Skip to content

Anthropology Grants


Professor Jack Broughton

U logo U of U Research Foundation

01-May-2019 - 29-Aug-2021




Associate Professor Brian Codding (PI)

Courtenay Strong (Co-PI), Philip Dennison (Co-PI), Ramesh Shrestha (Co-PI), William Anderegg (Co-PI)

NSF Logo NSF Grant

01-Sep-2017 ~ 28-Feb-2022




This interdisciplinary research project will examine the combined effects of environmental variation and firewood harvesting on woodland ecosystems to determine the conditions that promote healthy forests capable of sustaining wood fuel use into the future. While growing evidence suggests that forests are threatened by droughts, extreme temperatures, and overharvesting, scientists currently have difficulty predicting future forest conditions, and that restricts capabilities to anticipate the energy security of one-third of the Earth's people who rely on wood as a primary fuel source. To overcome these limitations, this project will gather data about forest health, human harvesting practices, and climate and other environmental conditions. The investigators will use these data to examine the dynamics between people and their local environment and to develop a model that can forecast future variation in this coupled natural-human system. Project findings will provide more generalizable insights for assessing the sensitivity of small-scale socioecological systems to environmental transitions. This project will inform land management decisions aimed at improving the sustainability of woodland health and human livelihoods under variable environmental conditions. The project also will provide education and training opportunities in the conduct of interdisciplinary research for graduate and undergraduate students.

Forest fuels comprise about nine percent of the global primary energy budget, but data are limited regarding the coupled forest-fuelwood-climate nexus, particularly the sustainability of forests to provide firewood for subsistence populations in a changing environment. This project will be conducted by an interdisciplinary team of anthropologists, biologists, geographers, atmospheric scientists, and engineers who will gather empirical data about woodland biomass and harvesting demand across a variety of climatic conditions and land-management regimes. Data generated from quantitative ethnography, field ecology, remote sensing, and climatology will be used to create and validate a dynamic model capable of predicting future conditions of this system under altered climate and harvesting scenarios. While this project will focus on the piñon-juniper woodlands of southern Utah where Navajo and Ute people rely on wood fuel, results will provide a general framework capable of predicting diverse coupled natural-human systems under varied environmental scenarios. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.




Associate Professor Brian Codding

NSF Logo NSF Grant

01-Sep-2019 ~ 31-Aug-2022




This project will develop new methods estimating past population sizes, in order to more accurately reconstruct past population dynamics. Accurately reconstructing past population dynamics is critical for addressing many key questions about the human past, including the origins of modern behavior, the emergence of agriculture, and the development of states. Although estimates of past population size are widely employed, current archaeological methods struggle to adequately account for the fact that the available records of past human habitation are biased by local geologic processes, which preserve sites of some ages while destroying others. This can lead to systematic bias in estimates of past population, erroneous reconstructions of past population dynamics, and mistaken interpretations of social processes. This project develops a novel approach that analyzes ages of archaeological sites relative to local frequencies of landforms of varying ages, using the Bonneville Basin (Utah and Nevada) as a test case. By providing a method that is capable of more accurately describing past populations, this project will enable improved analysis of past human responses to environmental changes as well as the potential impacts of human populations on past environments.

Archaeologists increasingly turn to assemblages of radiocarbon dates as measures of past population sizes. Improving the accuracy of this technique by accounting for landscape change over time will allow us to explore the drivers of past population dynamics in the Bonneville Basin, especially the interactions between human demography, subsistence adaptations, land use, and environmental change. By developing a new methodology for addressing biases in assemblages of radiocarbon dates, illustrating the potential of the method through this Great Basin case study, and disseminating the tools that other researchers can use to replicate the approach, this project will open new possibilities in reconstructing past population dynamics. In addition, by standardizing an approach and providing computational tools for coupling the archaeological radiocarbon record and local landscape history recorded in landform ages, this work will enable further research that addresses compelling questions including the role of population dynamics in long-term sustainability and resilience, in the onset of the Anthropocene, and in such social transformations as the beginnings of agriculture and urbanism.




