Meet Adrianne Offenbecker
First place honors in the Social Sciences category at the Graduate Student Research Symposium were awarded to Adrianne Offenbecker for her poster presentation, Examining the Role of Environmental Stress in the Etiology of Skeletal Defects.
Offenbecker hails from Pinconning, Michigan, and earned her B.S. in Business Administration at the University of Florida. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Anthropology at NC State, with a concentration in bioarchaeology, and expects to graduate in May of this year.
She says that she chose NC State for her graduate work because she ". . . was extremely impressed by the faculty of the anthropology program." The program also has great laboratories that Offenbecker says are conducive to both teaching and research.
Offenbecker finds bioarchaeology to be a fascinating field that incorporates both biological and social sciences. She states that bioarchaeology -- the study human skeletons from archaeological sites -- provides a better understanding of ". . . certain sociocultural attributes (such as social hierarchies and economic systems) of past populations through the analysis of biological remains."
Physical anthropologists study skeletal anomalies as 'proxies' for genetic affinity based on the assumption that these traits are inherited. On the other hand, clinical research has demonstrated that many of the skeletal defects may be the result of maternal nutritional deficiencies or disease stress that interferes with skeletal development during the embryonic period. Offenbecker wanted to know whether environmental stress, such as dietary deficiencies and disease, or genetics played a larger role in causing these abnormalities.
Offenbecker examined skeletal material from three Arikara sites representing different time periods. The early site (Mobridge) is pre-European contact, the middle period site (Larson) is around the time of European contact, and the later site (Leavenworth) is after European contact. Tuberculosis and smallpox introduced by the Europeans were prevalent in these populations. Previous research has suggested that the earlier site (Mobridge) experienced higher levels of stress, particularly malnutrition, due to adverse climatic conditions that resulted in food shortages. Inhabitants of the middle period site (Larson) were thought to have experienced good overall health, while the later site (Leavenworth) experienced higher levels of stress due to disease, food shortages, and deteriorating social conditions (mostly resulting from increased warfare).
Offenbecker's hypothesis was that the more stressed sites would have higher frequencies of skeletal defects if, indeed, these traits were more influenced by stress than by genetics. There were very few statistically significant differences in the 45 traits that she examined, which led her to conclude that the majority of skeletal anomalies ". . . appear to be influenced primarily by genetics, which means that these traits can be used to reconstruct kinship units within archaeological cemeteries." However, she also says that it is possible that environmental stress levels were not disparate enough between the three sites to result in defect frequency differences, which highlights the need for further research in this area.
The larger impact of her research is essential in using certain skeletal traits to reconstruct genetic relationships in prehistoric populations. Further, identifying kinship units in these societies can shed light on ". . . social organizations, marriage patterns, and other cultural practices of ancient populations."
When she's not exploring our ancient past, Offenbecker enjoys hiking, traveling, leisurely reading, watching movies, and playing board games.
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