Harvard Archaeology Student Nour Khachemoune Named for Most Interesting Thesis

January 13, 2023
Student Nour Khachemoune by front door of Harvard Peabody Museum

Named for "most interesting thesis," current Archaeology student Nour Khachemoune ('23) is using chemical analyses to study rabbit and turkey bones from a Mayan site in Honduras to understand how humans changed the diet of animals in the Classic Mayan Period.

Selected portions of The Harvard Crimson's full story are below.


Nour L. Khachemoune ’23 says her friends fondly call her NBC — the Nour Broadcasting Company — because she seems to “know everything that’s going on.” This curiosity is also the driving force behind her ambitious, interdisciplinary thesis...

“Nobody really knows what these bones are, or what we can determine from them,” she explains to me as we walk through the Archeology department, nested on the fifth floor of the Peabody Museum. “Harvard has a long history of collecting things and leaving them in storage and not doing much with them.”

Khachemoune begins her work by studying bone collagen to determine if the fragments actually belong to the species on the museum’s labels. She finds the tactile work great fun — and making novel discoveries about the species of a particular fossil (which is rare for an undergraduate) is just an added bonus.

We’ve found that the actual species ID is completely different from what the Peabody thought it was,” she says, adding that the museum has been receptive to changing labels when this has happened multiple times...

Scientific archeology is a burgeoning field that allows researchers to tackle big questions about how societies form and fall. For example, understanding animal diet and domestication can be a portal to understanding the health of a society. Khachemoune says we don’t know a lot about Mayan civilizations, from their language to how they traded with other cultures. Her own thesis could help researchers understand how food sources connect to their civilizations’ development and demise.


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