Prof. Dr. Alice Toso


Bonn Center for ArchaeoSciences (BoCAS)
Institut für Archäologie und Kulturanthropologie
AVZ III, Römerstraße 164
D-53117 Bonn
Phone: +49 228 73 7325

© Barbara Frommann

Academic Profile

My research and research led teaching interests fall into two broad categories: social inequalities and identity, and human-environment interaction explored through biomolecular and bioarchaeological techniques.

During my research, I became deeply intrigued by the notion of identity and its connection to heritage, social disparities and the life course in historical societies. Factors such as socio-economic status, religious beliefs, gender, and age have been instrumental in shaping one's sense of self. The close relationship between the different social, cultural, political environments and the formation of the identity in the past is one of the most fascinating yet challenging topics to explore. Below you can find a brief overview of projects I am currently developing on several aspects of the human past experience from childhood to migrations, transatlantic mobility and urbanism in the Mongolian steppe.


Childhood in the past

An associated project related to this research inquiry has been examining childhood in historical periods through stable isotopic analysis of bone and sequential tooth dentine in non-adult individuals. I have conducted analyses on numerous juveniles from various Portuguese sites ranging from the Roman to Late Medieval era, with a specific emphasis on studying human life progression. This work, funded by the University of York, in collaboration with Dr. Michelle Alexander has resulted in a manuscript detailing these findings, recently submitted for publication. Childhood diets is a topic that I have also explored in relation to prehistoric late Holocene populations in Southern Brazil and medieval Portugal (see Publications). I am interested in further expanding upon this topic. Children, being one of the most vulnerable groups, are often seen as reliable indicators of societal well-being and researching their experiences can provide insight into the impact of political and economic changes throughout history.


Urbanism in the Mongolian empire

The actions of settlers in the Eastern Asian steppe some 800 years ago transformed an exclusively nomadic landscape into a composite empire of implanted cities surrounded by vast territory, where nomadic pastoralism and urbanism co-existed side by side. Despite decades of research, we still have major questions regarding the history of these cities and the people that populated them, especially in the steppe environment, and in societies based on pastoral nomadism. Some of these are: who populated the implanted cities? How were the cities supplied? What impact had the new urban lifestyle and living environment onto the dietary practices and health of the inhabitants and surrounding population? As part of a newly DFG-funded Research Unit (FOR5438) led by prof. Bemmann, I am responsible for excavating and studying Mongol Empire period burials to reconstruct the lifeways of urban dwellers. We know very little on the populations that the Khan managed to concentrate in these newly built cities and therefore we aim to gain a better understanding on who these people were, and what impact had urbanism on their life and environment.


Transoceanic travels

I developed a keen interest in studying the cultural exchange, social dynamics, and dependencies that shaped Portuguese society during modern times. My interest for this topic started thanks to a collaboration with the University of Coimbra and the Camara Municipal of Montijo, Portugal, during which we have explored questions of mobility and dietary practices in a late medieval-early modern population associated with transatlantic Portuguese travels. A touring exhibition about the first results of this collaboration took place in 2018. More recently, for my Marie Skłodowska Curie individual fellowship project, I focused on understanding diet and health during this era of significant transoceanic travel using stable isotope analysis, ZooMS (zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry), and dental calculus proteomics. Additionally, there was potential for genetic studies to determine the geographical origins of first-generation migrants. Although I had to give up on my Marie Curie project due to accepting a professorship position at Bonn University, I intend to continue developing this project here since the University of Bonn houses the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery where I am also affiliated as a member.


Saxon Heritage in the Carpathian Basin

One area of research that I am currently focusing on involves a new collaboration with the University of Bucharest. We are studying identity and migrations in medieval Romania, which has experienced conquerors such as Saxons, Hungarians, and Turks throughout its history. Despite the significance of this region's history and its impact on contemporary political discourse in Romania, biomolecular analysis has not yet been used to investigate these topics. To address this gap, we have secured funding from the University of Bonn for a pilot study. Initial findings from our research were recently presented at the European Association of Archaeologists annual conference in Belfast (30 August–2 September 2023) during a session that I co-organized alongside Dr. Annamaria Diana and Dr. Daniela Marcu Istrate. Building upon these preliminary results, we are currently preparing a larger grant application to further advance our work in this field.

