College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Anthropology

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  • Dr. Shannon Tushingham

    Ph.D., University of California-Davis
    Assistant Director, Museum of Anthropology

    Research interests

    Pacific Rim hunter-gatherer-fishers, evolutionary ecology, ethnoarchaeology, archaeometry, residue studies, psychoactive plant use, colonial encounters, collaborative research and contemporary indigenous communities. I have a broad background in academic, tribal, and cultural resource management archaeology. Although most of my recent research is based in the Pacific Northwest and California, I have been involved in field research throughout the eastern and southwestern United States, and the Dordogne Valley, France.

    Current Research

    Current projects focus on the historical ecology of the southern Pacific Northwest Coast in collaboration with Tribal communities, an investigation of human use of psychoactive plants and development of residue extraction and identification methods, and research investigating Native American persistence and survival through contact to the present day. I have a broad interest in the relationship between forager decision making and environmental variability across time and space, and understanding how different adaptive strategies may alter these dynamics over the long term historical record. Guided by models from evolutionary ecology, this work involves examining some of the ideas and assumptions of interpretive frameworks that evaluate the productivity and potential of certain resources or environmental zones.

    Historical Ecology of the Pacific Northwest
    This research includes collaboratively developed projects directed at understanding human-environment interactions in the southern Pacific Northwest Coast-throughout the Holocene into the present day. The studies are an outgrowth of my dissertation research, which was developed in collaboration with the Tolowa of northwestern California and involved excavations at a series of sites in the Smith River basin, oral history documentation, and archival research. A major focus was to understand some of the profound changes that occur in subsistence and human organization after people begin living in large semi-subterranean plank houses at about A.D. 700, developments that are probably reflective of a region-wide adaptive shift in social systems and residential patterns that cross-cut linguistic boundaries and ecological zones.

    Similar changes are being documented in recent work focused on Native American use of marine resources, which includes documentation of coastal and estuarine sites and Traditional Cultural Properties, test excavation and fine grained analysis of subsistence remains, and ethnoarchaeological work with descendant communities. Two studies are currently underway: Historical Ecology of a Northern California Estuary: Collaborative Research Investigating 1300 Years of Human-Environmental Dynamics at the Manila Site (CA-HUM-321) developed in partnership with the Blue Lake Rancheria, and Analyzing Archaeological Materials from Redwood National Park to Investigate Historical Marine Environments, a study funded through a Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit Task Agreement with the National Park Service, and developed in partnership with theElk Valley Rancheria andSmith River Rancheria. Initial results indicate a fundamental restructuring in use of marine environments, withg a distinct shift to logistical strategies, storage, and intensive shellfish procurement, marine mammal hunting and fishing of mass harvested species (smelt, salmon) after A.D. 725. Studies with Tolowa and Yurok people who continue to traditionally harvest seasonally spawning smelt has been enormously helpful in modeling extractive methods, storage and discard patterns in the past.


    I am also keenly interested in how human-environment dynamics changed in post-contact times, through the American colonial period into the present day. Studies are developed to incorporate issues of concern to descendant communities that are grappling with how to respond to threatened access to critical marine foods and the natural and human induced impacts on these resources. The research program is relevant to these issues in that it seeks to establish historic baselines and to better understand long term human-environment interactions while integrating cultural knowledge and oral history documentation within the process of recording sites and Traditional Cultural Places.

    Human Use of Psychoactive Plants in Ancient North America: Experimental Method Development and Applications of Metabolomics Research in Archaeological Residue Analysis
    This NSF funded project focuses on the application of archaeometric techniques to anthropological questions about the history of human use of psychoactive plants. Contact period peoples throughout the Americas widely used plants with stimulant or hallucinogenic properties (e.g., tobacco, coffee, cacao, cassina, datura) for medicinal, ceremonial or recreational purposes, yet surprisingly little is known about their use in the past. Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis offers a direct means to track ancient use of such plants by identifying alkaloid residues in ancient artifacts. For the next three years I will be working with co-PIs David Gang (WSU Institute of Biological Chemistry) and Jelmer Eerkens (UC Davis Anthropology) on method development and refinement of residue extraction and analysis techniques. For example, our studies include work on smoke plants (in ancient pipes) and medicinal teas (in shell and pottery vessels) through identification of plant biomarkers, experimentation ("smoking" plants in experimental pipes, brewing medicinal beverages), and residue extraction from ancient specimens. A major focus is to develop the most powerful and least destructive methods possible that will have a wide range of future applications. Archaeological applications include studies directed at understanding the cultivation, range extension, and management of tobacco in western North America. For example, nicotine, a biomarker for tobacco (Nicotiana sp.), has been identified in ancient pipes from the southern Pacific Northwest Coast dating to as early as the 9th millennium AD., an area where the antiquity of tobacco smoking was, until now, unknown. In addition to tobacco, method development includes the chemical characterization of a suite of key smoke plants used by ethnographic hunter-gatherers (e.g. kinnikinnick or Arctostaphylos uva ursi, widely used by Pacific Northwest peoples) so that we may potentially identify prehistoric use of these plants. Other work includes identification of caffeine residues on shell and pottery vessels associated with Ilex vomitoria, a plant used to brew cassina, or the black drink, a caffeinated ceremonial tea famous for its use in purification rituals by elite males in the southeastern United States.

