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Mentor Areas

My research focuses on the historical ecology of Southern Asia, especially changes in agriculture, land use, and environment, integrating approaches from archaeology, history, and environmental science. Current projects include: (1) work on the long-term relationships between biodiversity and human land use; (2) Land Cover6k, a ‘big data’ project using archaeological, historical, and paleoenvironmental evidence to improve climate models; (3) network and spatial analysis of Middle period South Indian inscriptions and archaeological sites; and (4) ongoing work on the archaeology of farming, food, and power relations in South India from the Neolithic to the Early Modern period.


The Penn Paleoecology lab is dedicated to the study of human-environment interactions in the past, with a special focus on farming, vegetation change, and landscape-scale transformations. We combine archaeological and historical research with the study of past environments, using multiple proxies.  In the lab we study pollen and spores, charred seeds and wood (macrobotanical remains), stable isotopes, phytoliths, and basic sedimentology. At the moment, we are working on samples from several places in southern India, exploring how human land use history has affected vegetation cover, biodiversity, and landforms.

Preferred Qualifications

What you do would depend on your existing skills, but we can train students without relevant background. Interest in the environment, ecology, history, and/or archaeology is a must; skills in archaeology, botany, geology, statistics, chemistry, South Asian history, Excel, and/or GIS  are useful but not required.  Some of the work involves organizing and labeling. In the past, we have had students begin with simple lab maintenance tasks and move to independent research projects.


Preferred Student Year

First-year, Second-Year, Junior, Senior





Independent Study


Work Study


Academic Year

2023, 2022


Kathleen Morrison, Professor of Anthropology