Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Dr. Thomas Larsen

Kahlaische Strasse 10

07745 Jena



Dr. Thomas Larsen

Dr. Thomas Larsen
Dr. Thomas Larsen
Department of Archaeology

Phone: +49 3641 686-773

Main Focus

My research focuses broadly on how nutritional relationships between consumers and resources impact the natural world. I am interested in how human acquisition of food resources have transformed ecosystems, particularly in relation to our history of domesticating animals and cultivating the land. A long view of our past can help us to understand natural boundaries and how we as a species adapt to adverse environmental conditions. We live in an era where human impact on the natural world has become global. Our success in “conquering nature” is challenging us to redefine our relationship with nature because the basic life support systems for many species have been eroded to a degree that scientists are discussing whether to mark this epoch the Anthropocene.

My Biomolecular Ecology & Archaeology Group at Department of Archaeology applies and develops biomarkers that can characterize early and late markers of the Anthropocene, as well as human consumption and use of foods and drugs. To that end, we are building up a lab with the capability to analyze 1) stable isotopes of amino acids and other nitrogenous compounds, 2) drug metabolites and alkaloids, 3) oleoresins, and 4) faecal biomarkers.

Curriculum Vitae

I received my M.Sc. in Biology at Department of Zoology, Aarhus University and my Ph.D. in Ecology at Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen. I have held research positions in various countries and institutions: University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Aarhus, CEAB-CSIC Spain and University of Kiel.

I have been pioneering a method that can identify the biosynthetic origins of proteinogenic amino acids from naturally occurring isotope variability. The method, isotope fingerprinting of amino acids, is a powerful and robust tracer method in ecology and archaeology because these fingerprints remain invariant across different environmental conditions, and they can characterize food web linkages across various systems and in some instances identify geographical origins of aquatic resources. The isotope fingerprints have also shown great promise for food authentication and for reconstruction of past human diets from material records. The fingerprinting is particularly well suited for diet reconstruction of consumers with missing or obscure food sources.


Please see my Research Gate profile.

Research Projects
  • I am the coordinator of a UK-German funded research project (2018-2020, EUR 750,000, NERC / BMBF) led by Norman Ratcliffe that examines the competitive interactions and foraging ecology between two closely related species of seabirds in the North Atlantic. We use a mix of location trackers and isotope biomarkers to investigate how northward shift in lipid-rich forage fish create ecosystem-wide cascade effects.
  •  “Production of high quality fish feed from enchytraeid biomass” led by Martin Holmstrup (2018-2021, DKK 2,360,313, The Danish Council for Independent Research, Technology and Production Sciences).
  • “Carbon sequestration by Greenland’s marine forests in a warming Arctic (CARMA)” led by Dorte Krause-Jensen (2018-2021, DKK 2,300,704, The Danish Council for Independent Research, Technology and Production Sciences).remain invariant across different environmental conditionsremain invariant across different environmental conditions
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