Staff profile

Dr Colin Smith

Associate Professor

College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce
Humanities and Social Sciences
Department of Archaeology and History

Office MB 168, Laboratory LIMS2 321, Melbourne (Bundoora)


BSc (Hons) Bradford, MSc Huddersfield, PhD Newcastle

Area of study


Brief profile

Colin Smith’s primary research area is biomolecular archaeology, and in particular investigating the preservation of biomolecules in archaeological skeletal tissue and how this affects the information they contain.  His most recent research has focused on the application of stable isotope analysis to ancient proteins with a particular interest in analyzing them at the amino acid level.  He currently leads the LC IRMS facility at La Trobe University, which is housed in the School of Molecular Sciences.

Previous research highlights include the development of the concept and models of ‘Thermal Age’ degradation of ancient DNA (with Professor Matthew Collins as well as concepts of bone diagenesis and protein degradation (collagen and osteocalcin) in archaeological bone.

Prior to coming to La Trobe, Colin studied Archaeological Science, Analytical Chemistry, and a PhD in Geochemistry in the UK, and has also conducted research at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (Madrid), in Uppsalla and Stockholm Universities, Durham University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig).

Scopus ID 7501659689

Research interests

Archaeological Science

- Ancient proteins

- Archaeological chemistry

- Biomolecular archaeology

- Bone diagenesis and taphonomy

- Stable isotope analysis (bone collagen and hair)

Teaching units

ARC3SCI - Archaeological Science


Compound specific isotope ratio mass spectrometry for carbon isotopes via LC-IRMS is available, for archaeological and environmental applications

Recent publications

Raghavan, M., Steinrücken, M., Harris, K., Schiffels, S., Rasmussen, S.,  DeGiorgio, M., Albrechtsen, A., Valdiosera, C., Ávila-Arcos, M.C., Malaspinas, A.-S., et al., (2015) Genomic evidence for the Pleistocene and recent population history of Native Americans, Science, 349, 6250, Article number aab3884

Blyth A. J. & Smith, C. I. (2015). Applications of liquid chromatography - isotope ratio mass spectrometry in geochemistry and archaeological science. In Principles and Practice of Analytical Techniques in the Geosciences, Ed Grice, K. Royal Society of Chemistry, UK pp. 313-323.

Guiry, E. J.,  Staniforth, M., Nehlich, O., Grimes, V., Smith, C., Harpley, B., Noël, S. & Richards M. P. (2015) Tracing historical animal husbandry, meat trade, and food provisioning: A multi-isotopic approach to the analysis of shipwreck faunal remains from the William Salthouse, Port Phillip, Australia, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 1, 21-28.

Raghavan, M., Espregueira Themudo, G., Smith C. I., Zazula, G. & Campos, F. P. (2014). Musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) of the mammoth steppe: tracing palaeodietary and palaeoenvironmental changes over the last 50,000 years using carbon and nitrogen isotopic analysis, Quaternary Science Reviews, 102, 192-201.

Colonese, A. C., Collins, M., Lucquin, A., Eustace, M., Hancock, Y., Ponzoni, R., Smith, C., Mora, A., DeBlasis, P., Figuti L., Wesolowski, V., Plens, C., Eggers, S., Farias, D., Gledhill, A. & Craig, O. (2014). Long-term resilience of late Holocene coastal subsistence system in southeastern South America. PLoS One. 9(4): e93854. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093854.

Guiry, E. J., Harpley, B., Jones, Z., & Smith, C. (2014). Integrating Stable Isotope and Zooarchaeological Analyses in Historical Archaeology: A Case Study from the Urban Nineteenth-Century Commonwealth Block Site, Melbourne, Australia. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 18, 415-440.

Strzepek, K. M., Thresher, R. E., Revill, A. T., Smith, C. I., Komugabe, A. F. & Fallon, S. F. (2014). Preservation effects on the isotopic and elemental composition of skeletal structures in the deep-sea bamboo coral Lepidisis spp. (Isididae). Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, 99, 199-206.

Blyth, A. J., Smith, C. & Drysdale R. N. (2013). A new perspective on the δ13C signal preserved in speleothems using LC-IRMS analysis of bulk organic matter and compound specific stable isotope analysis. Quaternary Science Reviews, 75, 143-149.

Blyth, A. J., Shutova, Y. & Smith, C. (2013). δ13C analysis of bulk organic matter in speleothems using liquid chromatography–isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Organic Geochemistry, 55, 22-25.

Nehlich, O., Fuller, B. T., Jay, M., Mora, A., Nicholson, R. A., Smith, C. I., & Richards, M. P. (2011).  Application of sulphur isotope ratios to examine weaning patterns and freshwater fish consumption in Roman Oxfordshire, UK. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 75, 4963-4977.

