Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Alison Crowther, Ph.D.

Kahlaische Strasse 10

07745 Jena



Alison Crowther, Ph.D.

Alison Crowther, Ph.D.

Alison Crowther, Ph.D.

Main Focus

Alison’s research interests include the archaeobotany of early agriculture in Africa and the Indo-Pacific, trans-regional maritime trade and crop transfers, and ancient food processing technologies, which she investigates combining micro- and macrobotanical approaches as well as experimental and taphonomic studies.  

Her current research is investigating the origins and development of Indian Ocean trade and interaction with a focus on coastal East Africa, where she has conducted extensive fieldwork since 2010 with the Sealinks Project. Of specific interest is how ancient trade and migration, which linked Africa, Asia and Europe in one of the world’s first phases of pre-modern ‘globalisation’, led to the dispersal of a number of plants, animals and foodstuffs in the Indian Ocean over the last two–three millennia. Alison’s research aims to identify the crops and other exotic foods that spread through these networks, and to understand how these agricultural exchanges transformed local foodways and ecosystems through time. She is working with an international cross-disciplinary team whose material science and biomolecular studies of other archaeological remains (fauna, human remains, ceramics, beads, lithics, etc.) are providing unique and complementary insights into the economic and social connections and transformations that occurred during this dynamic period of Indian Ocean proto-globalisation.

Curriculum Vitae

Alison Crowther is a Group Leader in Archaeobotany at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Human Science (2017–2020) and Research Fellow at The University of Queensland in Australia (2014–), where she is based. She has previously held research positions at the University of Oxford with funding from both the British Academy (2010–2013) and a St Cross College Junior Research Fellowship (2011–2013), and at the University of Sheffield (2008–2009) as part of a collaborative project on Integrated Archaeobotanical Research funded by the Marie Curie Framework 6 Transfer of Knowledge program. She completed her PhD at The University of Queensland in 2009, investigating the translocation of food crops in the Pacific islands.


Edited Books

Haslam, M., Robertson, G., Crowther, A., Kirkwood, L., and Nugent, S. (eds) (2009). Archaeological Science Under a Microscope: Studies in residue and ancient DNA analysis inhonour of Thomas H. Loy. Terra Australis 30. Canberra: ANU E Press.

Book Chapters & Journal Articles

Crowther, A., Prendergast, M., Fuller, D. Q. and Boivin, N. (in press). Subsistence mosaics, forager-farmer interactions and the transition to food production in eastern Africa. Quaternary International.

Prendergast, M., Quintana Morales, E., Crowther, A., Horton, M.C., Boivin, N., (in press). Dietary diversity on the Swahili coast: the fauna from two Zanzibar trading locales. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

Wood, M., Panighello, S., Orsega, E. F., Robertshaw, P., van Elteren, J. T., Crowther, A., Horton, M. C. and Boivin, N. (in press). Zanzibar and Indian Ocean trade in the first millennium CE: the glass bead evidence. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Ottoni, C., Van Neer, W., De Cupere, B., Daligault, J., Guimaraes, S., Peters, J., Spassov, N., Prendergast, M., Boivin, N., Morales-Muñiz, A., Bălăşescu, A., Becker, C., Benecke, N., Buitenhuis, H., Chahoud, J., Crowther, A., Llorente, L., Manaseryan, N., Monchot, H., Onar, V., Osypińska, M., Putelat, O., Quintana Morales, E. M., Studer, J., Wierer, U., Decorte, R., Grange, T., Geigl, E.-M., (2017). The paleogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world. Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Horton, M. C., Boivin, N., Crowther, A., Gaskell, B., Radimilahy, C. and Wright, H. T. (2017). East Africa as a source for Fatimid rock crystal: workshops from Kenya to Madagascar. In Gemstones in the First Millennium AD Mines: Trade, workshops and symbolism, edited by A. Hilgner and D. Quast. Mainz: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, pp. 103–118.

Crowther, A., Lucas, L., Helm, R., Horton, M. C., Shipton, C., Wright, H. T., Walshaw, S., Pawlowicz, M. C., Radimilahy, C., Douka, K., Picornell-Gelabert, L., Fuller, D. Q. and Boivin, N. (2016). Ancient crops provide first archaeological signature of the westward Austronesian expansion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 113(24):6635–6640.

