Tristram R. Kidder

Tristram R. Kidder

Professor of Anthropology
Professor of Environmental Studies
Edward S. and Tedi Macias Professor
PhD, Harvard University
research interests:
  • Anthropological Archaeology
  • Paleoecology
  • Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction
  • Climate Change
  • Geoarchaeology
  • The Formation of Hierarchical Social Systems
  • The Emergence of Social Complexity
  • Complex Hunter-Gatherer History
  • Historical Ecology

contact info:

office hours:

  • ​Tuesday 10:00 - 11:00 am
    or By Appointment
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mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1114
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

​Professor Kidder’s research applies archaeology and geology to the study of how human populations have adapted to climate and environmental change.

Kidder has two main interests: First, what causes people to arrange themselves through time into increasingly complex forms of social organization? And second, how do climate and environment shape human societies through time. Related to this, he is especially interested in the Anthropocene concept, which argues that humans have come to rival nature as a force shaping the earth. His work therefore explores how, when, and to what extent humans have changed climates and especially their environments. With graduate students and collaborators Kidder explore these and related issues through several different projects in the eastern United States, in Central Asia, and in China.

Much of their work is focused in the realm of geoarchaeology and landscape archaeology. His own work emphasizes geomorphology in large river systems and the relationships between climate change, river responses, landscape change, and human cultures. He also uses geoarchaeological methods to study mound building. His lab group is interested in the complex interplay between climate, geology, history, and human agency, which lets us fit much of our research into the frameworks of landscape archaeology, environmental archaeology, and historical ecology. As part of this work his research group conducts studies of the evolution and chronology of the Holocene Mississippi and Yellow Rivers using archaeological and geoarchaeological data.
His lab also does research on issues associated with "complexity." This takes two main forms. One, they are doing research on issues of hunter-gatherer complexity, especially at Poverty Point in Louisiana and Jaketown in Mississippi. The questions here are: what is the interplay of structure and practice in these societies that allowed them to create elaborate monumental earthworks or massive long-distance trade networks while lacking outward signs of hierarchy or stratification? A second area of interest is the construction of earthworks as materialized evidence of social organization and complexity. Work at Poverty Point and Jaketown is important but efforts at Cahokia and elsewhere are critical too.

Selected Publications

Kidder, Tristram R. and Haiwang Liu
2017 Bridging Theoretical Gaps in Geoarchaeology: Archaeology, Geoarchaeology and History in the Yellow River Valley, China. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 9:1585-1602. doi: 10.1007/s12520-014-0184-5 (published online March 2014).
Kidder, Tristram R., Edward Henry, and Lee J. Arco
2017 Rapid climate change-induced collapse of hunter-gatherer societies in the lower Mississippi River valley between ca. 3300 and 2780 cal yr BP. Science China: Earth Sciences 60:1-1. doi:10.1007/s11430-017-9128-8.
Li, Lan, Zhu Cheng, Michael J. Storozum, and Tristram R. Kidder
2017 Relative sea-level Rise, site distributions and Neolithic settlement in the early to mid-Holocene, Jiangsu Province, China. The Holocene. doi: 10.1177/0959683617729442.
Storozum, Michael J., Zhen Qin, Haiwang Liu, Kui Fu, and Tristram R. Kidder
2017 Anthrosols and ancient agriculture at Sanyangzhuang, Henan Province, China. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
Storozum, Michael J., Zhen Qin, Liu Haiwang, and Tristram R. Kidder
2017 Early evidence of irrigation technology in the North China Plain: Geoarchaeological investigations at the Anshang site, Neihuang County, Henan Province, China. Geoarchaeology. doi:10.1002/gea.21634.
Storozum, Michael J., Duowen Mo, Hui Wang, Xiaolin Ren, Yifei Zhang, and Tristram R. Kidder
2017 Anthropogenic origins of a late Holocene, basin-wide, unconformity in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, the Luoyang Basin, Henan province, China. Quaternary Research. doi:10.1017/qua.2017.10.
Zhang, Yifei, Duowen Mo, Ke Hu, Wenbo Bao, Wenying Li, Abudurelsule Idilisi, Michael J. Storozum, and Tristram R. Kidder
2017 Holocene environmental change around Xiaohe Cemetery and its effects on human occupation, Xinjiang, China. 
Zhuang, Yijei, Heejin Kim, and Tristram R. Kidder
2017 The cradle of heaven-human induction idealism: agricultural intensification, environmental consequences and social responses in Han China and Three-Kingdoms Korea. World Archaeology 48:563-585.
Henry, Edward R., Anthony L., Ortmann, Lee J. Arco, and Tristram R. Kidder
2017 Tetrahedron baked-clay objects from an Early Woodland context at the Jaketown site, Mississippi. Southeastern Archaeology 36:34-45.
Kidder, Tristram R., Haiwang Liu, Michael J. Storozum, and Zhen Qin
2016 New Perspectives on the Collapse and Regeneration of the Han Dynasty. In Beyond Collapse: Archaeological Perspectives on Resilience, Revitalization, and Transformation in Complex Societies, edited by Ronald K. Faulseit, pp. 70-98. Proceedings of the 29th Annual Visiting Scholar Conference, Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Ren, Xiaolin, Ximena Lemoine, Duowen Mo, Tristram R. Kidder, Yuanyuan Guo, Zhen Qin, and Xinyi Liu
2016 Foothills and Intermountain Basins: Does China’s Fertile Arc have “Hilly Flanks”? Quaternary International,
Kidder, Tristram R. and Sarah Sherwood
2016 Look to the Earth: The Search for Ritual in the Context of Mound Construction. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences (DOI: 10.1007/s12520-016-0369-1).
Kidder, Tristram R. and Yijie Zhuang
2015 Anthropocene Archaeology of the Yellow River, China, 5000-2000 BP. The Holocene 25:1627-1639. DOI: 10.1177/0959683615594469.
Spivey, S. Margaret, Tristram R. Kidder, Anthony L. Ortmann, and Lee J. Arco
2015 Pilgrimage to Poverty Point? In The archaeology of events: Cultural change and continuity in the pre-Columbian Southeast, edited by Zackary I. Gilmore and Jason M. O’Donoughue, pp. 141-159. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
Kidder, Tristram R. and Haiwang Liu
2014 Bridging Theoretical Gaps in Geoarchaeology: Archaeology, Geoarchaeology and History in the Yellow River Valley, China. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. DOI: 10.1007/s12520-014-0184-5.
Zhuang, Yijie, and Tristram R. Kidder
2014 Archaeology of the Anthropocene in the Yellow River, China, 8000-2000 cal. BP. The Holocene 24:1602-1623. DOI: 10.1177/0959683614544058.
Li, Tuoyu, Duowen Mo, Tristram R. Kidder, Yifei Zhang, Haibin Wang, and Yongqiu Wu
2014 Holocene environmental change and its influence on the prehistoric culture evolution and the formation of the Taosi site in Linfen Basin, Shanxi Province, China. Quaternary International 349: 402–408. DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2014.07.054