About James T. Watson
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 deterioration in oral 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.
2016 Watson JT, Phelps DO. Violence and Perimortem Signaling among Early Irrigation Communities in the Sonoran Desert. Current Anthropology 56(5):586-609. DOI: 10.1086/688256.
2016 Watson JT, Garcia C. Postclassic Expansion of Mesoamerican (Biocultural) Characteristics into Sonora, Northwest Mexico. Journal of Field Archaeology 41(2):222-235. DOI: 10.1080/00934690.2016.1159899.
2015 Watson JT, Cerezo-Roman JI, Nava Maldonado SI, Cruz Guzman C, Villalpando ME. Death and Community Identity in the Trincheras Cremation Cemetery, Sonora, Mexico. In: CW Schmidt, SA Symes (eds.), The Analysis of Burned Human Remains (2nd ed.). Academic Press, New York. Pp. 339-353.
2015 Watson JT, Weiland J. Documenting Archaeological Mortuary Features using High Dynamic Range (HDR) Imaging. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 25(3):366-373. DOI: 10.1002/oa.2302.
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
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.
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.
ANTH 468/568 Human Osteology
ANTH 403/503 Diseases and 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.