Associate Professor Brian Codding (PI)

Peter Yaworsky (Co-PI)

NSF Logo NSF Grant

01-Aug-2020 ~ 31-Jul-2022




This project will examine how risk, an inherent part of the human condition, can result in the adoption of complex behavioral patterns, specifically as it relates to the decisions of subsistence farmers facing volatile climatic conditions. Previous research on the topic by both anthropologists and archaeologists relies on economic utility theory to derive predictions about whether to expect risk-averse or risk-prone behavior in specific socio-environmental circumstances. Archaeology is uniquely situated for investigating how people cope with risk because of its ability to draw on the historical depth of the human experience. While industrialized agriculture dominates the global food supply today, many regions of the world still rely on subsistence agriculture. With increasing global temperatures, these subsistence farmers face growing concerns about sustainability and may not have established government safety nets in place to protect them from crop failures. What behaviors will people devise and adapt to cope with increasing climatic volatility and accompanying risk? By studying how past people implemented practices to mitigate risk, researchers and policymakers can better understand how people today will respond to the economic effects of a changing climate.

The project focuses on a region in Utah with a history of long-term human occupation. Inhabitants employed a range of strategies for storing agricultural products, including the construction of storage containers placed high in canyon walls in difficult and dangerous to access locations. What drove the imposition of such intensive storage strategies? To address this question, the researchers build upon existing frameworks of utility theory and behavioral ecology to derive predictions explaining the diverse food storage strategies. Using archaeological field data, a regional paleoclimatic reconstruction from tree rings, and newly generated radiocarbon dates from organic material collected from storage containers, the researchers will evaluate how changes in annual precipitation and agricultural productivity affected decisions to store agricultural products through time. The resultant model will be an important tool for understanding risk mitigation behaviors in humans, with broad applicability. The data generated will contribute to regional chronologies, helping to build a clearer picture of prehistoric human occupation of the region, and help resource managers better protect and preserve these archaeological resources. The collaborative focus of the project provides a unique hands-on educational experience for members of the public, as well as providing invaluable training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students.



Integrating, Disseminating, and Archiving Components of the Shoshoni Language Project

Associate Professor Emeritus Marianna Di Paolo (PI)

NSF Logo NSF Grant

15-Aug-2019 ~ 31-Jan-2023




The Native American Languages Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1990, recognizes the unique status and value of Native American languages. Shoshoni [ISO 639-3 shh] is the northernmost member of the Uto-Aztecan language family, languages spoken from Wyoming to Central America. The Shoshoni language today continues to be an important component of Goshute and Shoshone tribal identity. In the 1960's-1970's, the late Wick R. Miller, of the University of Utah, taperecorded speakers of Shoshoni (born from ~1875-1920) from several different varieties, representing the most extensive documentary corpus of any Great Basin language, of vital cultural, historical, and linguistic importance to several tribal communities in the Western states. Past linguistic studies of Shoshoni have largely focused on the internal structure of sentences in isolation and on the structure of words, while this project will focus on its sound system and discourse-level structure. Broader impacts include the availability of the two corpora as free online resources from the Marriott Library (University of Utah) and the California Language Archive (UC-Berkeley). The project will also provide undergraduates from Shoshoni-speaking tribal communities with valuable experience on a computational linguistic research project, and enhance interactions between these young people and the two native-speaker elders collaborating on the project. The team will also produce a print version and an easy-to-read electronic version of a subset of the traditional stories from the Wick R. Miller Collection and disseminate them to the three communities collaborating on the project, the South Fork Band Council of the Te-Moak Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation and the Ely Shoshone Tribe.

While Shoshoni is fairly well-documented for a Native American language, its discourse structure and its phonetics and phonology are relatively understudied. Thus, these significant gaps will be remedied by the development of two corpora. First, the 36 stories will be marked up to produce a electronically-searchable database valuable for sentence-level as well as discourse-level linguistic studies. Second, a phonological and phonetically valuable corpus, consisting of audio-TextGrid pairs of word and sentence-sized recordings which will be force aligned and fine-tuned. In the resulting corpus, the phonemes representing each vowel and consonant will be aligned with the corresponding part of the sound file, allowing researchers to automate the acoustic phonetic analysis of each sound. Such text-to-audio aligned corpora already exist for majority languages such as English, German, Japanese, and Spanish, making their sound systems relatively easy to study and thus leading to the development of electronic products that can quickly process spoken language. These majority language corpora are prepared using costly, language-specific computational tools called forced aligners. Our project will train the Montreal Forced Aligner to align the text of 4,000-5,000 Shoshoni words and short sentences to sound. Doing so will provide a model of how to inexpensively use a generic forced aligner to align text-to-audio data for any small, understudied language. The resulting forced-aligned Shoshoni corpus will greatly speed up the acoustic analysis of this phonologically complex language and lead to many relatively inexpensive, but in-depth, scientifically-sound research studies.



