Home / Content / Eastern North America

Eastern North America


The Woodlands of Eastern North American have an extraordinary archaeological record for researching long-term, evolutionary developments in culture and human ecology, including the origins of food producing systems, village life, and urban centers; the formation and dynamics of complex sociopolitical organizations; and the roles that religion, ideology, demography, and warfare have played in sociopolitical change. The area was one of the five major, independent hearths of development of agricultural food-producing systems around the world, with a 7,000 year record of intensification. Sedentary village life formed early there but, intriguingly, did not lead to sustainable urbanism despite very rich environmental resources. Cyclical rises and falls of complex chiefly polities and 2 major religious-ritual movements spurred on craft specialization and refined artworks of metal, stone and shell, constituting one of North America’s 3 most renowned art traditions.

Current and future directions

A 50-year tradition of transdiscipinary, ecological, regional-scale archaeological research in the Eastern Woodlands is now providing a strong foundation for archaeological studies of the origins of human management of the natural environmental landscape and food production at the micro to macro scales; changes in watersheds and flood patterns and their impact on settlement and population distribution; and the interplay of ecology and disease. The origins, sustainability and cycling of diverse horizontal and vertical sociopolitical formations relative to specific environmental, social and religious forces are perennial topics that are being enriched by documentation of the particulars of religious knowledge, world views and rituals, and their change through time, through the studies of artistry, mortuary practices and ethnohistory.

School strengths

Mature research programs by ASU archaeologists and bioarchaeologists span the long-term Holocene landscape history and the origins of agriculture and sedentism; osteological, dental, and bone isotopic documentation of population redistributions, alliance networks, and local and interregional cross-polity migration that accompanied the development of sociopolitical complexity; material stylistic, mortuary, bone chemical, dental morphological, and architectural engineering studies of community formation and dynamics; the ties of craft specialization to ritual demand; and iconographic, mortuary, and ethnohistorically anchored studies of religious knowledge, ritual, and their roles in sociopolitical formations. 


Woodland research at ASU is supported by the Center for American Archaeology, a remote research and teaching facility with 11 buildings, a 500K/annum operating budget and 3 full-time and 3 part-time staff, plus seasonal field staff. Located in Kampsville, Illinois, in a key area of development of early agriculture, sedentism, sociopolitical complexity and art, the center runs multiple annual field schools in archaeological excavation methods, bioarchaeological methods, archaeozoology, archaeobotany, GIS and remote sensing, all through a 5-institution research consortium. The center also maintains working relationships with a dozen major museums across the Eastern U.S.

Key school archaeology faculty

Jane Buikstra, Regents' Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Founding Director, Center for Bioarchaeological Research

Kelly Knudson, Associate Professor & Associate Director, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Director, Archaeological Chemistry Laboratory

Christopher Stojanowski, Associate Professor & Director, Undergraduate Studies, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Associate Director, Center for Bioarchaeological Research

Other key school faculty

Brenda J. Baker, Associate Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change

Other key ASU faculty

Donald Fixico

Donald Fixico, Distinguished Foundation Professor of History, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies