As an Old World prehistorian, Fiona Marshall’s research focuses on two issues: early hominid lifeways, and the origins and spread of pastoralism in Africa.
Marshall's research focuses on animal domestication and the beginnings of food production in Africa. She is currently conducting research on two unlikely domesticates, donkeys and cats. The long-term effects of cattle pastoralism on African savannas are the focus of a current field project in southwestern Kenya. She has also undertaken ethnoarchaeological field work designed to investigate factors that affect body part representation in archaeological sites, and alternative pathways to food production among former Okiek hunter-gatherers of the Mau Escarpment, Kenya. She is currently conducting interdisciplinary research on the domestication of the donkey with archaeological, morphometric, genetic, behavioral and ethnoarchaeological components. Human mobility and social strategies for coping with increasing aridity in Africa during the Holocene and on the role of African pastoralists in the long-term creation and maintenance of African savannas are emphases of most of my projects. Her research and that of my graduate students contributes to understanding human-animal relations, complex interactions among ancient agricultural, pastoral and hunter-gatherer societies in Africa, the history and resilience of livestock and herding ways of life, and the sustainability of use of African grasslands.
Students have completed PhDs on; obsidian quarrying and technological and social organization of ancient herders, Kenya (Steven Goldstein), the ethnoarchaeology and archaeology of the Afar Salt Route, Ethiopia (Helina Woldekiros); Samburu ethnoarchaeology and the use of ceramics by mobile herders (Katherine Grillo), ancient Wankarani pastoralists of Bolivia (José Capriles) and research on rodents as indicators of degree of mobility (Lior Weissbrod).
Students at Washington University's zooarchaeological laboratory are currently working on projects in the Horn of Africa, China, behavioral research at the St Louis Zoo, and experimental studies of factors affecting bone breakage and carnivore damage to bone. The zooarchaeology laboratory has worked closely with the palaeothnobotany laboratory, the Department of Art and Archaeology, the University's Tyson Research Center and the St. Louis Zoo.