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Ms. Sarah E. Seeley

Research Student

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Research Student in the Department of Archaeology  


Academic Background

MSc Palaeoanthropology and Palaeolithic Archaeology, with distinction, from the University College London (2019). Dissertation title: Taphonomic Comparisons of Dinosaur Bonebeds and Early Hominin Archaeology Sites

B.S. in Geology with a Minor in Music from Brigham Young University - Provo (2010)

Research Topic

Investigating Prehistoric Mortuary Behavior through Osteophageous Insect Traces


Archaeological approaches to early mortuary behavior and its use in determining the cognitive and symbolic experiences of extinct hominin lineages beyond Homo sapiens remains controversial. Evidence nevertheless appears to be growing at various sites such as Rising Star Cave, Sima de Los Huesos, and Shanidar Cave that diverse hominins moved, gathered, or buried remains of conspecifics. Related studies in forensic science and paleontology have shown the utility of insects for understanding post-mortem histories. Forensics uses the infestation behavior of various arthropods to better understand the decomposition of corpses, to estimate the time since death, and to piece together events surrounding human death. In paleontology, insect damage on fossil bone offers insight into depositional environments and taphonomic sequences. The emerging field of funerary archaeoentomology builds on both forensic and paleontological approaches to interpret nuances in past Homo sapiens funerary practices. There is a handful of literature reporting insect traces on early human remains. However, there is no existing literature exploring the potential use of insect traces to assess patterns of deliberate regard for the dead, or to consider varieties of specialized treatment of the dead in extinct hominins. There is also a profound paucity of osteophageous arthropod traces and behaviors reported across the paleontological, forensic, entomological, and archaeological literature that requires further investigation.

My project has two aims. First, it seeks to expand existing knowledge and evolve upon current methodological approaches to address the overall paucity of osteophageous arthropod literature that affects several disciplines. Second, it seeks to develop richer taphonomic case studies of early human decomposition environments, with the potential of gaining new insights into past hominin behaviors. 

I have two primary questions:

1) What do arthropod traces on animal and human skeletal remains reveal about ancient decay patterns and broader taphonomic environments for specific early human case studies?

2) In what ways might we expect potential early anthro-thanatological activities to have influenced necrophagous and osteophagous insect community profiles as hominin bodies decomposed, and how can we detect these potential influences in the taphonomic record?

The more we learn about the phenomenon of arthropod osteophagy in decomposition, depositional, and diagenetic contexts, the better we can combine both modern patterns of arthropod behavior and fossil evidence to reconstruct taphonomic profiles and potentially interpret anthropological mortuary behaviors.

Honors & Scholarships

Durham Doctoral Studentship - Faculty of Social Sciences & Health - 2021-2024

Julie M. Baer Scholarship, BYU Department of Geological Sciences - 2008-2009

K. Anthony Snow Scholarship, BYU Department of Geological Sciences 2007-2008

Brigham Young University Chapter of the National Society of Collegiate
Scholars 2007-2010

Brigham Young University Chapter of Phi Eta Sigma (inducted 2007)

George G. Hansen Scholarship, BYU Department of Geological Sciences 2006-2007


Seeley, S.E., Reeves, J.S., Douglas, M., Braun, D.R. (2018) Lithic Taphonomy and Digital Hydrogeologic Models: A GIS Based Approach to Understanding the Formational History of Surface Assemblages. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Bybee, S.M., Seeley, S.E., Branham, M.A., Whiting, M.F., Crandall, K.A. (2010) Phylogenty of Holodonata: Can DNA inform more than 300 million years of morphology? Contributed paper, annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America.

Seeley, S., Britt, B. (2010) The Tale of the Missing Epiphyses: A Taphonomic Investigation of the Dinosaur National Monument Sauropod Quarry. Oral Presentation (student competition), BYU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences Spring Research Conference.
*Won the undergraduate Geology Department Award for 2010.

Past Teaching Experience

Adjunct Professor, Utah Valley University.
Courses taught:

  • ANTH 3830 Biology & Culture - 2021
  • ANTH 2030 Archaeological Method & Theory - 2020

Teaching Assistant, Brigham Young University (Provo, UT).
Lab sessions taught:

  • Intro to Geology, Summer 2010 under Prof. Randy Skinner
  • Physical Science, Fall 2009 under Dr. Jani Radebaugh
  • Geology for Engineers, Fall 2008 under Prof. Eugene Clark
Related Experience

Barnham Paleolithic Research Excavation Student Scholarship, British Museum & Natural History Museum London (Suffolk, United Kingdom) - Summer 2019

British Museum Volunteer, Franks House (London, England) - 2018-2019

Koobi Fora Field School (Koobi Fora, Kenya) - Summer 2017

Music Component Intern - NASA BEST Student Multimedia Internship (Through University of Maryland, Baltimore) - 2008

Lab Technician, BYU Museum of Paleontology (Provo, UT) - 2006-2008

Research interests

  • Paleolithic Archaeology
  • Osteophagous and Necrophagous Insect Taphonomy
  • Hominin Mortuary Behaviour
  • Site Formation Processes
  • Prehistoric Funerary Practices