As an Old World prehistorian, my research focuses on two issues: early hominid lifeways, and the beginnings of food-production--focusing on the origins and spread of pastoralism in Africa. I have explored these topics through survey and excavation, principally in the Loita-Mara area of southwestern Kenya , and through zooarchaeological studies of faunas excavated from archaeological sites. I have also undertaken ethnoarchaeological field work designed to investigate factors that affect body part representation in archaeological sites, and alternative pathways to food production among Okiek hunter-gatherers of the western Mau Escarpment, Kenya. I have been involved in a major conservation project at Laetoli, and I am currently conducting interdisciplinary research on the domestication of the donkey with archaeological, morphometric, genetic, behavioral and ethnoarchaeological components. Analyses of human mobility and envivronmental issues are key components of these projects. My research focuses on mobility and social strategies for coping with increasing aridity in Africa during the Holocene and on the role of African pastoralists in the long-term creation and maintenance of African savannas.
African archaeology, ethnoarchaeology, the beginnings of food production and zooarchaeology are research foci for most of my graduate students. Recent students have completed PhDs on domestication of yams and ensete in southwestern Ethiopia (Elizabeth Hildebrand), fauna from Axum, Ethiopia (Chester Cain); Kansyore hunter-gatherers and socio-economic variation in Kenya (Darla Dale); ethnoarchaeoloical research on rodents as indicators of degree of mobility (Lior Weissbrod).
Students at Washington University 's zooarchaeological laboratory are currently working on projects in Kenya, New Mexico and Bolivia. Students have also worked on fauna from sites in Greece and Missouri including Cahokia and prehistoric faunas from Africa and Europe , as well as experimental studies of factors affecting bone breakage and carnivore damage to bone. The zooarchaeology laboratory has worked closely with the palaeothnobotany laboratory, the Department of Art and Archaeology, the University's Tyson Research Center and the St. Louis Zoo.