    Graduate students

    Tiffany Fulkerson
    Adam Sackman
    Charles Snyder
    Kevin Feeney

    Graduate and undergraduate student projects and internships

    Research opportunities for graduate students include masters and dissertation level projects based on original fieldwork and/or museum collections from northwestern North America. I am actively seeking talented students whose research interests overlap my own. There are numerous possibilities involving museum collections and collaborative studies, and I encourage students to contact me if they are interested in developing a particular idea or research project.

    Plateau Archaeology at WSU: In my work at the Museum of Anthropology I oversee substantial collections mostly from the Plateau region of North America, an exceedingly interesting yet relatively understudied cultural area. Because of WSU's geographic position, its history of research, and commitment to collaboration with local tribes, there are abundant research possibilities for students interested pursuing Plateau based studies.

    Undergraduate opportunities include directed research projects and (for credit or volunteer) internships. Interns enrolled in ANTH 498 or ANTH 499 earn academic credits and contribute to scientific research while gaining valuable experience working with archaeological materials


    Undergraduate Courses
    Time and Culture in the Northwest
    Salmon and People

    Graduate Courses
    Residue Studies Laboratory
    Interior Northwest
    Cultural Resource Management

    Representative Publications

    Tushingham, Shannon and Eerkens, Jelmer. Hunter-Gatherer Tobacco Smoking in Ancient North America: Current Chemical Evidence and a Framework for Future Studies. In Perspectives on the Archaeology of Pipes, Tobacco and other Smoke Plants in the Ancient Americas, edited by Elizabeth Bollwerk and Shannon Tushingham. Springer Interdisciplinary Series in Archaeology. (In prep).

    Bettinger, Robert L., Garvey, Raven and Tushingham, Shannon (in press) Hunter-Gatherers: Archaeology and Evolutionary Theory 2nd edition. Springer Press.

    Collins, Mary and Shannon Tushingham (2014) Exploring the Future of Archaeology on the Plateau: The 2014 Washington State University Museum of Anthropology Plateau Conference. SAA Record. In press.

    Tushingham, Shannon (2014) Tobacco. In The Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia, edited by Mary Beaudry and Karen Metheny. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland. In press.

    Whitaker, Adrian, and Shannon Tushingham (2014) A Quantitative Assessment of Ethnographically Identified Activity Areas at the Point Saint George Site (CA-DNO-11) and the Validity of Ethnographic Analogy. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 34(1): 1-15.

    Tushingham, Shannon, and Robert L. Bettinger (2013) Why Foragers Choose Acorns before Salmon: Storage, Mobility, and Risk in Aboriginal California. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32:527-537.

    Tushingham, Shannon (2014) Miniature Treasure: Geochemical Sourcing Indicates Socio-ceremonial Significance of an Obsidian Biface from the Red Elderberry Site (CA-DNO-26), Northwestern Alta California. California Archaeology 6(1): 132-136.

    Whitaker, Adrian, and Shannon Tushingham (2014) A Quantitative Assessment of Ethnographically Identified Activity Areas at the Point Saint George Site (CA-DNO-11) and the Validity of Ethnographic Analogy. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 34(1).

    Tushingham, Shannon, Dominique Ardura, Jelmer Eerkens, Mine Palazoglu, Sevini Shahbaz, and Oliver Fiehn (2013) Hunter-Gatherer Tobacco Smoking: Earliest Evidence from the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Journal of Archaeological Science 40(2):1397-1407.

    Tushingham, Shannon and Jennifer Bencze (2013) Macro and Micro Scale Signatures of Hunter-Gatherer Organization at the Coastal Sites of Point St. George, Northwestern Alta California. California Archaeology 5(1):37-77.

    Tushingham, Shannon (2013) Archaeology, Ethnography, and Tolowa Heritage at Red Elderberry Place, Chvn-su'lh-dvn, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. California Department of Parks and Recreation Archaeology, History and Museums Division, Publication Number 30. Sacramento.

    Tushingham, Shannon, Amy Spurling and Timothy R. Carpenter (2013) The Sweetwater Site: Archaeological Recognition of Surf Fishing and Temporary Smelt Camps on the North Coast of California. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 33(1).

    Eerkens, Jelmer, Shannon Tushingham, Kari Lentz, Jennifer Blake, Dominique Ardura, Mine Palazoglu, and Oliver Fiehn (2012) GC-MS Analysis of Residues Reveals Nicotine in Two Late Prehistoric Pipes from CA-ALA-554. Proceedings of the Society for California Archaeology 26:212-219.

    Tushingham, Shannon, Charles H. McNutt, and Jane Hill, editors (2002) Histories of Southeastern Archaeology. University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa.



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