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John W. Olsen

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 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 Leading Scientific Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk; and a Guest Researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing.  Olsen is also a Foreign Expert affiliated with The Yak Museum in Lhasa, Tibet.

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.

See also: 


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 with temporal and geographical foci on the Paleolithic of arid and high-altitude Central and Inner Asia, particularly ethnic Mongolia, ethnic Tibet and the Trans-Himalaya; Siberia and greater Northeast Asia.
  • Paleoecology and the impact of environmental degradation on prehistoric societies in marginal environments, especially arid zones and high altitudes.
  • Cultural ecology and environmental archaeology with emphasis on zooarchaeology, especially animal husbandry among pastoral and nomadic societies.
  • Spatial analysis in archaeology, including applications of remote sensing and geographic information systems.
  • 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 2017, he has directed or co-directed 19 separate archaeologicl expeditions.
John W. Olsen's picture

Contact Information

Regents' Professor Emeritus


Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, in cursu honorum Anthropology & Oriental Studies): University of Arizona, 1976

Master of Arts (Anthropology):  University of California, Berkeley, 1977

Doctor of Philosophy (Anthropology):  University of California, Berkeley, 1980

Academician:  Mongolian Academy of Humanitarian Sciences, 1998

Doctoris Archaeologiae Honoris Causa:  Mongolian Academy of Sciences, 2003  


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