Skip to content
Open menu Close menu

Dr Hannah Koon

PositionLecturer in Archaeological Sciences
LocationK32, Richmond building
DepartmentSchool of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences
Telephone+44 (0) 1274 236491

Research Interests (key words only)

Collagen, Human Osteology, Bone chemistry, Diagenesis, Dietary Isotopes, Cooking, Metabolic diseases, Proteomics, Electron microscopy

Teaching and Supervisory Responsibilities

  • Hannah is involved in the following team-taught UG and M level courses: Archaeometry, (AR8124D); Topics in Archaeometry (AR7136M); Palaeopathology (AD8124T); Human Osteoarchaeology (AR5002D); Instrumental Methods of Analysis (AR4201D); Techniques and Interpretation in Instrumental Analysis (AR8136M); Light Stable Isotope short course (LIF4005M)
  • Hannah contributes lectures and seminars which focus on the analysis and interpretation of stable isotopes from skeletal tissues
  • She also contributes lectures and practicals on palaeopathology in particular those that relate to metabolic and nutritional disorders
  • Hannah supervises undergraduate and master’s dissertation projects that relate to biomolecular archaeology and palaeopathology


Hannah Koon joined the department in 2012 as a lecturer in Archaeological Science. Her background is in collagen chemistry and biomolecular archaeology. From her Master’s degree onwards, she has been actively involved in research relating to archaeological bone. She uses multiple approaches (e.g. electron microscopy (TEM), calorimetry (DSC), amino acid racemisation, light stable isotopes and proteomics) to probe the structure and composition of bone collagen in order to address archaeological questions.

Her NERC funded PhD research ("Detecting cooked bone in the archaeological record") focused on examining the deterioration of mineralised collagen. In particular she has examined how the presence of mineral and covalent cross-linking can each minimise the extent to which thermal alteration affects collagen. This work has led to two new theories to explain the mechanisms of collagen degradation ‘all-or-nothing’ and 'link-lock'. The link-lock hypothesis was developed with her CASE partner, the British School of Leather Technology, and is now part of the curriculum taught to leather chemists at the school to explain the stabilization of collagen under different tanning agents.

Hannah’s work using electron microscopy (TEM) to assess degraded collagen has led to a collaboration with English Heritage to inform on the future management of archaeological sites; TEM was successfully used to identify accelerated degradation of bone following the re-watering of an iron-age archaeological site (Fiskerton, Lincoln) and to interpret a possible “jelly bone” from Star Carr. In addition her methods to detect artificially cross-linked bone collagen have been used by the US Armed Forces DNA Laboratories (JPAC-CIL).

With this microscopy approach Hannah has also been able to find direct evidence of cooked bone in the archaeological record. The technique has been tested on 9th-10th century bovine bone from a processing site at Coppergate, York. The technique is currently the only method able to detect low-temperature cooked bone from archaeological sites and has received media attention through a National Geographic documentary (‘Lost cannibals of Europe’, Jan 2011).

In recent years Hannah has expanded her research on archaeological bone collagen to include cutting edge proteomic and isotopic techniques. She has recently developed a new method to detect sub-clinical scurvy in archaeological populations as part of a Wellcome Research Fellowship. Using mass spectrometry to identify site specific hydroxylation-modifications on pathological and non-pathological collagens she has been able to identify biomarkers for sub-clinical scurvy. Hannah has also recently collaborated with the Tuross lab (Harvard) where she used O and H isotopes to pin-point potential pathological collagen in individuals who, because of seasonal migration, have spent periods nutritionally stressed. The results, though preliminary, suggest that this combination of stable isotope and proteomic analysis of collagen could have great potential for studying diet and health among early migrating populations.

Study History

  • BSc in Chemistry with Archaeology from the University of Reading
  • MSc in Forensic Anthropology from the University of Bradford

She began her PhD at Newcastle University, before moving with her supervisor to the University of York, where she completed her doctoral research in Biomolecular Archaeology in 2006.

