Projects

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.

Agricultural Intensification, Exchange, and Complexity in Ancient Eurasia

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.

Anthropogenic Landscapes of the Silk Road

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.

Archaeological and Palaeoecological Investigations of Makangale Cave

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]
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.

Biological exchange, diet and health in African prehistory

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]
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.

Archaeology of the Comoros: Tracking Human Arrivals and the Emergence of Trade Links

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]
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.

Biomolecular Prehistory of South Asia

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. In this project we seek to understand the role of climate and environmental in shaping human adaptations and innovations in this part of the world.

Climate and Culture in South Africa

South Africa has one of the longest and most-studied archaeological records of human technological, cultural, and subsistence. In this project we seek to understand the role of climate and environmental 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.

Commensal Fauna as a Window into Long-Term Island Socio-Ecosystem Dynamics

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.

The Comoros Origins Genome Project

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.

Dairying and Dietary Adaptive Evolution in Prehistory

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. [more]
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.

Diet and Human Adaptation to the Expansion of Forests during the Early Holocene

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]
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.

First Farmers of Inner Asia

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]
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.

Fruits of the Silk Road

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.

Heirloom Microbes: The History and Legacy of Ancient Dairying Bacteria

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.

Humans at the End of South Asia

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]
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 <em>Homo sapiens</em> in the extinction of large mammalian taxa in the tropics.

Megafaunal extinctions in the tropics

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]
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.

'On-site' Isotopic Records of Human-Environment Interaction

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.

Palaeodeserts

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]
The Pantropica working group seeks to bring together international researchers in the pursuit of past human interactions with tropical rainforests from the Late Pleistocene onwards.

Pantropica Working Group

The Pantropica working group seeks to bring together international researchers in the pursuit of past human interactions with tropical rainforests from the Late Pleistocene onwards. [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.

Phytolith taphonomy

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]
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.

Rainforest reliance in the archaeological record

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]
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.

Uncovering Dietary Practices through the Proteomic Analysis of Ceramics

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.

Vietnam to Vanuatu: Dental Calculus and the Austronesian Expansion

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.

Wildebeest Mobility in East Africa

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]
 
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