CIAMS Student Spotlight: Sam Disotell

By: John Gorczyk, 
Thu, 05/21/2020

The second of our May/summer student spotlights features Sam Disotell, a CIAMS MA student finishing his second year in the program. Sam’s research trains a zooarchaeological lens on human-animal relationships at the Historic Period site of White Springs near Geneva, NY.  

Tell us about your research in a few sentences

I analyze faunal remains from the Historic Period Seneca site of White Springs. I interpret these remains through a social as well as biological lens, focusing on traditional indigenous lifeway, particularly hunting and trade, and how they are altered or maintained following conflict with European colonizers. A large part of my thesis is determining whether or not the White Springs Seneca began raising and exploiting domestic animals like sheep and pigs. Determining this can help us understand how the Seneca adapted to changing environments and cultural entanglement with Europeans, or how they were able to maintain their traditional lifeways in changing, often violent times.

What inspired you to choose this area of study?

I have always been interested in both biology, specifically taxonomy, and history. I took biological anthropology classes in undergrad, and was encouraged to take Faunal Analysis, which thanks to a wonderful teacher and advisor, led me to become a zooarchaeologist.

Student working in a lab with animal bones

Tell us something about your research that people might find surprising.

Some bear bones are surprisingly similar to humans. Also, woodchucks and groundhogs are the same thing.

Can you share a valuable lesson you’ve learned during your research?


Goals and plans will always be in flux as new factors and questions arise. I have had to reconsider data and reorganize my work several times. It is important to be flexible.

What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of archaeology?

Fishing, kayaking, Star Wars, and trivia.

And or tea?

Tea. Several gallons a day.

Sam Disotell