Professional History

  • 2010-2012 Intelligence Community Post-doctoral Researcher, Dept. Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University: Measuring oxygen isotopes in hair keratin
  • 2009-2010 Post-doctoral Research Assistant, Dept. of Archaeology, University of York: ‘Fish farming tracked from fragmentary remains using a universal bone barcode’ (AHRC)
  • 2008 Tutor, Centre for Life Long Learning, University of York: Unearthing our ancestors: The archaeology of human bones from York
  • 2008 Visiting Research Fellow, Dept. of Anthropology, Harvard University
  • 2006-2009 Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Dept. of Archaeology (& Chemistry), University of York: Limeys: a combined approach to detect sub-clinical scurvy in the archaeological record (Wellcome Trust)
  • 2002 Osteologist, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh: Cataloguing skeletal remains from Bronze Age sites around Scotland (Russell Trust, Historic Scotland)

Research Areas

Hannah’s research interests focus on two related areas; the first is understanding the mechanisms by which biological materials degrade as a result of taphonomic or diagenetic processes, and how these can impact on our ability to retrieve molecular information from archaeological remains. Secondly, she is broadly interested in the study of human biological remains from historic time periods, in particular how evidence of food processing and of disease on bones can be used to provide insights into past diet and health.

Most of her research to date has focused on exploring the bone protein, collagen, at different orders of magnitude from the gross to the molecular scale. The findings from this work have been used; to detect low temperature cooked bone and embalmed bone, to study how bone degrades in different burial environments and to develop a new model for the thermal stabilization of collagen. Most recently she has used mass-spectrometric analysis of collagen to identify a disease biomarker using proteomics and to track the seasonal movement of 16th-17th century European seafarers using stable isotopes.


Koon, H.E.C. and Pendery, S. in press Scurvy’s impact on European colonization in Northeastern North America: documentary and physical evidence. In Pope P.E. and Lewis-Simpson, S. (Eds.) Exploring Atlantic Transitions: Archaeologies of Permanence and Transience in New Found Lands. Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology Monograph no. 7. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell and Brewer

Koon H.E.C. (2012) Using transmission electron microscopy imaging to detect cooked bone. In Bell, L. (Ed.) Forensic microscopy and skeletal tissues: methods and protocols. Methods in Molecular Biology vol 915, Humana Press, Springer ISBN 978-1-61779-876-1

Milner, N., Conneller, C., Elliott, B., Koon, H., Panter, I., Penkman, K., Taylor, B & Taylor, M. (2011). From riches to rags: organic deterioration at Star Carr. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(10): 2818-2832

Hermann Ehrlich, H., Deutzmann, R., Brunner, E., Cappellini, E., Koon, H., Solazzo, C., et al. (2010) Mineralization of the metre-long biosilica structures of glass sponges is templated on hydroxylated collagen. Nature Chemistry (2): 1084–1088

Koon H.E.C., Collins M., O'Connor, T. and Covington T. 2010 Sorting the butchered from the boiled. Journal of Archaeological Science 37(1): 62-69

Ottoni, C., Koon, H.E.C., Collins, M.J., Penkman K., Rickards, O. and Craig O.E. (2009) DNA Preservation of ancient DNA in thermally damaged archaeological animal bone. Naturwissenschaften 96(2): 267-278

Williams J., Fell V., Graham K., Simpson P., Collins M., Koon, H., and Griffin R. (2008) Re-watering of the Iron Age causeway at Fiskerton, England. Geoarchaeological and Bioarchaeological Studies 10, VU University, Amsterdam p 181-198

Turner-Walker G., Peacock, E. E., Gilbert T. and Koon, H.E.C. (2008) An Experimental Study of Morphological and Chemical Degradation of Bone in Wetlands: Potential for DNA Extraction and Amplification. Geoarchaeological and Bioarchaeological Studies 10, VU University, Amsterdam p75-84

Buckley, M., Walker, A., Ho, S., 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., Gilbert, T., Prigodich, R., Ryan, M., Rijsdijk, K., Janoo, A., Collins, M, (2008) Weighing the mass spectrometric evidence for authentic Tyrannosaurus rex collagen. Science 319: 33C

Koon, H.E.C., Parsons, T.A., Collins, M.J., Loreille, O. and Covington, T. (2008) Diagnosing the problem of DNA extraction at Punchbowl. Forensic Science International 178(2-3): 171-177

Matthew Collins, Enrico Cappellini, Michael Buckley, Kirsty E. H. Penkman, Rebecca C. Griffin and Hannah E. Koon (2008) Chapter 8 Ancient proteins: what remains to be detected? In Holger Schutkowski (Ed.) Between Biology and Culture, Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge p 165-185

Covington, A.D., Song, L., Suparno, O., Koon, H.E.C. and Collins, M.J. (2008) Link-Lock: an explanation of the chemical stabilisation of collagen. J. Soc. Leather Technol. Chem. Leather 92 (1) 1-7

Share this

Upcoming events

View all events »