BC's Fossil Bounty with Dr. Kendra Chritz

November 25, 2022
Dr. Kendra Chritz (credit: Junyi Sun)

EOAS’s very own Dr. Kendra Chritz was featured on BC’s Fossil Bounty to explain how she uses fossil teeth to investigate ancient earth environments. The episode follows her science journey from a curious childhood, to her beginnings as a young researcher reconstructing the paleoecology of ancient Ireland using stable isotope analysis of Irish Elk teeth fossils. Scroll down to watch the episode.

Today, Dr. Chritz remains fascinated by stable isotope analysis and its power to tell us about the chemistry of past environments. She continues using stable isotope methods, but now in human rather than elk fossils, to investigate the connection between humans and the environment. Dr. Chritz’s research shows that humans have had a strong influence on their environment since our very beginnings. The earliest members of our genus, Homo erectus, evolved 2.6-2.8 million years ago. Their emergence coincided with the advent of hunting tools and the conspicuous collapse of several large mammals in Africa. Since then, major ecological transformations have occurred following periods of human technological advancement, such as the advent of fire and farming. The Anthropocene, the geological epoch defined by humans’ reshaping of the environment, has been formally defined as beginning in 1950. However, Dr. Chritz challenges this definition and questions if the Anthropocene should be redefined as beginning with the very emergence of the earliest members of our lineage. 

To answer her questions about the braided evolution of mammals and Earth’s environment leading up to the Anthropocene, Dr. Chritz applies stable isotope analysis methods to the teeth of ancient mammals. In addition to human teeth, Dr. Chritz studies mammals like Oriodonts (ancestors of today’s pigs and cows). By analyzing the carbon isotopes in tooth enamel, she can reconstruct the diet of ancient organisms to determine what food was available at the time and the role different organisms played in the ecosystem.

Dr. Chritz's work with fossils has led to a passion for natural history museums. In addition to her research position, Dr. Chritwz has stepped into the role of Fossil Director at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum with the goal of preserving and highlighting BC’s abundance of fossils for future scientists and public appreciation. 

Watch the BCs Fossil Bounty Episode: