The late first millennium B.C. across Inner Asia is usually considered the time period when highly specialized nomads first appear: the Scythian mounted warriors. However, a growing data set is showing that the region of eastern Central Asia actually underwent a process of increased sedentism and intensification of farming pursuits in this time period. In studying this process, we are exploring links between the intensification of agriculture and increased exchange, population grown, craft specialization, and the development of an elite class. [more]
The landscape of Inner Asia may seem ‘wild’ and untamed; however, it is the direct product of thousands of years of human occupation. People have shaped the land for farming and herding and harvested the forests for fuel and lumber, ultimately reshaping every ecosystem. [more]
There is still much to be learned from the archaeological record of Pemba Island (Zanzibar), including when the first humans arrived and what impacts they had on the island’s geomorphology, flora, and fauna. Recent excavations at MakangaleCave have uncovered a long sequence of archaeological and paleontological history that will provide new evidence towards understanding the dynamic interactions between past peoples and their environment. [more]
When, how and by whom were the Comoros islands colonized? This project explores the origins and lifeways of the earliest settlers of the Archipelago of the Comoros, which has long been part of Indian Ocean trading systems and may have played a role in the still mysterious colonization of Madagascar. [more]
While research has established that African plant and animal domesticates and Bantu-speaking populations originated in different parts of western, eastern, and northern Africa, it is not clear when or how they eventually spread into southern Africa. This project investigates these questions with multi-sited archaeological fieldwork in Zambia, the region where many of these peoples and lifeways first came together. Archaeological research is focused on understanding the timing of these processes, and their long term impacts on the cultural, linguistic, genetic, and environmental history of southern Africa.
Advances in African archaeology have failed to explain the appearance and spread of several major African plant food staples. Alternative methodologies including microbotanical remains offers a way to explore the cryptic history of Africa’s foods. [more]
This project applies a novel, multi-proxy approach, incorporating stable isotope analysis, dental calculus, proteomics and aDNA, to elucidate changes in diet, demography, and ecology across major cultural transitions in South Asia. [more]
South Africa has one of the longest and most-studied archaeological records of human technological, cultural, and subsistence behaviour. In this project we seek to understand the role of climate and environmental change in shaping human adaptations and innovations in this part of the world. [more]
What can the study of commensal species tell us about past human activities, and the ways in which island societies shaped—and were shaped by—their environment? Stable isotope analysis of faunal assemblages can open up new lines of inquiry into landscape transformations, species extinctions, and human-ecosystem dynamics. [more]
The Comoros Islands have long played a key role in the cultural and economic world of the Indian Ocean, and the Indian Ocean’s rich history of trade and exchange is recorded in their genetic ancestry. This project draws on DNA information from contemporary populations in the islands to reconstruct the islands’ early past, and try to better understand the archipelago’s links with nearby regions of Africa as well as distant parts of Asia and the Arab world. [more]
Milk is a food of major, global importance. This collaborative research project pursues a multi-disciplinary and multi-proxy approach to reconstruct the emergence, transformation and spread of ancient dairying, and the co-evolution of dairying practices and lactase persistence. For individual projects, please see the following pages:
Bayesian inference is a statistical method for updating the probability of a hypothesis as additional evidence becomes available. Thus, it provides a natural framework for interdisciplinary approaches and the combination of diverse sources of evidence.
Dietary resource intensification with high plant use is characteristic of Mesolithic subsistence. Yet, there is little information on when this pattern arose. Using multidisciplinary techniques, this project is assessing if this pattern coincides in Iberia with dramatic climatic warming at the terminal Pleistocene. [more]
The black rat, Rattus rattus, has had a remarkable impact on people and ecosystems, serving as vectors for diseases such as the bubonic plague, precipitating extinctions and drastically altering the ecology of the regions they colonize alongside their human dispersers. Despite the close link between humans and Rattus rattus, the complete genome of the black rat has yet to be sequenced. This project will investigate the genomics of rats in order to better understand the coevolution of humans and rats. [more]
Historians and archaeologists have referred to Inner Asia as the pastoralist realm, arguing that a ‘nomadic’ economy dominated the region in prehistory. However, in recent years, as archaeobotanical methods are becoming more common, it is become clearer that Central Asians in the past maintained a mixed agropastoral system. A distinct package of crops spread through much of the Central Asian foothills by the second millennium B.C. [more]
Major episodes of climate change presented novel challenges to the fisher-hunter-gatherer populations of early Holocene Africa. The responses of these societies stimulated early major migrations across the continent, and encouraged the adoption and spread of pastoralism. This project investigates fisher-hunter-gatherer responses to climate change processes through the Holocene at the site of Lothagam-Lokam in the Lake Turkana Basin of northern Kenya. [more]
Many of the fruits, nuts, and grains on our dinner table once spread across the ancient world along the routes of the great Silk Road. Therefore, by studying which crops moved along these routes and at which time periods, we are studying the history of the food you eat – the greatest artifacts of the ancient Silk Road are in your kitchen today. [more]
Microbes are an integral part of our cuisine, and are especially integral to dairy products. In this project we are combining archaeology, microbiology, food science, and cultural anthropology, in order to gain substantial insight into dairying practices, microbial diversity, and the impact that microbes have had on our foods, our biology, and our society today. [more]
Sri Lanka is home to the earliest fossil evidence for Homo sapiens in South Asia and also provides some of the earliest evidence for human rainforest resource use anywhere in the world. There is also a network of urban settlements in the arid parts of the island that demonstrate sophisticated hydrological technologies to control water. The investigation of the archaeological record of this country, and its climate-environment-human interactions, is a key priority of the Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. [more]
Yak exploitation is an important human adaption strategy on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. However, yak bones have rarely been found in ancient sites. Thus, the analysis of lipid absorbed in pottery would be the main way to determine the yak dairy products used by ancient people. When and where the domestic swamp buffalo is the difficulty of differentiating morphologically the bones of extinct Bubalus Mephistopheles and swamp buffalo. Since Southern China is not favorable to the preservation of ancient DNA, ZooMS could have the potential to identify domestic buffalo bones. [more]
Isotopic tracers are an invaluable source of historical information. These can contribute greatly to the study of past human lifeways (e.g. diet, nutrition, and mobility), trade, anthropogenic impacts (e.g. farming, pollution), climates and environments, and chronology. However, lack of centralized storage limits efficient data use. To tackle this issue, the IsoMemo initiative brings together multiple repositories of isotopic data within the fields of archaeology, ecology, and environmental & life sciences.
