Ellery Frahm
Research Associate, Anthropology, University of Minnesota
Research Fellow, Anthropology, Harvard University


Nor Geghi 1 exacavations

Above: Excavations at Nor Geghi 1, a Lower Palaeolithic archaeological site in Armenia

I am a Research Associate at the University of Minnesota and a Research Fellow at Harvard University. My research, at its broadest, explores how different cultures throughout human history made use of the environment and its resources during times of climatic and social change. Currently I am investigating how behaviors, such as foraging strategies, within a particular environmental setting shaped opportunities for social transmission and, in turn, the spread of cultural and technological innovations.

I completed my Ph.D. in Anthropology with Gilbert Tostevin at the University of Minnesota in 2010. My dissertation examined the Early to Middle Bronze Age transition, a time when cities in Northern Mesopotamia saw high rainfall followed by severe droughts for two centuries. By studying people’s transport of stone tools, I showed how they reacted to this shift, revealing changes in their mobility strategies and exchange systems over time. The long-distance movement of people and resources, which had initially expanded under state control, did not last through the aridity. Nomadic peoples, though, appear to have maintained their seasonal movements. When the rainfall later increased, so too did people’s movements across the region. I published my findings in Journal of Archaeological Science, and my work was recognized with the university’s Best Dissertation Award in the Social and Behavioral Sciences and Education (2010-2012).

As a Marie Curie research fellow at the University of Sheffield in England, I started co-directing and collaborating on projects in Armenia that span the Palaeolithic. Delving deeper into the past allows me to consider similar social phenomena during the emergence of modern behavior and the global expansion of our species. My data from Nor Geghi 1 (shown above), a Lower Palaeolithic site which dates to more than 320,000 years ago, challenge widely held ideas regarding Late Pleistocene humans. It is often thought that these early humans moved slowly through small territories, exhausting local resources before moving on. In contrast, my results show that they could acquire and use knowledge of large, ecologically diverse areas and move quickly across distances of hundreds of kilometers. My results were included in a paper recently published by Science. The newest addition to my methodological repertoire is identifying organic residues found on stone tools. This reveals how people used stone tools as well as the plant and animal resources available on the landscape.

As an anthropological archaeologist, I am dedicated to the four-field approach to our discipline, and my teaching has incorporated the sociocultural and biological subfields. As a lecturer at the University of Minnesota, I taught Anthropology of the Middle East, a sociocultural course that fulfilled Global Perspectives and Writing Intensive requirements, and Geoarchaeology, an interdepartmental class that covered many topics relevant to environmental archaeology and palaeoanthropology.

Below: Just a few of 20,000 obsidian artifacts excavated from Middle Palaeolithic Lusakert Cave 1 in Armenia

Armenian obsidian artifacts

Updated: 9/2015