Louise Shewan

veski inspiring women bridging the funding gap grant recipient

University of Melbourne

A veski inspiring women grant – bridging the funding gap is awarded to Dr Louise Shewan, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeological Science at the School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne.

Human life histories: isotopic investigation of archaeological teeth


Dr Shewan is an archaeological scientist with expertise in the isotopic analysis of skeletal remains and environmental samples. Her research focuses on the development of methodologies and techniques to apply to archaeological and forensic dental (human and faunal) specimens and protocols for the creation of background ‘isoscapes’ for archaeological research and provenance studies for use in sourcing of cultural artefacts and agricultural product traceability.  She was unsuccessful in securing funding for an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship Grant (FT1) in 2023 for her project “Human life histories: isotopic investigation of archaeological teeth”.

Under the veski inspiring women – bridging the funding gap grant, Dr Shewan’s project aims to advance minimally destructive methodologies for multi-isotope, high spatial resolution analyses of human teeth to explore individual life histories. Our teeth preserve a time capsule of information about diet, residential mobility and environmental variation, providing information about our childhood. Using isotopic geochemistry, this allows the analysis of dental enamel to investigate the residential behaviour, habitat use and lifeways of past individuals from a range of contexts – from archaeological sites to recent forensic settings. Isotopic techniques will also be used to build baseline datasets for provenance studies for use in sourcing of cultural artefacts and agricultural product traceability.

Dr Shewan is the co-chair of the Australasian Research Cluster for Archaeological Science (ARCAS), the national body for archaeological science in Australasia, and co-leads the committee on the development of national projects in promotion of Archaeological Science. She was an expert consultant on the Korean National Commission to UNESCO and a co-lead in the supporting research project, which led to the Plain of Jars site in Laos, a key historic burial site dating back some 3,000 years, being added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In this work she used a technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) on sediments, which measured the amount of ionizing radiation absorbed by grains of quartz within the sediments, a number that can be used to calculate when the grains were last exposed to daylight.

During fieldwork for a Rock Art Australia funded project in Western Australia, Dr Shewan worked closely with young Traditional Owners from the Kimberley region. This collaboration involved knowledge sharing and Traditional Owner involvement in the project’s drone data capture methods and photogrammetry techniques.

Dr Shewan is involved with archaeology research projects across Australia and southeast Asia, and in Australian forensic science projects and interdisciplinary collaborations with Engineering (remote sensing in post-conflict environments) and Arts (cultural conservation). She has led collaborations with CSIRO (robotics), the Australian Wine Research Institute, Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, cultural agencies and Government bodies (UNESCO, DFAT, Laos, Cambodia), and small geological/environmental science businesses, resulting in ARC proposals. As a co-director, she has led four ARC Projects to successful completion.

Dr Shewan’s archaeological field research trips in Laos, Cambodia and Jordan between 2010 and 2020 included in-field training in all aspects of archaeological research for under-resourced local undergraduate and post graduate students, and heritage personnel, as a skills and capability-building effort.

Dr Shewan mentors less experienced female researchers, providing assistance with research applications and supporting cross-disciplinary elements to their research. More broadly, she has arranged mentoring for students in Laos and Cambodia by leading archaeologists, conservationists, heritage personnel, medical practitioners and humanitarian workers.