My research explores the impacts of human/environment interaction and examines how the actions and interactions of individuals can have large overarching consequences for the environment and society. By building network and agent-based models, examining multiple scenarios, and comparing modeled results to empirical archaeological and/or anthropological data, I reconsider narratives of the past, further refining our understanding of the archaeological record through systematic model development and theory building.
I direct the ArchaeoEcology Project, a Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis funded research project, examining the ways that humans modify their ecosystems and interact with the plants and animals that live there. I examine How human interactions with biodiversity shape socio-ecological dynamics and sustainability with a deep-time focus. While a great deal of archaeological and anthropological research has explored how humans have interacted with various plants, animals and other taxa, there has been no systematic or comprehensive assessment of the full array of such biodiversity interactions for particular systems, much less a synthesis across systems. The ArchaeoEcology Project integrates available archaeological, ethnographic, ecological, climatic and geological data to compile new “human-centered interaction networks” that comprehensively document the many ways humans interact with other species (e.g., using them for food, shelter, clothing, tools, etc.), and conducts synthetic analyses and modeling across multiple systems. The use of such integration and synthesis helps us better understand the roles of cultural, ecological and environmental constraints and synergies in the sustainability of socio-ecological systems in the past, with lessons for the present and future.
I have published works examining the human place in ecosystems. My work examining Ancestral Pueblo food webs, published in Journal of Archaeological Science, demonstrates that choices relating to subsistence helped make the environment more vulnerable over time. My work examining how Martu Aboriginal foragers in the Western Desert of Australia interact with their food webs suggests that their 50 millennia coevolution with the environment meant that their removal to missions in the 1960s made the ecosystem more vulnerable.
I also use social network analysis to understand past societies. In my paper in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory I combine agent-based modeling and social network analysis to suggest that it is the exchange of food—and the development of complex economies—that led to the aggregation of Ancestral Pueblo people over time.