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Archaeologist Sarah Schrader receives a grant to explore the evolution of stress

Stress and overwork are massive problems today, but relatively little is known about stress factors in the past. With a look at the deep history of stress, Sarah Schrader hopes to get a better understanding of the human stress experience. Her project application received an NWO XS grant.

Cortisol in ancient hair

Archaeologists can test ancient hair for cortisol, a stress hormone, but previous research has been limited. Now Dr. Sarah Schrader has received a grant to build upon this by refining current detection methods, expanding the tissues analyzed, and assessing variation in stress over thousands of years. ‘Through an interdisciplinary and collaborative programme, called the Evolution of Stress project, we will work closely with LUMC to better understand the human stress experience’, Schrader explains. ‘Stress and overwork are massive problems today, so a deep history of stress and how it has changed through time is of significant societal relevance.’

Potentially transformative

Schrader was extremely excited to find out that this project had been selected for funding. ‘The grant scheme is ideal for this sort of research—NWO is looking for high-risk projects that are potentially transformative for disciplines, which, if successful, may serve as the foundation for a larger NWO or ERC grant. I can’t wait to get started on the lab analysis and continue working with my colleagues at LUMC!’

Understanding stress in the past and present

For the Evolution of Stress project, a research assistant will be hired who will help prepare and analyze samples. ‘We also aim to give a presentation at the International Society for Biomolecular Archaeology (ISBA) in Tartu later this year. Lastly, we plan on publishing two open-access articles and making all data publicly available.  I’m looking forward to seeing what cortisol can contribute to our understanding of the lived experience in both the past and present!’

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