Our Lab and Working Group investigates deep-time human-environmental relationships and the evolutionary ecology of human systems, with a focus on hunting, gathering, and fishing communities in western North America. The lab is a center for archaeological research, archaeometric experimentation, and innovation that involves field, laboratory, and legacy collection studies in collaboration with descendant communities. We employ a broad range of methodological and theoretical approaches in numerous field and laboratory projects.
Tushingham Human Autonomy Lab
Current research projects are diverse and include investigations of subsistence autonomy and resilience, food safety and security, storage diversity, women/ household leadership and decision-making, ancestral food systems and modern health, the evolution of psychoactive plant use, and equity and multivocality in STEM. A major focus of research involves studies of complex food systems and storage, but most studies fit within the lab’s focus on human autonomy and three general research priorities:
Resilient Communities: Human-Environmental Dynamics in Western North America: This area of study involves explorations of the breadth, diversity, and dynamics of food storage systems, women’s decision making, mobility and sedentism, subsistence autonomy, and implications of paleo-environment, climate change, and varied social circumstances. I am particularly interested in notions of flexibility and diversity in hunter-gatherer-fisher storage and settlement systems, resource intensification, and household and village formation. Field and laboratory projects are based in the Columbia Plateau, California, the Pacific Northwest, and northern Great Basin). A major research commitment is the project, “First Peoples-First Foods: Ancestral Diet Science to Build and Maintain Resilience and Sustainable Food Security Solutions for Indigenous Communities,” which deals with ways in which archaeological and historical data can intersect with Tribal and indigenous community needs and modern health issues. Work includes studies developed with Tribal partners that is designed to address a major challenge: how to build and maintain resilience, sustainability, and healthy communities by improving access to and knowledge about traditional first food and medicinal practices. Ancestral foods are vital to the autonomy, identity, health, and well-being of indigenous peoples worldwide, yet access to these foods and knowledge about their nutrition and safety is an immediate challenge, and climate change is profoundly impacting food distribution and availability. Solutions require better understanding of three fundamental aspects of first foods, culture, and their webs of relation, which our interdisciplinary team of researchers and Tribal partners examine: 1) Human responses to varied access to ancestral foods, and the effects of climate change and colonialism on traditional practices; 2) Food procurement, processing, and storage systems in antiquity and modernity; and 3) The nutritional composition/safety and possible modern contaminant load of traditionally prepared “First Foods”. Affiliated research draws on ecological and indigenous frameworks and is articulated in the study, “Beyond Processors: Leadership, Risk, and Decision-Making Among Women in Anarchic Societies,” which explores how social, subsistence, and political autonomy is maintained among anarchic hunting, gathering, and fishing societies, in particular the critical (yet oft overlooked) role of women’s leadership and decision-making in the development and persistence in heterarchical systems.
Psychoactive Plants Project: The Psychoactive Plants Project is a multi-year NSF-funded multidisciplinary program that investigates the antiquity of human interactions with psychoactive plants: https://labs.wsu.edu/psychoactive-plants/. The first phase of the project, Human Use of Psychoactive Plants in Ancient North America: Experimental Method Development and Applications of Metabolomics Research in Archaeological Residue Analysis, focused on the development of ancient biochemical residue extraction methods and exploration of metabolomics as a means of identifying plants to the species level in archaeological contexts. The second phase of the project, The Biomolecular Archaeology of Psychoactive Plants: Expanding Frontiers in Ancient Metabolomics and Dental Calculus Studies, focuses on further refining methods and applying methods to the analysis of residues on ancient human dental calculus. We pioneered extraction and identification techniques that provide a new set of analytical tools for intoxicant plant studies. Artifact residues and dental calculus studies: We identify varied plant compounds in ancient artifacts such as pipes, and are the first to successfully extract and identify alkaloid residues in the dental calculus of ancient human teeth (a breakthrough with enormous potential to help us better understand evolutionary aspects of intoxicant plant use on the individual level and test assumptions about age, sex, and status). We also developed species-level plant identification techniques via metabolomics research. This work has led to the projects, Drug Use and Oral Health: Periodontal Effects and Persistence of Psychoactive Biomarkers in Ancient and Modern Human Dental Health involves analysis of dental calculus of modern marijuana, tobacco, and other drug users to better understand the effects of drug use on human teeth and dynamics of preservation of calcified plaque. A Cross-Population Metabolomics-Based Approach to Sex and Age-Based Biases in Cannabis Use in Its Connection to Human Health, which examines five global populations to investigate cannabis use and health outcomes.
Collaboration, equity and multivocality in archaeology: Research on equity and the dissemination of knowledge addresses persistent inequities in publishing among other topics. I and my co-investigators advocate for multi-vocality in STEM and explore ways of actively changing disciplinary and structural frameworks that will provide avenues for women and underrepresented groups. Public outreach and broader impacts projects focus on the democritizataoin of science and include specific outcomes involving students in a number of ways, e.g., WSU Pioneers in CRM
Our lab works within an ethic of collaboration and engagement with Tribal people and local communities, which is reflected in both practice and publications. Much of this is outline in a piece written with Native American co-authors and students (Tushingham et al. 2019, In the Footsteps of Amelia Brown…”), which provides a model for a “collaborative historical ecology” approach where community interests and indigenous knowledge are valued at same level as scientific research questions and data. Collaborative research is designed with Tribal partners has has been developed to address such topics as food security, autonomy, and safety, resilience and health of vulnerable populations, improving access to/ knowledge about traditional ecological knowledge, ancestral foods/ medicines, and environmental stewardship practices. Research is based in interior Northwest North America but our interests have wider implications for global Indigenous communities. Data derive from a number of sources, including legacy collections, archival and oral history research, and fieldwork. This includes the Archaeological Field School in Indigenous Collaboration, Landscapes, and Heritage Management, which is designed to fill a gap for the next generation of archaeologists and heritage professionals who seek training in modern field and laboratory methods and collaborative research practices.
The Tushingham Archaeological Research Laboratory is located on the traditional homeland of the Palus Band of Indians and the ceded lands of the Nez Perce Tribe. We acknowledge their presence here since time immemorial and recognize their continuing connection to the land, to the water, and to their ancestors.