Crowther, A., Faulkner, P., Prendergast, M., Quintana Morales, E., Horton, M. C., Wilmsen, E., Kotarba-Morley, A., Christie, A. C., Petek, N., Tibesasa, R., Douka, K., Picornell-Gelabert, L., Carah, X. and Boivin, N. (2016). Coastal subsistence, maritime trade and the colonization of small offshore islands in easternAfrican prehistory. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 11(2):211–237.

Boivin, N., Zeder, M. A., Fuller, D. Q., Crowther, A., Larson, G., Erlandson, J. M., Denham, T. and Petraglia, M. D. (2016). Ecological consequences of human niche construction: examining long-term anthropogenic shaping of global speciesdistributions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 113(23):6388– 6396.

Erlandson, J. M., Zeder, M. A., Boivin, N., Crowther, A., Denham, T., Fuller, D. Q., Larson, G., and Petraglia, M. D. (2016). Reply to Ellis et al.: Human niche construction and evolutionary theory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 113(31): E4437–E4438.

Zeder, M. A., Denham, T., Erlandson, J. M., Boivin, N., Crowther, A., Fuller, D. Q., Larson, G., and Petraglia, M. D. (2016). Reply to Westaway and Lyman: Emus, dingoes, and archaeology’s role in conservation biology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 113(33): E4759–E4760.

Crowther, A. (2016). Comment on J. J. García-Granero, C. Lancelotti, M. Madella, and P. Ajithprasad, “Millet and herders: the origins of plant cultivation in semi-arid North Gujarat (India)”. Current Anthropology 57(2): 166–167.

Shipton, C., Crowther, A., Prendergast, M., Kourampas, N., Horton, M. C., Douka, K., Schwenninger, J.-L., Faulkner, P., Quintana Morales, E., Langley, M., Tibesasa, R., Picornell-Gelabert, L., Doherty, C., Wilmsen, E., Veall, M. A., Petraglia, M. D. and Boivin, N. (2016). Reinvestigation of Kuumbi Cave, Zanzibar, reveals Later Stone Age coastal habitation, early Holocene abandonment, and Iron Age reoccupation. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 51(2):197–233.

Langley, M., Prendergast, M.E., Quintana Morales, E., Shipton, C., Crowther, A., and Boivin, N. (2016). Poison arrows and bone utensils in Late Pleistocene eastern Africa: evidence from Kuumbi Cave, Zanzibar. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 51(2):155–177.

Prendergast, M., Rouby, H., Punnwong, P., Marchant, R., Crowther, A., Kourampas, N., Shipton, C., Walsh, M., Lambeck, K. and Boivin, N. (2016). Continental island formation and the archaeology of defaunation on Zanzibar, eastern Africa. PLoS ONE 11:e0149565.

Crowther, A., Veall, M. A., Boivin, N., Horton, M. C., Kotarba-Morley, A., Fuller, D. Q., Fenn, T., Haji, O. and Matheson, C. (2015). Use of Zanzibar copal (Hymenaea verrucosa Gaertn.) as incense at Unguja Ukuu, Tanzania in the 7-8th century CE: chemical insights into trade and Indian Ocean interactions. Journal of Archaeological Science 53:374–390.

Boivin, N., Fuller, D. Q. and Crowther, A. (2015). Old World globalization and food exchanges. In Archaeology of Food: An encyclopedia, edited by M.C. Beaudry and K. Metheny. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, pp. 350–356.

Kourampas, N., Shipton, C., Mills, W., Tibesasa, R., Horton, H., Horton, M. C., Prendergast, M., Crowther, A., Douka, K., Faulkner, P., Picornell-Gelabert, L. and Boivin, N. (2015). Late Quaternary speleogenesis and landscape evolution in a tropical carbonate island: Pango la Kuumbi (Kuumbi Cave), Zanzibar. International Journal of Speleology 44:293–314.

Crowther, A., Haslam, M., Oakden, N., Walde, D. and Mercader, J. (2014). Documenting contamination in ancient starch laboratories. Journal of Archaeological Science 49: 90– 104.

Crowther, A., Horton, M. C., Kotarba-Morley, A., Prendergast, M., Quintana Morales, E., Wood, M., Shipton, C., Fuller, D. Q., Tibesasa, R., Mills, W. and Boivin, N. (2014). Iron Age agriculture, fishing and trade in the Mafia archipelago: new evidence from Ukunju Cave. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 49(1): 21–44.

