College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Anthropology

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  • Dr. Melissa Goodman Elgar

    M. Phil., Ph.D., University of Cambridge, UK
    Assistant Professor

    Research Interests - Courses - Graduate Students - Publications

    Research Interests

    Human landscape modification, earthen architecture, farming, geoarchaeology

    My research concentrates on how humans transform natural land into anthropogenic landscapes drawing on approaches in archaeology, earth science and geography. Central themes of my research concern the creation of anthropogenic space through architecture, and the creation of anthropogenic soils. Currently I am focusing on projects in the Bolivian highlands, the Peruvian coast, the Pend Oreille Valley, WA, and Ghana. Methodologically I employ soil micromorphology (thin section) analysis, bulk sediment analysis, and geochemistry in the Geoarchaeology Laboratory, which I direct.

    Current Research

    How does the creation of a human-designed environment change human behavior? This question is central to my research into early public architecture from Formative Bolivia. People settled into communities along the margins of Lake Titicaca and developed civic-ceremonial architecture by the second millennium B.C.E. and began to shift subsistence toward agropastoralism, and socio-political organization away from egalitarian norms and toward political hierarchy. What social processes legitimated this shift to a centralized social organization that legitimated social inequality? My research suggests that the processes of constructing the civic-ceremonial complexes that emerged at this time were pivotal to these changes. My geoarchaeological reconstructions of technological aspects of building materials, and the microstratigraphy of rebuilding events shed light on pathways to sociopolitical differentiation in the Formative. I also draw on advances in spatial perception from neuroscience to consider the potential for human-modified environments to facilitate changes to established behavioral norms.

    How can we detect human alterations of soils and sediments? Sediment is often the largest component of the archaeological record, and archaeological sediments provide forensic clues into human behavior. In collaboration with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. My students and I characterize sediments from Tribal Cultural Resource Management targets to expand the interpretative potential of site evaluation (Goodman Elgar 2014,Truman 2014). We are currently reconstructing a burned prehistoric structure, a rare find for the region, drawing on my research into earthen architecture and geochemistry. There will be scope for new student projects in investigations planned for the 2015 field season.

    New analytical instruments provide archaeologists with opportunities to revolutionize geochemical applications to archaeology, but established methods often work poorly for archaeological sediments. My students and I are conducting experiments in applying geochemistry to anthropogenic soils from my projects in Bolivia and Washington in collaboration with geologists from WSU's Geoanalytical Laboratory. Using Wavelength-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (WDXRF), we characterized building materials from Bolivia, marking the highest resolution sediment characterization available for the region (Goodman Elgar et al. in press). Drawing on this research, we conducted experiments to determine the limits of determination for portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) instruments, which are an emergent technology in archaeology. We found very high correspondence between determinations from a calibrated pXRF instrument to our more costly WDXRF determinations (Conrey et al. 2014). Recently we tested our pXRF method on different sediment preparations of powdered, hand ground, solid and resin impregnated sediments the results of which are forthcoming. Members of my lab also conduct experiments in other methods including testing particle size analysis protocols, and the effects of heat on anthropogenic sediments.



    • ANTH 549 Settlement and Food Production
    • ANTH 570/570L Geoarchaeology
    • ANTH 600 Soil Micromorphology Lab Intensive; Andean Archaeology; Urbanism and the State 


    • ANTH 101 General Anthropology
    • ANTH 309 Cultural Ecology
    • UH 370 Honors Social Science:-Tawantinsuyo: Land of the Inca


    Current Graduate Students

    Nichole Bettencourt (M.A. Washington State U), Ph.D. Geoarchaeological approaches to earthen architecture in the Andes to address the social processes used in the planning, development, and abandonment of civic-ceremonial sites

    Molly Carney M.A., Geoarchaeological and paleoethnobotanical analyses of the Flying Goose Site (45PO435), Cusick, WA

    William “Buzz” Nanavati, M.A. Effects of climate and environmental change on human-environment interactions and settlement patterns in the Andes

    Elizabeth Truman, M.A. Geoarchaeological characterization of settlement features from Redbird Beach, ID (10NP55).


    Patrick Dolan M.A., Geoarchaeological Analyses of a Northwest Coast Plank House: Formation Processes at the Dionisio Point Site

    Marcia Peterson M.A., Geoarchaeological Analyses of Kumi Kipa: A Formative Period Site in the Lake Titicaca Basin, Bolivia

    Elizabeth Truman M.A., Geoarchaeological characterization of settlement features from Redbird Beach, ID (10NP55)

    Representative Publications and Reports


    Goodman Elgar, M.A., N.S. Bettencourt and R. Conrey. In press. Geochemical Characterization of Bolivian Formative Earthen Architecture by Wavelength-Dispersive X-ray Fluorescence. Geoarchaeology.

    Conrey, R., M., M.A. Goodman Elgar, N. Bettencourt, A. Seyfarth, A. Van Hoose and J. A. Wolff. 2014. Portable X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer Calibration for Archaeological Samples Using Influence Coefficients. Geochemistry: Exploration, Environment, Analysis. doi:10.1144/geochem2013-198

    Goodman-Elgar, M. 2009. Places to partake: Chicha in the Andean landscape. In Justin Jennings and Brenda Bowser (Eds), Drink, Power, and Society in the Andes, 75-107. Gainsville: The University Press of Florida.

    French, C. R. Periman , L. S. Cummings, S. Hall, M. Goodman-Elgar and J. Boreham. 2009. Holocene alluvial sequences, cumulic soils and fire signatures in the middle Rio Puerco basin at Guadalupe Ruin, New Mexico. Geoarchaeology 24(5): 638-676.

    Goodman-Elgar, M. 2008a. Evaluating soil resilience in long-term cultivation: a study of pre-Columbian terraces from the Paca Valley, Peru, Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 3072–3086.

    Goodman-Elgar, M. 2008b. The devolution of mudbrick: Ethnoarchaeology of abandoned earthen dwellings in the Bolivian Andes, Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 3057–3071.

    Representative Reports

    Goodman Elgar, M.A. 2014. Preliminary Geoarchaeological Analyses of Cultural Deposits at Site 45PO426, Kalispel Reservation, Pend Oreille, County, WA. Submitted to the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

    Goodman-Elgar, M.  2011. Geoarchaeological investigations of Alaska Way Viaduct Site 45K1924 Seattle, WA. Submitted to ICF International, Seattle, WA.

    Goodman-Elgar, M. 2010. Geoarchaeology: archaeological collections, ethnoarchaeology and experimental burning. In C. Hastorf et al.,  Taraco Archaeological Project  2009 Excavations at Kala Uyuni. Submitted to the Unidad Nacional de Arqueología de Bolivia.

    Goodman-Elgar, M. 2009. Report on Archaeological Sites in the Region of San Nicolás, District of Namora, Cajamarca Dept., Peru. Submitted to the National Institute of Culture of Peru.

    Goodman-Elgar, M. and M.Peterson.  2006. Geoarchaeological investigations: Initial results of bulk analyses from KKKK, KUAC and KUKU. In C. Hastorf et al., Taraco Archaeological Project Report 2005: Excavations at Kala Uyuni and Sonaji, pp. 85-95, 152-56. Submitted to the Unidad Nacional de Arqueología de Bolivia.

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