Christine Hastorf

Research Expertise and Interest

anthropology, archaeology, paleoethnobotany/archaeobotany, ancient plant use, foodways, Andean South America, indigenous ontologies, agriculture

Research Description

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

The Superfoods That Fueled Ancient Andeans Through 2,500 Years of Turmoil

What if Indigenous diets could save our politically and ecologically strained planet? UC Berkeley archaeologists reconstructed the diets of ancient Andeans living around Lake Titicaca, which straddles Bolivia and Peru 12,500 feet above sea level. They found that quinoa, potatoes and llama meat helped fuel the Tiwanaku civilization through 2,500 years of political and climate upheaval.

To recreate ancient recipes, check out the vestiges of clay pots

If you happen to dig up an ancient ceramic cooking pot, don’t clean it. Chances are, it contains the culinary secrets of the past. A research team led by UC Berkeley archaeologists has discovered that unglazed ceramic cookware can retain the residue of not just the last supper cooked, but, potentially, earlier dishes cooked across a pot’s lifetime, opening a window onto the past.

A Taste of Andean History

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.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
October 1, 2020
Jennifer Ouellette
Archaeologists are fascinated by many different aspects of cultures in the distant past, but determining what ancient people cooked and ate can be particularly challenging. A team of researchers spent an entire year analyzing the chemical residues of some 50 meals cooked in ceramic pots and found such cookware retained not just the remnants of the last meal cooked, but also clues as to earlier meals, spanning a pot's lifetime of usage. According to co-author Christine Hastorf, an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley, the project has been several years in the making. Hastorf has long been interested in the relationships between people and plants throughout history, particularly as they pertain to what people ate in the past. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News.
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