Choy, K., Smith, C. I., Fuller, B. T. & Richards, M. P. (2010).  Investigation of amino acid δ13C signatures in bone collagen to reconstruct human palaeodiets using liquid chromatography - isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 74, 6093-6111.

Fernández-Jalvo, Y., Andrews, P., Pesquero, D., Smith, C., Marín-Monfort, D., Sánchez, B., Geigl, E-M. & Alonso, A. (2010).  Early  bone diagenesis in temperate environments Part I: Surface  features and histology.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 288, 62-81.

Older publications

Richards, M, Grimes, V., Smith, C., Smith, T., Harvati, K., Hublin, J-J., Karkanas, P. & Panagopoulou, E. (2009). Response to Nowell and Horstwood (2009). Journal of Archaeological Science, 36, 1657-1658.

Smith, C. I., Fuller, B. T., Choy, K., Richards, M. P. (2009). A three phase liquid chromatographic method for δ13C analysis of amino acids from biological protein hydrolysates using LC-IRMS. Analytical Biochemistry, 390, 165-172.

Rasmussen, M., Scott Cummings, L., Gilbert, M. T. P., Bryant, V., Smith, C., Jenkins, D. L. & Willerslev, E. (2009). Response to Comment by Goldberg et al. on "DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America" Science, 325, 148.

Fernández Jalvo, Y., Hovsepian-King, T., Moloney, N., Yepiskoposyan, L., Andrews, P., Murray, J., Safarian, V., Asryan, L., Nieto Díaz, M., Domínguez Alonso, P., Marín Monfort, Mª. D., Mkrtichyan, E., Smith, C., Bessa Correia, V., Ditchfield, P., Geigl, E. M., van der Made, J., Torres, T., Scott, L., Allue, E., Cáceres, I., Sevilla, P., Hardy, K., Grün, R., Melkonyan, A., Campos, R., Sanz Martín, T., Hayrabetyan, H. & Balasanyan, G. (2009). Chapter XVII. Azokh Caves excavations 2002-2006. Middle upper Palaeolithic transition in Nagorno-Karabagh In Notas para la historia reciente del Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales. Homenaje a María Dolores Soria Mayor. Edited by Lobon-Cervia, J & Morales, J. Madrid, Monografías del CSIC: pgs 325-338 & 403-410.

Richards, M, Harvati, K., Grimes, V., Smith, C., Smith, T., Hublin, J-J., Karkanas, P. & Panagopoulou, E. (2008). Strontium isotope evidence of Neanderthal mobility at the site of Lakonis, Greece using laser-ablation PIMMS. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35, 1251-1256.

Buckley, M., Walker, A., Ho, S. Y. W., Yang, Y., Smith, C., Ashton, P., Thomas Oates, J., Cappellini, E., Koon, H., Penkman, K., Elsworth, B., Ashford, D., Solazzo, C., Andrews, P., Strahler, J., Shapiro, B., Ostrom, P., Gandhi, H., Miller, W., Raney, B., Zylber, M. I., Gilbert, M. T. P., Prigodich, R. V., Ryan, M., Rijsdijk, K. F., Janoo, A. & Collins M. J. (2008). Comment on “Protein Sequences from Mastadon and Tyrannosaurus rex Revealed by Mass Spectrometry”. Science, 319, 33.

Smith, C. I., Faraldos, M. & Fernandez-Jalvo, Y. (2008). The precision of porosity measurements: effects of sample pre-treatment on porosity measurements of modern and archaeological bone. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 266, 175-182.

Smith, C. I., Nielsen-Marsh, C. M., Jans, M. M. E. & Collins, M. J. (2007). Bone diagenesis in the European Holocene I: Patterns and Mechanisms. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34, 1485-1493.

Nielsen-Marsh, C. M., Smith, C. I., Jans, M., Nord, A., Kars, H. & Collins, M. J. (2007). Bone Diagenesis in the European Holocene II: Taphonomic and Environmental Considerations. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34, 1523-1531.

Svensson, E. M., Anderung, C., Baubliene, J., Persson, P., Malmström, H., Smith, C., Vretemark, M., Daugnora, L. & Götherström A. (2007). Tracing genetic change over time using nuclear SNPs in ancient and modern cattle. Animal Genetics, 38, 378–383.

Smith, C., Jans, M., Nielsen-Marsh, C. & Collins, M. (2007). Human and animal taphonomy in Europe: A physical and chemical point of view, pp71-79. In, Survey on Human and Fauna Relationships, an Archaeozoological Approach. Edited by Eduardo Corona-M. y J. Arroyo-Cabrales. BAR S1627, Oxford, ISBN 9781407300412.

