John W. Olsen

John W. Olsen

Regents' Professor Emeritus
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology

About John W. Olsen

Capping a 36-year career on the faculty of the University of Arizona, John Olsen retired from UA in 2016 to focus his energies on fieldwork and research.  He is a former Head of the UA Department of Anthropology (1998-2008) and is now Executive Director of the Je Tsongkhapa Endowment for Central and Inner Asian Archaeology; a Lead Scientific Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk (Ведущий научный сотрудник, Институт археологии и этнографии Сибирского Отделения Российской академии наук); and a Guest Research Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing (中国科学院古脊椎动物与古人类研究所客座研究员).  Olsen is also a Foreign Expert affiliated with The Yak Museum in Lhasa, Tibet (西藏牦牛博物馆国外专家).


Olsen is concurrently Co-Director of the Joint Mongolian-Russian-American Archaeological Expeditions and Co-Director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Zhoukoudian International Paleoanthropological Research Center (中国科学院周口店国际古人类研究中心联席主任).


See also: and 


Areas of Study

  • Central & Inner Asia, especially ethnic Mongolia & ethnic Tibet
  • East Asia, especially China
  • Siberia & the Russian Far East

Research Interests

  • Eastern Eurasian prehistory focusing on the Paleolithic archaeology of arid lands and high elevations in Central and Inner Asia, especially that transnational and multiethnic region formerly glossed as “Haute-Asie” that encompasses ethnic Mongolia (the Gobi Desert) and ethnic Tibet (the Trans-Himalaya System); Siberia and greater Northeast Asia.
  • Paleoecology and the impact of environmental changes on prehistoric societies in marginal environments, especially arid zones and high altitudes.
  • Dr. Olsen has conducted collaborative archaeological fieldwork in the United States (Florida & Arizona), Colombia, Belize, the Philippines, Egypt, the Sudan, the People’s Republic of China (Xinjiang, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Gansu, & Ningxia), Viet Nam, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Türkmenistan, the Russian Federation (Siberia and the Altai Republic), ethnic Mongolia, and ethnic Tibet.  As of 2021, he has directed or co-directed 21 separate archaeological expeditions.