projects:

  • 2016-2020: Research Associate, ‘After the Plague: Health in Medieval Cambridge’.  Project Directors: Professor John Robb (University of Cambridge)
  • 2015-2025: Co-Investigator, ‘Diet and Disease in Bronze Age Northwest China’. Project Directors: Elizabeth Berger (University of Michigan), Jenna Dittmar (University of Cambridge) and Yeh Hui-Yuan (Nanyang Technological University)



Key publications: 



[1] Dittmar J and Mitchell PD (forthcoming) Equality after death: Dissection of the female body in anatomical education during the 19th century. Bioarcheology International.
[2] Dittmar J and Mitchell PD (2016) From cradle to grave via the dissection room: The role of foetal and infant bodies in anatomical education from the late 1700s to early 1900s. Journal of Anatomy, Volume 229(6), 713-722. doi: 10.1111/joa.12515
[3] Dittmar J and Mitchell PD (2015) New criteria for identifying and differentiating human dissection and autopsy in archaeological assemblages. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 3, 73-79. doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.05.019




Other publications: 




[1] Dittmar J, Berger E, Zhan X, Mao R, Wang H, Yeh HY (forthcoming) Skeletal evidence of violent trauma and intergroup conflict from the Bronze Age Qijia culture (2,300-1,500BCE), Gansu Provence, China. International Journal of Paleopathology.
[2] Robb J, Inskip S, Cessford C, Dittmar J, Kivisilid T, Mitchell P, Mulder B, O’Connell T, Price M, Rose A, Scheib C (forthcoming) Osteobiography: the history of the body as real bottom-line history. Bioarchaeology International.
[3] Dittmar J, Zhan X, Berger L, Mao R, Wang H, Zhao Y, Yeh HY (2019) Ritualistic cranial surgery in the Qijia Culture (2300-1500 BCE), Gansu, China. Acta Anthropologica Sinica.
[4] Dittmar J, Ponce P, Sibun L (2018) Craniotomies. In: Sibun L and Ponce P, ‘In life and Death’: Archaeological excavations at the Queens' Chapel of the Savoy, London. Spoilheap Publications, Monograph 17, 133-138.
[5] Dittmar J (2017) ‘Cut to the bone’: The enhancement and analysis of skeletal trauma using scanning electron microscopy. In: Errickson D and Thompson T, Human Remains – Another Dimension: The Application of 3D Imaging in the Funerary Context. London: Academic Press, 45-56.
[6] Dittmar J and Mitchell PD (2016) The afterlife of Laurence Sterne (1713-68): body snatching, dissection and the role of Cambridge anatomist Charles Collignon. Journal of Medical Biography, Volume 24(4), 559-565. doi:10.1177/0967772015601584
[7] Dittmar J, Errickson D and Caffell A (2015) The comparison and application of silicone casting material for trauma analysis on well preserved archaeological skeletal remains. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 4, 559-564. doi: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.10.008
[8] Dittmar J (2014) Book review: Medical museums past, present, future by Alberti and Hallam. Journal for the Social History of Medicine, Volume 27(2), 250.
[9] Dittmar-Blado J and Wilson AS (2012) Microscopic examination of the tool marks. In: Powers N and Fowler L, Doctors, dissection and resurrection men: excavations in the 19th-century burial ground of the London Hospital, 2006. MOLA Monograph Series 62. London: Laverham Press, 180-184.

Teaching and Supervisions


I am involved in the teaching of the following courses:

  • Paper BAN8 - Health and disease in anthropological perspective

Other Professional Activities

  • Member of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists
  • Member of the Paleopathology Association
  • Member of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology
  • Member of the Society for East Asian Archaeology

Job Titles

Research Associate, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Junior Research Fellow, Darwin College

General Info

Available for consultancy
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Museum Studies
Human Population Biology and Health
Socio-Politics of the Past

Contact Details

The Henry Wellcome Building
Fitzwilliam Street


Biological Anthropology
Science, Technology and Innovation
Rethinking Complexity
Geographical areas: 
East Asia
Periods of interest: 
Copper/Bronze Age