Robert Patalano

Postdoctoral Researcher
Department of Archaeology

Main Focus

As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Palaeoenvironmental Biomarkers, I use stable carbon and hydrogen isotopes from archaeological sediments to answer questions concerning the relationships between environmental processes, cultural change, and human evolution.

My research lies at the intersection of paleoanthropology, paleoecology, and geochemistry and combines traditional archaeological field methods with area-defining laboratory techniques. A lot of my work uses different gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers, such as compound specific isotope ratio mass spectrometry, to try and understand what happened climatically and ecologically in the past, and what, if any, was the human response. I have had the privilege of travelling and doing research in the Bahamas, across Canada and the United States, China, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, and working in archaeological context ranging from 2 million years ago in eastern Africa to 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty in China. I am always willing to discuss multi-proxy approaches to climactic and environmental reconstructions directly at new archeological sites.

Beyond my research interests, I try and invest in capacity building through cross-disciplinary training and granting greater access to scientific information. Much of this work has included strengthening existing collaborative networks with the University of Dar es Salaam and the Arusha Natural History Museum to promote sustainable paleoanthropological research in eastern Africa. With the COVID pandemic and restrictions on travel, it has been difficult to meet in person with my colleagues and collaborators. Beyond the typical Zoom calls and other virtual discussions, I have been trying do video guest lectures, which I am always happy to provide recordings that can be shared with students. I recently created a YouTube channel with some recordings and hope to continue to add new content as I give additional talks. 

Additionally, Dr. Emma Finestone and I host ArchaeoChats, a discussion series with MPI-SHH collaborators from international institutions. In this series, Emma and I highlight partner contributions and showcase their essential involvement in MPI-SHH projects, which would otherwise not function without the contributions of collaborators and partners from labs around the globe and in countries in which we conduct fieldwork. ArchaeoChats is also available as a podcast, and can be found at Anchor, Spotify, and Google.

Curriculum Vitae

I earned my PhD in Archaeology from the University of Calgary, Alberta Canada. For my dissertation, I focused on the environmental context of the earliest Acheulean at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, and how early humans responded to different climate and environmental conditions roughly 1.7 million years ago. This was part of the Stone Tools, Diet, and Sociality project, Canada’s leading research partnership interested in the science of human evolutionary ecology. I earned my Master's degree in Environmental Geoscience and a graduate certificate in Geographical Information Systems from the University of New Haven, Connecticut, and a Bachelor's degree in Computer Information Systems from Bryant University, Rhode Island.

During my postdoc, I am working on several projects from China, Côte d'Ivoire, India, Iran, Kenya, Lesotho, Papa New Guinea, and Tanzania. In terms of my laboratory methods, I mainly use carbon and hydrogen isotopes from different organic compounds originating in plants to investigate how factors such as precipitation, plant type, and CO2 concentrations helped configure ancient ecosystems. I then compare these results to archaeological assemblages to see the ways in which humans adapted to diverse habitats in the past, both technologically and physically. I am also trying to do more modern ecosystem isotope calibration studies, such as how temperature changes associated with elevation influences plant carbon isotopes in soils. These types of studies are essential as they inform us on ecological changes throughout time and space, and how this is reflected in the isotopes from archaeological sediments.


2022. Mercader, J., Beley, G., Bushozi, P., Clarke, S., Favreau, J., Itambu, M., Jianfeng, Z., Koromo, S., Larter, F., Lee, P., Maley, J., Fernández-Marchena, J., Mohamed, A., Mwambwiga, A., Ngisaruni, B., Kingi, M., Olesilau, L., Patalano, R., Pedergnana, A., Sammynaiken, R., Siljedal, J., Soto, M., Tucker, L., Walde, D., Olle, A. Microbotanical residues for the study of early hominin tools. Scientific Reports 12(1): 2951.

2021. Patalano, R., Hamilton, R., Finestone, E., Amano, N., Heddell-Stevens, P., Itambu, M., Petraglia, M. D., Roberts, P. Microhabitat Variability in Human Evolution. Frontiers in Earth Science. Special Issue: Extreme Events in Human Evolution: From the Pliocene to the Anthropocene. 9:787669.

2021. Patalano, R., Roberts, P., Boivin, N., Petraglia, M., Mercader, J. Plant Wax Biomarkers in Human Evolutionary Studies. Evolutionary Anthropology. 1-14.