Boivin, N., Crowther, A., Prendergast, M. and Fuller, D. Q. (2014). Indian Ocean food globalization and Africa. African Archaeological Research. 31(4): 347–581.

Boivin, N., Crowther, A., Helm, R. and Fuller, D.Q. (2013). East Africa and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean world. Journal of World Prehistory 26(3): 213–281.

Shipton, C., Helm, R., Boivin, N. Crowther, A., Austin, P. and Fuller, D.Q. (2013). Intersections, networks and the genesis of social complexity on the Nyali Coast of East Africa. African Archaeological Review 30(4): 427–453.

Crowther, A. (2012). The differential survival of native starch during cooking and implications for archaeological analyses: a review. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 4(3): 221–235.

Helm, R., Crowther, A., Shipton, C., Tengeza, A., Fuller, D. Q. and Boivin, N. (2012). Exploring agriculture, interaction and trade on the East African littoral: preliminary results from Kenya. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 47(1): 39–63.

Boivin, N., Fuller, D. Q. and Crowther, A. (2012). Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange: comparison and contrast. World Archaeology 44(3): 452–469.

Haslam, M., Harris, C., Clarkson, C., Pal, J. N., Shipton, C., Crowther, A., Koshy, J., Bora, J., Ditchfield, P., Prasad Ram, H., Price, K., Dubey, A. K. and Petraglia, M. D. (2012). Dhaba: an initial report on an Acheulean, Middle Palaeolithic and microlithic locality in the Middle Son Valley, north-central India, Quaternary International 258: 191–199.

Crowther, A. (2009). Morphometric analysis of calcium oxalate raphides and assessment of their taxonomic potential in microfossil assemblages. In Archaeological Science Under A Microscope: Studies in residue and ancient DNA analysis in honour of Tom Loy, edited by M. Haslam, G. Robertson, A. Crowther, L. Kirkwood and S. Nugent. Terra Australis 30. Canberra: ANU E Press, pp. 102–128.

Crowther, A. (2009). Reviewing raphides: issues with the identification and interpretation of calcium oxalate crystals in microfossil assemblages. In New Directions in Archaeological Science, edited by A. Fairbairn, S. O'Connor and B. Marwick. Terra Australis 28. Canberra: ANU E Press, pp. 105–118.

Clarkson, C., Petraglia, M. D., Korisettar, R., Haslam, M., Boivin, N., Crowther, A., Ditchfield, P., Fuller, D. Q., Miracle, P., Harris, C., Connell, K., James, H. and Koshy, J. (2009). The oldest and longest enduring microlithic sequence in India: 35,000 years of modern human occupation and change at the Jwalapuram Locality 9 rockshelter. Antiquity 83(320): 326–348.

Denham, T., Atchison, J., Austin, J., Bestel, S., Bowdery, D., Crowther, A., Dolby, N., Fairbairn, A., Field, J., Kennedy, A., Lentfer, C., Matheson, C., Nugent, S., Parr, J., Prebble, M. J., Robertson, G., Specht, J., Torrence, R., Barton, H., Fullagar, R. L. K., Haberle, S., Horrocks, M., Lewis, T. and Matthews, P. (2009). Archaeobotany in Australia and New Guinea: practice, potential and prospects. Australian Archaeology 68: 1–10.

Crowther, A. Starch. (2009). In Charles, M., Ertug, F., Herbig, C., Jones, G., Kutterer, J., Longford, C., Madella, M., Maier, U., Out, W. Pessin, H., and Zurro, D. Archaeobotanical Online Tutorial

Crowther, A. and M. Haslam. (2007). Blind tests in microscopic residue analysis: comments on Wadley et al. (2004). Journal of Archaeological Science 34(6): 997–1000.

Crowther, A. (2006). Taro processing and early Lapita pottery. In Ancient Starch Research, edited by R. Torrence and H. Barton. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, p. 188.

Crowther, A. (2005). Starch residues on undecorated Lapita Pottery from Anir, New Ireland. Archaeology in Oceania 40(2): 62–66.

Organizational Unit (Department, Group, Facility):

  • Department of Archaeology
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