skip to primary navigationskip to content

Dr Jenna M Dittmar

Dr Jenna M Dittmar

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Biological Anthropology

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
University of Cambridge
Downing Street

Cambridge CB2 3ER

Research Interests

As a specialist in human osteology and paleopathology, Jenna utilises a multidisciplinary approach to questions about diseases and medical intervention in past populations. Much of her previous work (MSc, PhD) has focused on how the examination of tool marks on dissected individuals from hospital cemeteries can increase our understanding of medical history. Her PhD titled, 'An archaeological examination of the role of human dissection in anatomical education in England from 1600-1900', yielded unparalleled insight into how human dissection was performed and evolved over time.

Jenna is presently involved in the Wellcome funded project entitled, ‘After the Plague: Heath in Medieval Cambridge’. This multi-disciplinary project examines the historical and biological effects of the catastrophic Medieval plague epidemic, known as the Black Death. Archaeological, historical and genetic (aDNA) studies will enable a discussion about the previously unstudied consequences of this major epidemic by revealing how the plague changed human well-being, activity, mobility health and the genetic constitution of Europe.

In parallel to this, Jenna is the lead palaeopathological investigator on a collaborative project entitled, ‘Health, Disease and Diet in the Qijia Culture of the Chinese Bronze Age (2,300-1,700 BCE),’ which examines diseases in an ancient Chinese population.


2016-2020: Research Associate, ‘After the Plague: Health in Medieval Cambridge’.  Project Directors: Professor John Robb (University of Cambridge)

2015-2025: Co-Investigator, ‘Diet and Disease in Bronze Age Northwest China’. Project Directors: Toomas Kivisild (University of Cambridge), Piers Mitchell (University of Cambridge) and Hui Wang (Institute of Archaeology, Gansu, China)

2012 -2016: Head Palaeopathology Investigator,An archaeological examination of human dissection and its role in anatomical education in England from 1600-1900’. Project Supervisor: Piers Mitchell (Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge)



I am involved in the teaching of the following courses:

  • Paper BAN8 - Health and disease

Key Publications

Dittmar J and Mitchell PD (2016) From cradle to grave via the dissection room: The role of foetal and infant bodies in anatomical education from the late 1700s to early 1900s. Journal of Anatomy. Online 30 June. doi: 10.1111/joa.12515

Dittmar J, Errickson D and Caffell A (2015) The comparison and application of silicone casting material for trauma analysis on well preserved archaeological skeletal remains. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. Volume 4, 559-564. doi: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.10.008

Dittmar J and Mitchell PD (2015) New criteria for identifying and differentiating human dissection and autopsy in archaeological assemblages. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 3, 73-79. doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.05.019


Other Publications

Dittmar J (In press) ‘Cut to the bone’: The enhancement and analysis of skeletal trauma using scanning electron microscopy. In: Errickson D and Thompson T, Human Remains – Another Dimension: The Application of 3D Imaging in the Funerary Context. Publication date: December 2016.

Dittmar J and Mitchell PD (2015) The afterlife of Laurence Sterne (1713-68): body snatching, dissection and the role of Cambridge anatomist Charles Collignon. Journal of Medical Biography, Volume 24(4), 559-565. doi:10.1177/0967772015601584

Dittmar J (2014) Book review: Medical museums past, present, future by Alberti and Hallam. Journal for the Social History of Medicine, Volume 27(2), 250.

Dittmar-Blado J and Wilson AS (2012) Microscopic examination of the tool marks. In: Powers N and Fowler L, Doctors, dissection and resurrection men: excavations in the 19th-century burial ground of the London Hospital, 2006. MOLA Monograph Series 62. London: Laverham Press, 180-184.