Xinyi Liu

Xinyi Liu

​Associate Professor of Archaeology
PhD, University of Cambridge
research interests:
  • Plant domestication
  • Food Globalization in Prehistory
  • Millet
  • Prehistory of China
  • Archaeobotany
  • Stable Isotopes

contact info:

office hours:

  • By appointment
Get Directions

mailing address:

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

Xinyi Liu utilizes a range of stable isotope and archaeobotanical approaches to explore how past societies domesticated, produced and consumed plants and animals and how they adapted to new environments in the context of the spread of farming.

I am an archaeologist of food, cuisines, and environments devoted to understanding how past societies domesticated, produced, and consumed plants and animals and adapted to new environments during farming dispersals. I am currently researching a key episode in the history of food, the period of globalization between c. 7000 and 3500 BP, which had transformed the Eurasian foodways, and had profound social and ecological impacts on ancient societies. Long-term fieldwork in the Tibetan Plateau, Hexi Corridor, Inner Mongolia, and regions in Kazakhstan, Russia and Romania documents the trans-continental movements of cereal crops across prehistoric Eurasia. My recent research examines the precise mechanisms farmers and herders employed to incorporate newly introduced domesticates into their long-standing social and culinary systems concerning food preparation, water management, and cultural values. My research also contributes to the knowledge of the prehistoric trajectories of ancient China and their implications for our understanding of the human past on a more global scale.

Students and postdocs at Washington University’s Laboratory for the Analysis of Early Food-Webs (LAEF) utilize a range of archaeological, isotopic and archaeobotanical approaches to address questions about paleodiets and paleoclimates. Members of the LAEF group are currently researching sites from a range of markedly distinct environments in different times, including the Bronze Age Tibetan Plateau and Hexi Corridor, Paleolithic and Neolithic northern China and Inner Mongolia, prehistoric Greece, Byzantine Levant, Tiwanaku Andes and the 20th Century Costa Rica.

Selected Publications (see CV for the full list)


Vaiglova, P.*, R. E. B. Reid, E. Lightfoot, S. E. Pilaar Birch, H. Wang, G. Chen, S. Li, M. K. Jones and X. Liu*, 2021. Localized management of non-indigenous animal domesticates in northwestern China during the Bronze Age. Scientific Reports, 11: 15764. Abstract


Sanborn, L. H., R. E. B. Reid, A. S. Bradley and X. Liu, 2021. The effect of water availability on the carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of a C4 plant (pearl millet, Pennisetum glabucum). Journal of Archaeological Sciences, 28: 103047. Abstract


Song, J., Y. Gao, L. Tang, Z. Zhang, M. Hayashi Tang, H. Xu, W. Tashi, H. Yuan, L. Li, Y. Li, W. Shargan, X. Liu* and H. Lu*. 2021. Farming and multi-resource subsistence in the third-second millennium BC eastern Tibet: Archaeobotanical evidence from Karuo. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 13, 41. Abstract


Liu, X., and R. E. B. Reid, 2020. The prehistoric roots of Chinese cuisines: Mapping staple food systems of China, 6000 BC -220 AD. PLOS ONE, 15(11), e0240930. Abstract


Zhang, Z., Z. Chen, F. Marshall, H. Lü, X. Lemoine, T. Wangyal, T. Dorje and X. Liu, 2019. The importance of hunting of diverse animals at Xiaoenda (5000 - 4000 BP), East Tibet. Quaternary International, 529, 38-46. Abstract


Liu, X., P.J. Jones, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviviute, H.V. Hunt, D.L. Lister, T. An, N. Przelomska, C.J. Kneale, Z. Zhao and M.K. Jones, 2019. From ecological opportunism to multi-cropping: mapping food globalisation in prehistory. Quaternary Science Reviews, 206(15), 21-8. Abstract


Liu, X., G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute & H.V. Hunt, 2018. From a fertile idea to a fertile arc: The origins of broomcorn millet 15 years on, in Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K. Jones, eds. E. Lightfoot, X. Liu & D.Q. Fuller. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Conversations, 155-64. Abstract


Liu, X., D.L. Lister, Z. Zhao, C.A. Petrie, X. Zeng, P.J. Jones, R. Staff, A.K. Pokharia, J. Bates, R.N. Singh, S.A. Weber, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviviute, G. Dong, H. Li, H. Lü, H. Jiang, J. Wang, J. Ma, D. Tian, G. Jin, L. Zhou, X. Wu & M.K. Jones, 2017. Journey to the East: diverse routes and variable flowering times for wheat and barley en route to prehistoric China. PLOS ONE, 12(11), e0209518. Abstract


Liu, X., Z. Zhao & M.K. Jones, 2017. From people's commune to household responsibility: Ethnoarchaeological perspectives of millet production in prehistoric northeast China. Archaeological Research in Asia, 11, 51-7. Abstract


Liu, X., D.L. Lister, Z.-Z. Zhao, R.A. Staff, P.J. Jones, L.-P. Zhou, A.K. Pokharia, C.A. Petrie, A. Pathak, H.-L. Lu, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, J. Bates, T.K. Pilgram and M.J. Jones, 2016. The virtues of small grain size: Potential pathways to a distinguishing feature of Asian wheats. Quaternary International, 426(28), 107-9. Abstract


Ren, X., X. Lemoine, D. Mo, T.R. Kidder, Y. Guo, Z. Qin & X. Liu, 2016. Foothills and intermountain basins: Does China's Fertile Arc have a 'Hilly Flanks'? Quaternary International, 426(28), 86-96. Abstract


Liu, X., D. Fuller and M. K. Jones. 2015. Early agriculture in China. In The Cambridge World History - Volume II:  A world with agriculture, 12,000 BCE-500CE, edited by G. Barker and C. Goucher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 310-334.


Chen, F., F. Dong, D. Zhang, X. Liu, X. Jia, C. An, M. Ma, Y. Xie, L. Barton, X. Ren, Z. Zhao, X. Wu and M. K. Jones. 2015. Agriculture facilitated permanent human occupation of the Tibetan Plateau after 3600 B.P. Science 347 (6219), 248-250. Abstract


Liu, X., E. Lightfoot, T. C. O'Connell, H. Wang, S. Li, L. Zhou, Y. Hu, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute and M. K. Jones. 2014. From necessity to choice: dietary revolutions in west China in the second millennium BC. World Archaeology 46 (5), 661-680. Abstract


Liu, X. and M. K. Jones. 2014. Food globalization in prehistory: top down or bottom up? Antiquity 88 (341), 956-963. Abstract


Liu, X., M. K. Jones, Z. Zhao, G. Liu and T. C. O'Connell. 2012. The earliest evidence of millet as a staple crop: New light on Neolithic foodways in North China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 149 (2), 238-290. Abstract


Jones, M. K. and X. Liu. 2009. Origins of agriculture in East Asia. Science 324 (5928), 730-731. Abstract


Liu, X., H. V. Hunt and M. K. Jones. 2009. River valleys and foothills: changing archaeological perceptions of north China's earliest farms. Antiquity 83 (319), 82-95. Abstract



Archaeology of China – Food and People (L48-3163)

Culinary Globalization: The First 30,000 Years (L48-3101)

Environmental Archaeology (L48-4285)

Introduction to Scientific Approaches in Archaeology (L48-4107)

Bio-molecular Archaeology – Are you what you eat? (L48-4565)

Pathways to Domestication (L48-489)