Valdiosera, C., García, N., Dalén, L., Smith, C., Kahlke, R-D., Lidén, K., Angerbjörn, A., Arsuaga, J. L. & Götherström, A. (2006). Typing single polymorphic nucleotides in mitochondrial DNA as a way to access Middle Pleistocene DNA. Biology Letters, 2, 601-603.

Smith, C. I., Craig, O. E., Prigodich, R. V., Nielsen-Marsh, C. M., Jans, M. M. E., Vermeer, C. & Collins, M. J. (2005). Bone Diagenesis and the survival of Osteocalcin in Archaeological Bone. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32, 105-113.

Gilbert, M. T. P., Barnes, I., Collins, M. J., Smith, C., Eklund, J., Goudsmit, J., Poinar, H. & Cooper, A. News and Comments: The long-term survival of ancient DNA in Egypt: Response to Zink and Nerlich (2003). (2005) American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 128, 110-114.

Gilbert, M. T. P., Rudbeck, L., Willerslev, E., Hansen, A. J., Smith, C., Penkman, K., Prangenberg, K., Nielsen-Marsh, C., Jans, M., Arthur, P., Lynnerup, N., Turner-Walker, G., Biddle, M., Kjølbye-Biddle, B. & Collins, M. (2005). Biochemical and physical correlates of DNA contamination in archaeological human bones and teeth excavated at Matera, Italy. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32, 785-793.

Anderung, C., Bouwman, A., Persson, P., Carretero J. M., Ortega A. I., Elburg, R., Smith, C., Arsuaga, J. L., Ellegren, H. & Götherström, A. (2005). Prehistoric contacts over the Straits of Gibraltar indicated by genetic analysis of Iberian Bronze Age cattle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (USA), 102, 8431-8435.

Götherström, A., Anderung, C., Hellborg, L., Elburg, R., Smith, C., Bradley, D.G. & Ellegren, H. (2005). Cattle domestication in the Near East was followed by hybridization with aurochs bulls in Europe. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 272, 2345-2350.

Jans, M. M. E., Nielsen-Marsh, C. M., Smith, C. I., Collins, M. J. & Kars, H. (2004).  Characterisation of microbial attack on archaeological bone.  Journal of Archaeological Science, 31, 87-95.

Collins, M. J., Nielsen-Marsh, C. M., Hiller, J., Smith, C. I., Roberts, J. P., Prigodich, R. V., Wess, T. J., Csapo, J., Millard, A., Turner-Walker, G., (2003).  Bone Diagenesis: implications for heritage management.  In, The Future from the Past: Archaeolozoology in Wildlife Conservation and Heritage Management.  Edited by Roel C. G. M. Lauwerier & Ina Plug.  Oxbow Books.

Smith, C. I., Chamberlain, A. T., Riley, M. S., Stringer, C. B. & Collins, M. J. (2003).  The thermal history of human fossils and the likelihood of successful DNA amplification.  Journal of Human Evolution, 45, 203-217.

Roberts, S. J., Smith, C. I., Millard, A. R. & Collins, M. J. (2002).  The Taphonomy of Cooked Bone: Characterising boiling and its physico-chemical effects.  Archaeometry, 44, 485-494.

Jans, M. M. E., Kars, H., Nielsen-Marsh, C. M., Smith, C. I., Nord, A. G., Arthur, P. & Earl, N. (2002).  In situ preservation of Archaeological Bone. A histological study within a multidisciplinary approach.  Archaeometry, 44, 343-352.

Collins, M. J., Nielsen-Marsh, C. M., Hiller, J., Smith, C. I., Roberts, J. P., Prigodich, R. V., Wess, T. J., Csapo, J., Millard, A. & Turner-Walker, G. (2002).  The survival of organic matter in bone: a review.  Archaeometry, 44, 383-394.

Smith, C. I., Nielsen-Marsh, C. M., Jans, M. M. E., Arthur, P., Nord, A. G. & Collins M. J. (2002).  The Strange case of Apigliano:  Early ‘Fossilisation’ of Medieval Bone in Southern Italy.  Archaeometry, 44, 405-415.

Smith, C. I., Chamberlain, A. T., Riley, M. S., Cooper, A., Stringer, C. B. & Collins, M. J. (2001).  Neanderthal DNA: Not just old but old and cold?  Nature, 410, 771-772.

Research projects

Molecular Archaeology: Carbon isotope analysis of amino acids as a means to investigate diets, physiology, metabolism and palaeoenvironments.