PhD in Archaeology, University of York (awarded in January 2019 with no corrections). Thesis title: "Diet and nutrition in Medieval Islamic Portugal: exploring inter-faith and social dynamics through stable isotopes"

MSc Paleopathology (Merit), University of Durham. Dissertation title: "Stress markers as indicators of social stratification: the case of two medieval cemeteries from Northern Italy"

BSc Cultural Heritage and Archaeology (Hon), University of Bologna (awarded 110/110 cum laude)

since 2021 
ongoing Junior Professor in Bioarchaeology, BoCAS, University of Bonn

Postdoctoral researcher, ICTA and Department of Prehistory, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain

Associate Lecturer, Department of Archaeology, University of York

  • Bioarchaeological studies on lifeways, diet and health of the people in the Mongol Empire, DFG - FOR 5438 (2023–2027)
  • Sarilhos Grandes between two worlds: east and west, University of Coimbra/Câmara Municipal Montijo (2018–2024)
  • Ethnic identity and mobility in Medieval Transylvania, TRA 5 - Past and Present University of Bonn (2022–2023)
  • 2023. With T. Fossile, D. F. Herbst, K. McGrath, P. C. F. Giannini, R. G. Milheira, S.-P. Gilson, J. Ferreira, D. da R. Bandeira, M. Haimovici, B. Ceretta, M. G. Bender, A. C. Colonese. "Bridging archaeology and marine conservation in the Neotropics." In PLoS One 18: e0285951. 
  • 2022. With M. Q. Bastos, V. Guida, C. Rodrigues-Carvalho, R. V. Santos, and A. C. Colonese. "Elucidating pre-columbian tropical coastal adaptation through bone collagen stable isotope analysis and bayesian mixing models: insights from Sambaqui do Moa (Brazil)." In Revista de Antropología Del Museo de Entre Ríos 7(1): 1–10.
  • 2021. With E. Hallingstad, K. McGrath, T. Fossile, C. Conlan, J. Ferreira, D. da Rocha Bandeira, P. C. F. Giannini, S.-P. Gilson, L. de Melo Reis Bueno, M. Q. R. Bastos, F. M. Borba, A. M. P. do Santos, and A. C. Colonese. "Fishing intensification as response to Late Holocene socio-ecological instability in southeastern South America." In Scientific Reports 11(1): 23506. Open access
  • 2021. With I. Chanca, C. Borges, A. C. Colonese, K. Macario, M. Fontanals-Coll, R. G. Milheira,  et al. "Food and diet of the pre-Columbian mound builders of the Patos Lagoon region in southern Brazil with stable isotope analysis." In Journal of Archaeological Science 133: 105439. Open access
  • 2021. With S. Schifano, C. Oxborough, K. McGrath, L. Spindler, A. Castro, M. Alexander, et al. "Beyond faith: Biomolecular evidence for changing urban economies in multi‐faith medieval Portugal." In American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Open access
  • 2020. With H. F. V. Cardoso, L. Marinho, I. Caldas, K. Puentes, M. Andrade, S. Assis, and T. Magalhaes. "Historical, demographic, curatorial and legal aspects of the BoneMedLeg human skeletal reference collection (Porto, Portugal)." In Anthropologischer Anzeiger 77(1): 57–73. Access 
  • 2019. With S. Gaspar, S. Garcia, R. Banha da Silva, and M. Alexander. "High status diet and health in Medieval Lisbon: a combined isotopic and osteological analysis of the Islamic population from São Jorge Castle, Portugal." Anthropological and Archaeological Sciences 11: 3699–3716. Open access
  • 2018. With L. Pezo-Lanfranco, S. Eggers, C. Petronilho, D. da Rocha Bandeira, M. Von Tersch, A. M. dos Santos, B. R. da Costa, R. Meyer, and A. C. Colonese, A.C. "Middle Holocene plant cultivation on the Atlantic Forest coast of Brazil?" Royal Society Open Science 5(9): 180432. Open access

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