The Graeco-Roman world corresponds to the regions, mostly within the Mediterranean area, that during centuries adopted the ancient Greek and Latin languages and culture. From written sources much is known on the political, economic, and military history of the Graeco-Roman world. However, the lifeways of common people remain largely unknown. It is the goal of this project to give voice to those that represented the vast majority of ancient Greeks and Romans through the isotopic analysis of osteological remains.
The extinction of megafaunal populations during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene are a prominent part of discussions relating to the timing and nature of human impacts on environments, particularly in the context of the Anthropocene. This project seeks to bring together novel chronological, palaeoenvironmental, and zooarchaeological methodologies, from regions across the tropics, to better understand the role of Homo sapiens in the extinction of large mammalian taxa in the tropics. [more]
Past human lifeways such as diet or mobility intercept multiple social, economic, cultural, and environmental phenomena. Thus their study is of great interest and these can be quantitatively reconstructed using isotopic data. However, by employing an approach in which multiple isotopic proxies are combined it becomes possible to considerably extend the variety of estimates and to improve their quality.
In order to properly understand the nature of past human-environment interactions, it is essential to build up palaeoenvironmental proxies of immediate relevance to the archaeological record of interest. In this project, we seek to develop palaeoenvironmental methods tailored to archaeological needs. These focus on a) developing ‘on-site’ proxies of immediate relevance to human behaviour and b) directly guiding the coring of long-term terrestrial sequences, such as lakes, with archaeological knowledge and questions. [more]
How did past climatic fluctuations shape the emergence of humans out of Africa, and their subsequent success in dispersing around the rest of the world? The Palaeodeserts Project is taking a multidisciplinary approach to addressing these critical human evolutionary questions in a key region: the Arabian peninsula. [more]
Phytoliths are increasing valuable for their ability to survive in a wide variety of preservation contexts, unexplained factors are believed to impact phytolith representativeness in certain environments. [more]
When did humans begin to herd animals in Saudi Arabia and how did these herders respond to the onset of aridification in the middle Holocene? The Palaeodeserts Project is taking a multidisciplinary approach, in which data from the excavation of settlement and burial sites, rock art, palaeoenvironmental and –climate archives, and climate modeling are used to close a substantial gap in our current knowledge of the prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula. [more]
Tropical rainforests are some of the most diverse terrestrial environments in the world, yet the extent of past human interaction with these habitats has been debated. In this project we apply stable isotope and dental calculus approaches in order to understand the degree of human rainforest reliance, in different parts of the world and different time periods, and gain more detailed insight into the strategies used by our ancestors to survive in these environments. [more]
The pervasive narrative of the rise of a nomadic warrior culture in the Eurasian steppe at the end of the Bronze Age has muted growing evidence for settled communities and proto-urban centers. Mounting evidence suggests that aggregated populations were occupying the semi-arid Kazakh steppe in a cluster of neighboring regional centers. The growth of large settlements in central Kazakhstan dating to the Final Bronze Age (1500-1300 cal BC) counter notions of extensive nomadism. The semi-arid steppe, known colloquially as the ‘hungry steppe’, is a region where mobile pastoralism is considered a necessity. Thus, evidence for densely populated regional centers raise questions about the subsistence economies of these communities. [more]
This project aims to contribute to the knowledge of how humans present in Island Southeast Asia adapted to environmental and climatic fluctuations following the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). The project will focus on the zooarchaeological analyses of faunal assemblages from several cave sites in Java, Indonesia and Luzon, the Philippines. Careful analyses of animal remains provide an opportunity to look at changes in the subsistence economies of prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities in these islands through time. They could also allow the description of the hunting and foraging techniques employed by these communities. The project will also look at faunal dental wear signatures and stable isotopes to reconstruct local paleoenvironmental contexts. [more]
Fragments of ceramic vessels litter the archaeological record as one of the main surviving remnants of past food preparation and consumption. In this project, we are applying recent advances in ancient protein analysis to explore the culinary practices of a diverse array of ancient populations. [more]
How did cultural and economic interactions between Mainland Southeast Asia and Island Southeast Asia shape these regions prior to and after the Austronesian expansion into the Pacific? This project aims to shed light on aspects of these interactions using microparticle, proteomic and genetic analyses of human dental calculus. [more]
As pastoralism spread through East Africa, herders and their livestock encountered new wildlife species and new diseases. Epizootiological challenges likely had significant consequences for both the trajectory of pastoral expansion and wildlife biogeographies. This project uses stable isotope analysis of ancient wildebeest teeth to examine the role of pastoralism in the disappearance of wildebeest from Central Rift Valley grasslands. [more]