- Principal Lecturer
- 2009. AB (Anthropology) University of Chicago
- 2016. PhD (Anthropology) Harvard University
As a zooarchaeologist, I study archaeologically-recovered biological materials (bone and teeth) to understand the important contributions that animals have made to the evolution of human societies. While most of us think about animals as sources of meat or pets, animals played (and continue to play) a number of other important roles in human societies. To name a few: animals can be sources of wealth, sacrificial victims, symbolic figures, companions, means of production (e.g., plowing fields or powering mills), means of transportation, and sources of raw materials used in the production of tools, textiles, and many other goods.
My research focusses specifically on the roles that animals played in the political economies, environments, and cultures of the ancient Near East. Why did people domesticate animals? How did people manage their livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs) in order to facilitate the expansion of herds, the exploitation of workable materials, and the feeding of cities? What role did these practices play in the development of inequality and complex political economies? How did animal husbandry change the environment of the Near East? When and why did people develop food taboos (e.g., the taboo on pork in Judaism and Islam)?
To address these questions, I study faunal biological materials recovered from archaeological sites dating to the Holocene (the past 12,000 years) at multiple scales. On the macro-scale, I examine bones and teeth to reconstruct species frequency, as well as biometrical and demographic parameters of specific taxa. Mathematically robust analysis of size and shape is given by geometric morphometrics. On the microscale, I am interested in how animal bone microstructures (especially osteons) respond to human management techniques, such as penning or long-distance herding. Finally, I use stable isotope ecology (primarily carbon and nitrogen isotopes) to reconstruct the diet, environment, and mobility of ancient livestock species and hunted mammals, and to examine the long-term sustainability of animal exploitation practices.
At MIT, I teach three classes: 3.986 (Introduction to Archaeology), 3.993 (Archaeology of the Middle East), and 3.987 (Human Evolution). I also lead an informal reading group, Anthropological Archaeology Reading Group (AARG), which is open to interested students.