Steven T Goldstein, PhD

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Archaeological research

I am an anthropological archaeologist currently working as post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Archaeology the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.

My research is focused on eastern Africa, where I investigate the complex relationships between human societies and their environments over the last 12,000 years. Understanding how past societies coped with environmental risk is crucial to informing  our approach to economic resilience in the face of modern anthropogenic climate change. I am particularly interested in how early herding lifeways and the spread of iron technology shaped eastern Africa's savanna ecosystems as we know them today.

I work to reconstruct past environments through geoarchaeology and environmental archaeology, and I study the related human strategies through my specialization in lithic  analysis. Currently, I am directing multiple field and laboratory projects spread across eastern and south-eastern Africa. In combination with other collaborations, I am building large-scale regional perspectives on how human-environmental interactions helped shape the cultural and economic diversity of modern Africa.

My current research projects focus on:

  • Fisher-hunter-gatherer resilience through periods of extreme climate change at the site of Lothagam-Lokam in northern Kenya. (12000-6000 BP).

  • The role of technological strategies, mobility, and exchange networks in the long-term sustainability of the earliest herding societies in eastern Africa. (5000-1500 BP).

  • Long term legacies of early pastoralist land-use strategies on the development of savanna ecosystems. (3200-1000 BP)

  • The spread of people, plants, animals, and iron-working in southeastern Africa and their ecological impacts through new field archaeology. (2500-500 BP).

 The Lake Naivasha Basin, southern Kenya

The Lake Naivasha Basin, southern Kenya


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Why Africa?

I am interested in pursuing archaeological questions on a global scale, however my research is focused on African prehistory. Africa is the cradle of humankind, and our early experiences in its diverse environments motivated us to develop the technologies and social systems that allowed us successfully spread across the planet. It is in Africa where human-environmental interactions have the greatest time-depth.

The last 12,000 years of Africa are particularly important. Trajectories toward food production (farming and herding), urbanism, and social complexity in Africa differ from those in other parts of the world, permitting unique perspectives on some of the most important shifts in the human career. One of the most interesting aspects of the African archaeology is the long-term persistence and co-existence of herder, farmer, and hunter-gatherer societies.

One of the most interesting aspects of African history is the long-term persistence and co-existence of herder, farmer, and hunter-gatherer societies. A rich ethnographic record gives us opportunities to ask questions about relationships among environment, technology, and culture that are rarely possible elsewhere. Unfortunately, Africa remains understudied.  Archaeological research projects focused on the recent past number in the dozens for the entire African continent- fewer than there are for much shorter time periods in individual regions in Europe or the the Americas. The African past is an important part of our shared human past, and has important contributions to major archaeological debates.

Africa also faces the most immediate and extreme effects of anthropogenic climate change, most notably increasing aridity. Our popular culture and media often portray Africa as being composed of "natural" environments devoid of people, or as a place where the environment presents constant insurmountable challenges for African societies. New research in Africa is showing that this could not be further from the truth. The epidemics, collapses, famines, and environmental degradation that dominate popular discussion are more often than not a product of recent colonialism, geo-politics, and misguided development initiatives. Archaeological perspectives show that Africa's diverse societies had developed comprehensive arsenals of social and economic strategies for confronting, surviving, and even thriving, in the face of climatic challenges. Understanding what built the resilience of past African societies is critical to informing strategies for managing similar challenges in the present.



Affiliated Institutions


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Recent Publications

Marshall, F., Reid, R., GOLDSTEIN, S., Storozum, M., Wreschnig, A., Hu, L., Kiura, P., Shahack-Gross, R., & S. Ambrose. “Ancient herders enriched and restructured African grasslands.” Nature

Sawchuk, E., GOLDSTEIN, S., Grillo, K., & E. Hildebrand. “Cemetery construction and the spread of pastoralism in eastern Africa”. J. of Anthropological Archaeology

GOLDSTEIN, S. “Knowledge transmission through the lens of lithic production: A case study from the Pastoral Neolithic of southern Kenya”. J. of Archaeological Method and Theory.