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Anthropology | Ethnobiology / Environmental Anthropology

With five ethnobiologists on our permanent faculty, WSU offers unsurpassed training in ethnobiology.  Our research examines past and present relationships of human societies with plants and animals. We integrate ethnobotany, paleoethnobotany, ethnozoology, paleoethnozoology and ethnoecology within broader sociocultural and archaeological dynamics of sustainability, societal scale, human health, and human evolution. Students should apply to the Sociocultural Anthropology or Archaeology program, depending on which best aligns with their research interests. We have strong funding prospects, we seek graduate students to mentor and with whom to engage in research, and we welcome you to contact us. Please click on the names below to learn more about each of our faculty members.


Dr. John Blong  Interests: Hunter-gatherer adaptations and landscape use, peopling of the Americas, precontact history of Alaska, the Great Basin, and the Columbia Plateau, environmental archaeology, geoarchaeology, paleoethnobotany, lithic analysis

Dr. Colin Grier is a zooarchaeologist whose research interest concerns the organization of complex hunter-gatherer-fisher societies in the Pacific Northwest Coast and Korea.

Dr. Caroline Owens is a biocultural medical anthropologist. She examines the relationship between fundamental resources and human health, with particular attention on the myriad meanings of food in the lifeways of humans; her work has explored these themes in the US and Ethiopia. More recently, her work has focused on the design, implementation, and effects (intentional and unintentional) of Food is Medicine programs in the United States.

Dr. Marsha Quinlan is an ethnobotanist and medical anthropologist. She examines usage, taxonomy and traditional ecological knowledge of plants and animals, with particular attention to health, ethnomedicine, and medical ethnobotany (NE Amazon, Caribbean, US, E. Africa).

Dr. Robert Quinlan is an ecological and medical anthropologist working primarily in East Africa. His most recent ethnobiological work examines livestock management practices and use of veterinary antibiotics in Tanzania, especially as these practices influence antibiotic resistance. This research is in collaboration with the Allen School for Global Animal Health, where Dr. Quinlan is a faculty affiliate. He has also initiated a collaborative, interdisciplinary study of social-ecological systems in SW Ethiopia focusing on small-holder subsistence practices and household responses to environmental perturbations. Dr. Quinlan is interested in mentoring graduate students in ecological anthropology and ethnobiology on topics directly related to development and resilience in East Africa. Students interested in studies of the culture, ecology and economics of enset (Enset ventricosum) and maize agriculture in Ethiopia, and agro-pastoralism in East Africa are especially welcomed to enquire about graduate study with Dr. Quinlan.

Dr. Erin Thornton is a broadly-trained environmental archaeologist with a regional focus on New World societies, and methodological expertise in zooarchaeology, human osteology and stable isotope analysis. Her current research is based primarily in the Maya cultural region, but I have also conducted archaeological research in Peru, the Caribbean, and the southeastern United States. Her current research addresses socio-economic questions related to subsistence, animal management, political economy and exchange, and environmental questions regarding human impacts on and responses to deforestation, climate, and changing wildlife populations.

Dr. Emily Van Alst is an Indigenous archeologist who works in the Northern Plains of the United States.  She explores how Indigenous women’s cultural and ecological knowledge about landscape features and plants can further aid in contextualizing and interpreting rock art imagery. Her broader interests include rock art, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), community-based research methods, ethnobotany, and gender.

Course Information: The Department of Anthropology currently offers undergraduate courses in Cultural Ecology, and Past Environments and Culture (Sustainability). At the graduate level we offer seminars in Zooarchaeology; Paleoethnobotany; and, Settlement and Agro-Pastoralism; and we are developing a seminar in Ecological Anthropology and Ethnobiology / Environmental Anthropology and a course entitled Feeding the World which looks at global farming systems in a cross-disciplinary perspective.