I am an anthropological archaeologist with an interest in the historical and contemporary representation of peoples and places, human-environment interactions, and engaged, socially-informed anthropological practice. My current work interleaves deep historiography of Amazonia and tropical places with data-driven geoarchaeological and anthropological research.
For over a decade, I have focused my research efforts Amazonia. My interest in the various ways that humans encounter and make the world around them developed over the course of a field-intensive practice in Amazonia in other research contexts in the tropics (Central America, the Pacific). I’m interested in anthropogenic (human-made) nature, and particularly in Amazonia Dark Earths, such as Terra Preta do Índio, and their status as a legacy of the past and a promise for the future. Terra preta soils are significantly more fertile than the Oxisols and Ultisols that dominate the geography around the Amazon river, and stand as evidence of deep, and deep-historical, indigenous modification of tropical forest ecologies that produced a positive result (environmental enrichment rather than degradation). These soils are extremely valuable for contemporary subsistence farming communities in Amazonia, who contend daily with threats from changing climate patterns, national infrastructure projects, agricultural businesses, and illegal logging. In light of the urgency of these matters, my research focus is at once archaeological – in order to learn as much as possible about ancient Amerindian management practices and technologies – and ethnographic/applied – in order to comprehend the needs of contemporary farming communities and the applicability of archaeological knowledge to their problems.
I earned my PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011, and since that time have been engaged continuously in research in Amazonian archaeology, first as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Ohio, then at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (MPEG) in Brazil, and most recently, as a Kluge Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.
I am currently developing soil sustainability experiments in collaboration descendants of escaped enslaved Africans (Remanescentes de Quilombos) in the Brazilian Amazon, funded by a Franklin Grant from the American Philosophical Society (Amazonian Terra Preta: Technology for the Future). I am an external collaborator and past co-director of the interdisciplinary project Origens, Cultura e Ambiente, (Origins, Culture and Environment - OCA) housed at the Museu Parense Emílio Goeld (MPEG) in Brazil, which integrates archaeology of pre-Columbian Amazonia with ethnography, ethnobiology, and geology to assemble an environmental history of the Xingu-Amazon confluence region. In 2013 I was awarded funding by the National Geographic Society for my collaborative project “History of a Crossroads: An Amazonian City in Deep Time," which launched the OCA project and led to a publication in Latin American Antiquity. I’ve also published on my research of human-land relationships, as representation and as materialized in soils and sediments, in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the Archaeological Review from Cambridge and contributed chapters to edited volumes dealing with humans and the environment. My current collaborative research involves scholars from Middle Tennessee State University, Seoul National University, the University of Florida, and Vanderbilt University.