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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Anthropology

Program in
Human Ecology and Archaeobiology

PHEA -photo of the lab


The Program in Human Ecology and Archaeobiology (PHEA) is an integrated research, collections, and education program focused on understanding ancient and more recent human-environmental interactions around the world. Research on the ecological and behavioral context of plant and animal domestication and the origins of agriculture is a central focus of PHEA, as is documenting how past human societies have adapted to and shaped a range of different ecosystems world-wide.


Four curators in the Department of Anthropology, NMNH, comprise the permanent research staff of PHEA: (Torben C. Rick, Sabrina Sholts, Bruce D. Smith, and Melinda A. Zeder). PHEA also hosts a steady stream of interns, fellows, and research associates. Over the past two decades 24 fellows and 55 research associates, long-term visiting researchers, PhD advisees, and interns have been affiliated with the program.


With a diverse and overlapping set of geographical and topical research interests, PHEA staff share a strong commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration with a broad network of research institutions and scientists world-wide. Basic program funding and periodic peer review is provided by the NMNH Office of the Associate Director for Research and Collections. Individual PHEA research initiatives are funded by a range of sources, including the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, and others.


The main PHEA research laboratory is located at the NMNH Museum Support Center (MSC) in Silver Hill, Maryland. Offices open onto a large shared work-space. Comparative faunal skeletal and phytolith collections, microscopes computer stations, and sinks line the walls of the open lab, and centrally placed waist high specimen storage cabinets provide substantial layout space for analysis. A wet lab for phytolith and starch grain processing is situated nearby. PHEA staff actively collaborate with researchers in the SI Laboratory of Analytical Biology (LAB), and have open access to the NMNH’s world-class Scanning Electron Microscope and high resolution light photography laboratory facilities (SEM).  


Established in 2010, the Program in Human Ecology and Archaeobiology (PHEA) represents a reconfiguration and expansion of the Archaeobiology Program, which was established in 1992. Bruce D. Smith served as the first program director. Melinda Zeder was hired in 1992 to fill the newly established Curator of Archaeozoology position and served as the director of the program from 2004 to 2009. Dolores Piperno joined the program as Curator of Archaeobotany and South American Archaeology from 2003 to 2016. In 2009 curatorial hire Torben Rick joined the program, becoming its director in 2010. We welcome Sabrina Sholts, our newest Curator in Physical Anthropology, in 2014.



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