CNH-S: Exploring the history of coupled climatic and human influences on ecosystem changes during the last one million years

Assistant Professor Tyler Faith (PI)

David Braun (Co-PI), Mitchell Power (Co-PI), Matthew Douglass (Co-PI)

NSF Logo NSF Grant

01-Aug-2018 ~ 31-Jan-2022




This interdisciplinary project will examine the ways in which climate and human activities influence natural ecosystems over the immense timespans reflected in the geological and archaeological records. Scientists increasingly recognize that the insights provided by such long-term records can play a valuable role in sustaining biodiversity in future, yet it is exceptionally difficult to tease apart human-driven versus natural ecosystem changes in the deep past. This project will develop a new approach that integrates computer modelling with collection and analysis of archaeological and geological data spanning the last one million years. Computer-generated models will test hypotheses about how various human activities and climatic processes influence environmental changes that can be detected in archaeological and geological data. This project will help with conservation and management decisions concerning people and the environment that can be applied anywhere in the world. This project will also develop high school curricular materials to explore how the natural world is shaped by climatic and human-driven processes.

Geological and archaeological archives afford the opportunity to explore coupled human-natural systems over evolutionary timescales. The challenge is to disentangle natural and human systems, and their coupling, in the deep past. This project outlines an innovative approach for studying ancient human-environment interactions by integrating empirical geological and archaeological data with generative modeling. The latter provides a framework for understanding how processes that occur over ecological or ethnographic time-scales are reflected in time-averaged fossil archives. This approach, which can be applied virtually anywhere in the world, will be implemented in a study the Cape Floristic Region in southern Africa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and biodiversity hotspot of global significance. Although this exceedingly diverse ecosystem is under increasing threat from modern development, the legacy of human impact stretches back hundreds of millennia. This project aims to resolve the extent to which climatic and anthropogenic impacts have shaped the evolutionary history of this unique ecosystem, including the degree to which ecological functions provided by people are important to maintaining biodiversity. This will be accomplished through a program that includes primary data collection in the field and laboratory, and the integration and modelling of existing datasets to connect archaeological, paleoclimatic, paleontological, paleoecological, and geological archives that span the last one million years.




Distinguished Professor Kristen Hawkes (PI)

NSF Logo NSF Grant

01-Aug-2015 ~ 31-Jul-2021




Dr. Kristen Hawkes of the University of Utah will undertake research to investigate the ways Hadza foragers living in northern Tanzania take advantage of burned landscapes in their exploitation of wild plants and animals. Fire use is increasingly recognized as an important component of hunting and gathering that affects foraging return rates and has shaped local environments world-wide, but the role of fire in subsistence activities by the Hadza and other African foragers has been understudied. Postdoctoral associate Dr. Christopher Parker will bring his experience measuring the immediate benefits and ecological consequences of hunter-gatherer fire use in the Western Desert of Australia to specify distinctive features of fire's effects in this African context. The project will expand his comparative expertise; and participating graduate students will learn and practice techniques of systematic behavioral observations and quantitative fire ecology that will serve their future careers. Recording information on fire use will contribute to the preservation of traditional Hadza knowledge, which is threatened by the increasing effects of globalization and will characterize human-environment interactions that can aid policy makers charged with managing fire's impact in similar ecological settings.

Documentation of Hadza expertise on fire use in their East African homeland will build the foundation for estimating and calibrating the nature and magnitude of fire's effect on foraging returns in African savannas in the deeper past. Enumerating these effects will allow estimates of the selective advantages that led earlier members of our lineage to controlled fire use and will help identify the pathways by which the distinctively human dependence on fire and cooking evolved. This research will fill a gap in knowledge by quantifying the benefits of burns with the guidance of people who are intimately knowledgeable about local ecology. The research will identify which aspects of foraging are most and least affected by burns in this equatorial savanna and which resource types see the most significant changes in profitability when altered by fire. Results will be the basis for characterizing the likely role of fire-induced ecological alteration on foraging opportunities in ancient sub-Saharan Africa and improve hypotheses about the effects of those alterations on the emergence of our genus.




Professor Alan Rogers (PI)

Timothy Webster (Co-PI)

NSF Logo NSF Grant

01-Jun-2020 ~ 31-May-2023




Recent research has shown that modern humans carry DNA derived from archaic hominin populations, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, in the distant past. This project will use genetic data, together with a newly-developed statistical method, to study the history of humans and their close relatives during the past two million years. The results will inform us about the speed with which populations become reproductively isolated after separation. The methods will be of interest to conservation biologists, who must estimate rates of interbreeding in order to decide whether a species deserves protected status. The results also will be useful to medical researchers who must control for the effects of history as they study the causes of genetic disease. The project will support graduate training, as well as a workshop that will train geneticists from throughout the US in methods of bioinformatics and computational genetics and support efforts to broaden participation in STEM research.

Modern humans carry genetic signatures of past admixture with Neanderthals and Denisovans. Research has also documented episodes of very small population size, during which natural selection was ineffective, and harmful mutations were able to accumulate. Our understanding of these events is incomplete however, because of limitations in the statistical methods used. The current project will use a new method, which corrects these problems and allows us to see farther into the past. It will (1) estimate the fraction of Denisovan DNA in several human populations of Asia and Oceania; (2) study interbreeding between modern humans and ?superarchaics,? who separated from other hominins early in the history of the genus Homo; and (3) test the hypothesis that Middle Eastern populations received gene flow from a hypothetical population of ?basal Eurasians,? which separated from other Eurasians before the separation of Europeans from East Asians.




Adjunct Professor Polly Wiessner (PI)

NSF Logo NSF Grant

15-Sep-2019 ~ 31-Aug-2022




It has been scientifically well documented that culturally evolved norms as public goods can constrain individual interest and facilitate collective action to overcome tragedies of the commons as well as common tragedies. However, we have little understanding of how existing norms are shifted and new norms evolve, so that justice is seen to be done and cooperation furthered in the face of change. Many jurisdictions have adopted legal pluralism to bring about harmony at different levels of society with formal western-based law courts for administering retributive justice and customary courts negotiating compromise through restorative justice. This project explores the role of these public forums for restorative justice, which are optimal settings for understanding the dynamics of coalescing diverse opinions into norm shifts to maintain community cooperation despite rapid demographic, economic and social change. The project includes educational components that broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in science, and improve the public's understanding of science. The research team will produce educational materials on courts and customs. The work is highly generalizable to other traditional court and restorative justice systems, which will contribute to the field at large.

The study conducted by Dr. Polly Wiessner (Arizona State University and the University of Utah) and Mr. Nitze Pupu, J D (Enga Tradition and Transition Centre) will build on a decade of research observing and documenting over 1,000 customary court cases in village courts within and between the tribes of the Enga of Papua New Guinea since 2008. Customary courts are open air forums, manned by elected local leaders, have broad participation, and host extensive public discussion. They are sanctioned by the government for resolving conflicts and minor crimes, although they often mediate settlements for serious ones. The study will examine the processes and outcomes of the documented cases and continue to research new ones asking: (1) Which procedures, norms, and customs continue to bring about decisions that satisfy communities; which do not and why? (2) How are norms and values updated during public forums to address new realities, such as radically altered patterns of communication with mobile phones, changing norms in sexual relations and marriage, guns in warfare, and land inheritance? (3) How do community members assist in making up for harm done and bringing wrong-doers back into the fold as productive citizens? (4) What are rates of recidivism for different infractions? (5) Why are customary courts often favored over formal courts? (6) How are the relations between the formal western-based courts and customary village courts altered in response to changing conditions and how are mismatches resolved to avoid legal dissonance? Methods proposed include the collection of court case data, follow-up data collection on compensation payment, follow-up interviews with participants in key cases (to include customary court officials, those involved in cases, and those that observed proceedings or contributed to restitution payments), follow-up data collection on recidivism, and finally workshops and focus groups with magistrates and customary court officials to get their perspective on changes in the customary court system over time. The PI plans to use content analysis methodologies to identify shifting norms around reproduction, production, and social support; as well as changing articulation with the formal courts. The research will contribute to better understanding of the articulation between local, regional, and national systems. The adaptive potential of restorative justice systems is of wider interest to anthropologists and other scholars of legal systems.





Last Updated: 3/24/21