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 May, 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 and Guest Researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing.

Olsen is concurrently Regents' Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, Co-Director of the Joint Mongolian-Russian-American Archaeological Expeditions and Co-Director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Zhoukoudian International Paleoanthropological Research Center.

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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 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.
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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