Jessica Metcalfe

I am interested in using stable isotopes and other geochemical proxies to answer archaeological and paleontological research questions. The bulk of my research has focused on understanding the ways that isotopes can be used to understand the diets and migratory activities of large herbivores, such as mammoths and bison. Since humans hunted and interacted with these animals for many millennia, understanding their environments and behaviours provides insight into human lifeways as well.

My geographic interests span many regions of North America, including the north (Yukon/Alberta), Great Basin and Colorado Plateau, Southwestern United States, and the Great Lakes region. I am interested in both very old (Paleoindian era) and recent (Late Prehistoric to modern) time periods.

Research Projects

About 1200 years ago, Athapaskan-speakers left the Canadian Subarctic and began one of the longest and most remarkable migrations in New World prehistory, ultimately making the Athapaskan/Dene language group the most widespread Native American language in North America. My SSHRC Banting project investigates the activities of the Promontory people, an Athapaskan group in transition between a Subarctic and Southwestern way of life, by studying their predominant prey, bison. Stable isotopes in animal tissues provide a record of animal behaviour and environmental conditions that is preserved after death. This project will first examine the processes that determine the isotopic compositions of modern bison, and then apply that knowledge to interpreting the incredibly well-preserved Promontory bison remains. Did Promontory people engage in long-distance scouting? Did they hunt bison at Promontory year-round, or only in specific seasons? Was the climate warm and wet, or did the late-13th century droughts affect the bison populations and Promontory people? The answers to these questions will help us understand how, when, and why Athapaskan people engaged in one of the greatest migrations in North American prehistory, and will provide information that can be used to contextualize modern environmental change and human/animal responses.

Ph.D., University of Western Ontario, 2011
M.A., University of  Western Ontario, 2005
B.Sc., University of British Columbia, 2001


I am an archaeological scientist who uses geochemical techniques (especially stable isotope analysis) to investigate interactions between humans, animals, and their environments. My M.A. research focused on understanding ancient Maya diet at Chau Hiix, Belize. During my Ph.D., my research focus shifted to improving stable isotope methodologies and understanding late Pleistocene ecological changes in North America through the study of mammoth and mastodon skeletal remains. My Killam postdoctoral research investigated late Pleistocene megafaunal ecology on the Colorado Plateau (Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon). My current research, funded by a SSHRC Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, focuses on bison ecology and human activities at the Promontory Caves, a Late Prehistoric Athapaskan archaeological site in northern Utah.

  • Metcalfe, J.Z., Longstaffe, F.J., Jass, C.J., Zazula, G.D., Keddie, G. (2016). Taxonomy, location of origin, and health status of proboscidean specimens from Western Canada investigated using stable isotope analysis. Journal of Quaternary Science 31: 126-142.
  • Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Longstaffe, F., Metcalfe, J., & Zazula, G. (2015). Solving the woolly mammoth conundrum: amino acid 15N-enrichment suggests a distinct forage or habitat. Scientific Reports, 5, 9791; doi: 10.1038/srep09791.
  • Zazula, G.D., MacPhee, R.D.E., Metcalfe, J.Z., Reyes, A.V., Brock, F., Druckenmiller, P.S., Groves, P., Harington, C.R., Hodgins, G.W.L., Kunz, M.L., Longstaffe, F.J., Mann, D.H., McDonald, H.G., Nalawade-Chavan, S., & Southon, J.R. (2014). American mastodon extirpation in the Arctic and Subarctic predates human colonization and terminal Pleistocene climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111: 18460-18465.
  • Metcalfe, J.Z. & Longstaffe, F.J. (2014). Environmental change and seasonal behavior of mastodons in the Great Lakes region inferred from stable isotope analysis. Quaternary Research 82: 366-377.
  • Metcalfe, J.Z., Longstaffe, F.J., & Hodgins, G. (2013). Proboscideans and paleoenvironments of the Pleistocene Great Lakes: Landscape, vegetation, and stable isotopes. Quaternary Science Reviews 76: 102-113.
  • Metcalfe, J.Z. & Longstaffe, F.J. (2012). Mammoth tooth enamel growth rates inferred from stable isotope analysis and histology. Quaternary Research 77(3): 424-432.
  • Metcalfe, J.Z., Longstaffe, F.J., Ballenger, J.A.M., & Haynes, C.V. (2011). Isotopic paleoecology of Clovis mammoths from Arizona. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108: 17916-17920. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1113881108
  • Metcalfe, J.Z., Longstaffe, F.J. & Zazula, G.D. (2010). Nursing, weaning, and tooth development in woolly mammoths from Old Crow, Yukon, Canada: Implications for Pleistocene extinctions. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology 298: 257-270.
  • Metcalfe, J. Z., White, C. D., Longstaffe, F. J., Wrobel, G., Cook, D. C., & Pyburn, K. A. (2009). Isotopic evidence for diet at Chau Hiix, Belize: Testing regional models of hierarchy and heterarchy. Latin American Antiquity 20(1): 15-36.
  • Metcalfe, J. Z., Longstaffe, F. J., & White, C. D. (2009). Method-dependent variations in stable isotope results for structural carbonate in bone bioapatite. Journal of Archaeological Science 36: 110-121.


ARCL 425 002 Nutritional Archaeology
ARCL 103 002 Introduction to Archaeology