James T. Watson

James T. Watson's picture
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Assistant Curator of Bioarchaeology (ASM)


(520) 621-4794


Arizona State Museum North, Room 217


B.A. University of Tennessee 1996
M.A. Wichita State University 1999
Ph.D. University of Nevada Las Vegas 2005

Research Interests: 

My research examines health and disease in prehistoric populations through their skeletal remains. I am specifically interested in understanding prehistoric human adaptations in desert ecosystems and the role local resources play in the adoption of agriculture and their impact on health. Current projects involve the excavation and analysis of the earliest farmers in the Sonoran Desert and of incipient agriculturalists in the Atacama Desert, along the northern coast of Chile.

The development and rapid spread of agriculture among prehistoric human populations throughout the globe catapulted human cultural evolution far beyond those accomplishments of the previous four million years of biological evolution. The transition from a mobile food foraging lifestyle to large permanent settlements had serious effects on the health of human beings. Increased population densities and contact with waste fostered the spread of bacterial and viral diseases. Close contact with domesticated animals led to the development of zoonoses in humans such as anthrax and tuberculosis. A decrease in dietary breadth and the limited nutrition of domesticated cultigens led to nutritional deficiencies among young and old. In addition, the focused consumption of highly processed carbohydrates led to progressive deteriorations in dental health, resulting in more cavities and tooth loss among agricultural groups. In order to understand the origin and direction of human diseases (past and present), it is important to frame them in terms of their dynamic relationship between human evolutionary biology, human behaviors, and environment.

Selected Publications: 

2013. Watson JT, Stoll S. Gendered Logistic Mobility among the Earliest Farmers in the Sonoran Desert. Latin American Antiquity 24(4):433-450.

2013     Watson JT, Arriaza B, Standen V, Muñoz Ovalle I. Occlusal Dental Wear and the Formative Transition Along the Northern Chilean Coast. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 23(3):287-302. DOI: 10.1002/oa.1247

2012     Byrd R, Watson JT, Fish P, Fish S. Architecture and the Afterlife: A Spatial Analysis of Mortuary Patterns at University Indian Ruin. Journal of Arizona Archaeology 2(1):101-111.

2012     McLaurin BT, Elliott AC, Watson JT, Canchola MEV. Quaternary Stratigraphy of the La Playa Archaeological Site (SON F:10:3), Northern Sonora, Mexico. In: McLaurin BT, Elliott AC, Torres N. (eds.), Reconstructing Human-Landscape Interactions – Volume 1.Springer Briefs in Earth System Sciences. Springer, New York. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-23759-1_2.

2010     Watson JT, Muñoz Ovalle I, Arriaza B. Formative Adaptations, Diet, and Oral Health in the Azapa Valley of Northwest Chile. Latin American Antiquity 21(4):423-439.

2010     Watson JT. The Introduction of Agriculture and the Foundation of Biological Variation in the Southern Southwest. In: Auerbach B. (ed.), Center for Archaeological Investigations: Archaeological and Biological Variation in the New World. Occasional Papers No. 36. Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale, Illinois, pp. 135-171.

2010     Watson JT, Fields M, Martin DL. The Introduction of Agriculture and Its Effect on Women’s Oral Health. American Journal of Human Biology 22(1):92-102.

2010     Harry KG, Watson JT. The Archaeology of Pueblo Grande de Nevada: Past and Current Research within Nevada’s “Lost City”. Kiva 75(4):403-424.

2009     Fields M, Herschaft EE, Martin DL, Watson JT. Sex and the Agricultural Transition: Dental Health of Early Farming Females. Journal of Dentistry and Oral Hygiene 1(4):042-051.

2008     Watson JT. Prehistoric Dental Disease and the Dietary Shift from Cactus to Cultigens in Northwest Mexico. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 18:202-212.

2008     Watson JT. Changes in Food Processing and Occlusal Dental Wear during the Early Agricultural Period in Northwest Mexico. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135(1):92-99.

2006     Benyshek DC, Watson JT. Exploring the Thrifty Genotype’s Food Shortage Assumptions: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Ethnographic Accounts of Food Security Among Foraging and Agricultural Societies. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 131(1):120-126.


Courses Taught: 

ANTH 468/568 Human Osteology

ANTH 495/595 Special Topics in Arch: Disease in Human Evolution

ANTH 495/595 Special Topics in Arch: Seminar in Bioarchaeology

ANTH 160D2 Origins of Human Diversity

Areas of Study: 

Bioarchaeology, dental anthropology, paleopathology, field archaeology.

Human diet, health, and disease in prehistory, origins of agriculture, arid land adaptations.

Southwest United States & northwest Mexico, Mesoamerica, northern Chile.