Dr Alessia Nava received her PhD from the Department of Environmental Biology of the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, in February 2017. Her research project was focused on the interrelations between the dental enamel growth rates and the reconstruction of the infants’ biological life history, with attention on the characterisation of the prenatal (that which forms in utero) component of the deciduous dental enamel. The research was conducted on modern, archaeological and fossil human samples, using both classic and virtual (synchrotron-based) histology.
Dr Nava has participated in field excavations since 2004 at many sites across the Italian peninsula and islands, alongside ones in Oman and Serbia. Moreover, she participated at and co-directed (2016-18) the Archaeological and Anthropological Mission in the sedimentary basin in Buya (1Ma), Eritrean Danakil.
Before coming to the University of Kent, Alessia carried out postdoctoral research at the Oral and Maxillofacial Sciences Department of the Sapienza University of Rome, continuing to investigate childhood growth and dietary patterns through dental enamel.
Dr Nava joined the School of Anthropology and Conservation in September 2020 as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow to work on her project entitled 'Weaning Practices in Ancient Italy (WEAN-IT)'. Her project will investigate weaning age during the Neolithic revolution and origins of urbanism in Italy, using histological and chemical signals from archaeological and modern samples of bones and teeth. The aim is to provide a new insight into the biocultural consequences of this critical period during recent human evolution.
Dr Nava's research interests focus on:
Currently, Alessia is investigating the reconstruction of weaning age and its variability during recent human evolution to determine how this relates to the ways human societies developed. Analysing dental remains of infants can provide direct evidence of weaning in ancient humans at very high (weekly or even daily) time resolution. Through the analysis of dental enamel that forms before birth (i.e. the prenatal enamel), the mother’s diet, health and mobility during pregnancy can be examined, and the role of women evaluated from an evolutionary perspective.
Dr Nava uses a recent methodological development of spatially-resolved, trace-elemental compositions in dental enamel to identify the change from an exclusively breast-milk diet to one that includes non-milk foods, and to assess the mother’s diet. Indeed, the chemical signals of diet will be aligned with high-resolution histology to provide the exact timing when weaning began and, ideally, when the complete cessation of breast-milk supply occurred. The dietary changes can be correlated with the growth rates of dental tissues to develop statistical models on weaning.