2021. Mercader, J., Akuku, P., Boivin, N., Bugumba, R., Bushozi, P., Camacho, A., Carter, T., Clarke, S., Cueva-Temprana, A., Durkin, P., Favreau, J., Fella, K., Haberle, S., Hubbard, S., Inwood, J., Itambu, M., Koromo, S., Lee, P., Mohammed, A., Mwambwiga, A., Olesilau, L., Patalano, R., Roberts, P., Rule, S., Saladie, P., Siljedal, G., Soto, M., Umbsaar, J., Petraglia, M. Earliest Olduvai hominins exploited unstable environments ~ 2 million years ago. Nature Communications 12, 3.

2020. Patalano, R., Zech, J., Roberts, P. Leaf Wax Lipid Extraction for Archaeological Applications. Current Protocols in Plant Biology 5, e20114.

2020. Favreau, J., Soto, M., Nair, R., Bushozi, P.M., Clarke, S., DeBuhr, C.L., Durkin, P.R., Hubbard, S.M., Inwood, J., Itambu, M., Larter, F., Lee, P., Marr, R.A., Mwambwiga, A., Patalano, R., Tucker, L., Mercader, J. Petrographic Characterization of Raw Material Sources at Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania. Frontiers in Earth Science 8.

2020. Tucker, L., Favreau, J., Itambu, M., Larter, F., Mollel, N., Mwambwiga, A., Patalano, R., Roberts, P., Soto, M., Mercader, J. Initial Assessment of Bioavailable Strontium at Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania: Potential for Early Mobility Studies. Journal of Archaeological Science 114.

2020. Soto, M., Favreau, J., Campeau, K., Carter, T., Abtosway, M., Bushozi, P.M., Clarke, S., Durkin, P.R., Hubbard, S.M., Inwood, J., Itambu, M., Koromo, S., Larter, F., Lee, P., Mwambwiga, A., Nair, R., Olesilau, L., Patalano, R., Tucker, L., Mercader, J. Fingerprinting of quartzitic outcrops at Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 29, 102010.

2019. Mercader, J., Clarke, S., Bundala, M., Favreau, J., Inwood, J., Itambu, M., Larter, F., Lee, P., Lewiski-Mcquaid, G., Mollel, N., Mwambwiga, A., Patalano, R., Soto, M., Tucker, L., Walde, D. Soil and plant phytoliths from the Acacia-Commiphora mosaics at Oldupai Gorge (Tanzania). PeerJ 7, e8211.

2019. Patalano, R. The Environmental Context of the Earliest Acheulean at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology. University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. PhD Dissertation, p. 465.

2019. Soto, M., Inwood, J., Clarke, S., Crowther, A., Covelli, D., Favreau, J., Itambu, M., Larter, S., Lee, P., Lozano, M., Maley, J., Mwambwiga, A., Patalano, R., Sammynaiken, R., Vergès, J.M., Zhu, J., Mercader, J., Structural characterization and decontamination of dental calculus for ancient starch research. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11, 4847-4872.

2018. Mercader, J., Abtosway, M., Bird, R., Bundala, M., Clarke, S., Favreau, J., Inwood, J.L., Itambu, M., Larter, F., Lee, P., Patalano, R., Soto, M., Tucker, L., Walde, D. Morphometrics of Starch Granules From Sub-Saharan Plants and the Taxonomic Identification of Ancient Starch. Frontiers in Earth Science 6.

2018. Mercader, J., Akeju, T., Brown, M., Bundala, M., Collins, M.J., Copeland, L., Crowther, A., Dunfield, P., Henry, A.G., Inwood, J., Itambu, M., Kim, J.-J., Longo, L., Oldenburg, T., Patalano, R., Sammynaiken, R., Soto, M., Tyler, R., Xhauflair, H. Exaggerated expectations in ancient starch research and the need for new taphonomic and authenticity criteria. Facets 3, 777-798.

2017. Mercader, J., Abtosway, M., Baquedano, E., William Bird, R.W., Diez-Martin, F., Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Favreau, J., Itambu, M., Lee, P., Mabulla, A., Patalano, R., Pérez-González, A., Santonja, M., Tucker, L., Walde, D. Starch Contamination Landscapes in Field Archaeology: Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Boreas.

2016. Mercader, J., Patalano, R., Favreau, J., Itambu, M., Kumbani, J., Marufu, H. Acheulean prepared core technologies from the eastern Zimbabwe Escarpment, Maunganidze (Manicaland). Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 8, 47-62.

2015. Patalano, R., Wang, Z., Leng, Q., Liu, W., Zheng, Y.F., Sun, G.P., Yang, H. Hydrological changes facilitated early rice farming in the lower Yangtze River Valley in China: A molecular isotope analysis. Geology 43, 639-642.

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