Anna Shoemaker

Supervisor – Paul Lane

I am a doctoral student in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University.  I am part of the Marie Curie ITN Resilience in East African Landscapes project. I am taking an historical ecology approach to understanding human-landscape interactions in the Amboseli basin, Kenya over the last c.500 years.  Historical ecology is a research program that I find particularly exciting as it situates humans as essential components of ecosystems.  Historical ecology is a framework that encourages the generation of narratives regarding the past present and future of the ever-changing landscapes on which we live.

I am also the student representative for the Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE) research network.

Prior to starting my PhD I worked as a graduate attachee at the British Institute of Eastern Africa in Nairobi where I had to opportunity to assist in a myriad of research endeavours and became thoroughly interested in the study of environmental archaeology in East Africa.

I completed my MSc degree in environmental archaeology in September 2012 at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.  For my dissertation I examined Iron Age phytoliths from Qubur al-Walaydah, Israel to better understand the utilization of plant resources through time, and also the phytolith assemblage signatures associated with various on-site occupation contexts.  I began my studies at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia where I was first exposed to archaeobotanical analysis and excavations in East Africa.  Throughout the years I have also participated in archaeological projects in Fiji, British Columbia, Turkey, Jordan, and Kenya.

I am very excited to be a part of the REAL project, and I look forward to sharing my results over the course of my PhD. I am a strong believer in inter-disciplinary collaboration and past for future research themes and invite any and all queries about my work with REAL.

I also sometimes tweet about issues of interest to me.

Dissertation Research:

On the periphery of living memory in the Amboseli basin - human settlement and landscape interaction c. 1700-1950

The Amboseli basin in southern Kenya is considered to be a landscape traditionally inhabited by pastoralists, and the Maasai are identified as the indigenous people of the basin. Yet, today in Amboseli pastoralists are becoming poorer according to traditional metrics of pastoralism, self-perception, and in the sense that more than a quarter of the population is living below the international poverty line. This has coincided with a decrease in livestock holdings in the region, particularly cattle, as herders navigate issues of land, food, and economic insecurity. Of major concern to wildlife conservationists in Amboseli is the on-going modification of water and land for agriculture and urban development. Conservation and development initiatives in Amboseli are becoming increasingly invested in encouraging ‘traditional pastoral lifeways and the continuation of land tenure under the group ranch system.  However there is a paucity of historical and archaeological data that comprises the basis of a very generalized narrative of land use history in the basin - a narrative that continues to inform modern debates regarding environmental sustainability and influences projects that aim to conserve so-called traditional practices. 

Taking the landscape as a unit of analysis, this study focuses on the southern Olgulului/Olarashi Group Ranch area in the Amboseli basin.  Using archaeological surveys, test excavations, archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, ceramic, and lithic analysis, as well as local knowledge and archival documents this research focuses on the following objectives:

  • Detail the diversity of livelihood strategies practiced on the Amboseli landscape over the past c.500 years;
  • Examine the past significance of various landscape features and resources (permanent and perennial water sources, wild plant and animal foods etc.) to the inhabitants of Amboseli, particularly during ecologically unpredictable periods;
  • Contextualize the Amboseli basin as a landscape connected to wider regional networks of trade, migration, and resource patch utilization;
  • Use an applied historical ecology approach to addressing contemporary issues of inequality, sustainability, and vulnerability in the basin.
  • Archaeological perspectives on human landscape interaction in Amboseli are complemented by paleoecological, historical and land-cover change modeling research being undertaken by other REAL project members at partner institutions across Europe.