Christine Hastorf has been involved in anthropological research concerned with long-term human-plant relationships since 1979. Concentrating in archaeology, she has focused primarily on these interactions in the South American highland region, although she has also worked in Turkey and Italy. She primarily studies highland Andean societies, especially later prehistory once agriculture was practiced. Since 1992, She has been directing a project, the Taraco Archaeological Project, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia where they investigate early settled life at a series of sites that span the Formative periods 1500 BCE - CE 600, creating a regional perspective of these lakeshore dwellers. The research team is interested in the domestic daily world of the residents, but also of their ritual and social worlds. The detailed data-rich field orientation requires us to study closely the discrete details of daily life registered in the artifacts. Between 1996 and 2001 she was involved in research at the Neolithic village site of Çatal Höyük, where she headed the archaeological macro-botanical research.
Her laboratory expertise is what is called either paleoethnobotany or archaeobotany--the study of plants used by humans in the past. She currently directs the UCB McCown Archaeobotany Laboratory where a series of analytical projects are ongoing. Students working with her have a chance to immediately join in on current laboratory and field projects. She regularly takes on both undergraduates and graduates in both types of research. While her main work has been with macroremains, they include phytolith and starch analysis, in addition to documenting internal cellular morphology identification of geophytes. The types of projects she is currently involved in range from social theory of past human social life, foodways, to methodology that leads us to a better understanding of past plant-people interactions. She has written on agricultural production, cooking practices and what shifts in these suggest about social relations, gender relations surrounding food, the rise of complex society, political change and the symbolic use of plants in the legitimation of authority, fuel use and symbolism, indigenous engagement with the landscape, and the origins of plant domestication as social identity. In addition to writing on paleoethnobotanical methods and approaches, She has also published a book on the social archaeological study of food, which was awarded the Society for American Archaeology's Book award in 2020. She is particularly interested in wild taxa use as compared to domesticates and the stages in plant processing in terms of other social realms, especially symbolic and political, in addition to the playing out of the concept of culture in a natural world.
In the News
Of all of the advances people have developed over the millennia, food plants may be the most important. By examining the plant remains on early settlements, Berkeley professor of anthropology Christine Hastorf pieces together how ancient peoples worked, ate, traded and worshiped.