Xinyi Liu

​Associate Professor of Archaeology
PhD, University of Cambridge
research interests:
  • Plant domestication
  • Food Globalization in Prehistory
  • Millet
  • Prehistory of China
  • Archaeobotany
  • Stable Isotopes
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1114
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Xinyi Liu utilizes a range of stable isotope and archaeobotanical approaches to explore how past societies domesticated, produced and consumed plants and animals and how they adapted to new environments in the context of the spread of farming.

    I am an archaeologist of food, cuisines, and environments devoted to understanding how past societies domesticated, produced, and consumed plants and animals and adapted to new environments during farming dispersals. I am currently researching a key episode in the history of food, the period of globalization between c. 7000 and 3500 BP, which had transformed the Eurasian foodways, and had profound social and ecological impacts on ancient societies. Long-term fieldwork in the Tibetan Plateau, Hexi Corridor, Inner Mongolia, and regions in Kazakhstan, Russia and Romania documents the trans-continental movements of cereal crops across prehistoric Eurasia. My recent research examines the precise mechanisms farmers and herders employed to incorporate newly introduced domesticates into their long-standing social and culinary systems concerning food preparation, water management, and cultural values. My research also contributes to the knowledge of the prehistoric trajectories of ancient China and their implications for our understanding of the human past on a more global scale.

    Students and postdocs at Washington University’s Laboratory for the Analysis of Early Food-Webs (LAEF) utilize a range of archaeological, isotopic and archaeobotanical approaches to address questions about paleodiets and paleoclimates. Members of the LAEF group are currently researching sites from a range of markedly distinct environments in different times, including the Bronze Age Tibetan Plateau and Hexi Corridor, Paleolithic and Neolithic northern China and Inner Mongolia, prehistoric Greece, Byzantine Levant, Tiwanaku Andes and the 20th Century Costa Rica.

    Selected Publications (see CV for the full list)

     

    Vaiglova, P.*, R. E. B. Reid, E. Lightfoot, S. E. Pilaar Birch, H. Wang, G. Chen, S. Li, M. K. Jones and X. Liu*, 2021. Localized management of non-indigenous animal domesticates in northwestern China during the Bronze Age. Scientific Reports, 11: 15764. Abstract

     

    Sanborn, L. H., R. E. B. Reid, A. S. Bradley and X. Liu, 2021. The effect of water availability on the carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of a C4 plant (pearl millet, Pennisetum glabucum). Journal of Archaeological Sciences, 28: 103047. Abstract

     

    Song, J., Y. Gao, L. Tang, Z. Zhang, M. Hayashi Tang, H. Xu, W. Tashi, H. Yuan, L. Li, Y. Li, W. Shargan, X. Liu* and H. Lu*. 2021. Farming and multi-resource subsistence in the third-second millennium BC eastern Tibet: Archaeobotanical evidence from Karuo. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 13, 41. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., and R. E. B. Reid, 2020. The prehistoric roots of Chinese cuisines: Mapping staple food systems of China, 6000 BC -220 AD. PLOS ONE, 15(11), e0240930. Abstract

     

    Zhang, Z., Z. Chen, F. Marshall, H. Lü, X. Lemoine, T. Wangyal, T. Dorje and X. Liu, 2019. The importance of hunting of diverse animals at Xiaoenda (5000 - 4000 BP), East Tibet. Quaternary International, 529, 38-46. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., P.J. Jones, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviviute, H.V. Hunt, D.L. Lister, T. An, N. Przelomska, C.J. Kneale, Z. Zhao and M.K. Jones, 2019. From ecological opportunism to multi-cropping: mapping food globalisation in prehistory. Quaternary Science Reviews, 206(15), 21-8. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute & H.V. Hunt, 2018. From a fertile idea to a fertile arc: The origins of broomcorn millet 15 years on, in Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K. Jones, eds. E. Lightfoot, X. Liu & D.Q. Fuller. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Conversations, 155-64. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., D.L. Lister, Z. Zhao, C.A. Petrie, X. Zeng, P.J. Jones, R. Staff, A.K. Pokharia, J. Bates, R.N. Singh, S.A. Weber, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviviute, G. Dong, H. Li, H. Lü, H. Jiang, J. Wang, J. Ma, D. Tian, G. Jin, L. Zhou, X. Wu & M.K. Jones, 2017. Journey to the East: diverse routes and variable flowering times for wheat and barley en route to prehistoric China. PLOS ONE, 12(11), e0209518. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., Z. Zhao & M.K. Jones, 2017. From people's commune to household responsibility: Ethnoarchaeological perspectives of millet production in prehistoric northeast China. Archaeological Research in Asia, 11, 51-7. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., D.L. Lister, Z.-Z. Zhao, R.A. Staff, P.J. Jones, L.-P. Zhou, A.K. Pokharia, C.A. Petrie, A. Pathak, H.-L. Lu, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, J. Bates, T.K. Pilgram and M.J. Jones, 2016. The virtues of small grain size: Potential pathways to a distinguishing feature of Asian wheats. Quaternary International, 426(28), 107-9. Abstract

     

    Ren, X., X. Lemoine, D. Mo, T.R. Kidder, Y. Guo, Z. Qin & X. Liu, 2016. Foothills and intermountain basins: Does China's Fertile Arc have a 'Hilly Flanks'? Quaternary International, 426(28), 86-96. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., D. Fuller and M. K. Jones. 2015. Early agriculture in China. In The Cambridge World History - Volume II:  A world with agriculture, 12,000 BCE-500CE, edited by G. Barker and C. Goucher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 310-334.

     

    Chen, F., F. Dong, D. Zhang, X. Liu, X. Jia, C. An, M. Ma, Y. Xie, L. Barton, X. Ren, Z. Zhao, X. Wu and M. K. Jones. 2015. Agriculture facilitated permanent human occupation of the Tibetan Plateau after 3600 B.P. Science 347 (6219), 248-250. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., E. Lightfoot, T. C. O'Connell, H. Wang, S. Li, L. Zhou, Y. Hu, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute and M. K. Jones. 2014. From necessity to choice: dietary revolutions in west China in the second millennium BC. World Archaeology 46 (5), 661-680. Abstract

     

    Liu, X. and M. K. Jones. 2014. Food globalization in prehistory: top down or bottom up? Antiquity 88 (341), 956-963. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., M. K. Jones, Z. Zhao, G. Liu and T. C. O'Connell. 2012. The earliest evidence of millet as a staple crop: New light on Neolithic foodways in North China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 149 (2), 238-290. Abstract

     

    Jones, M. K. and X. Liu. 2009. Origins of agriculture in East Asia. Science 324 (5928), 730-731. Abstract

     

    Liu, X., H. V. Hunt and M. K. Jones. 2009. River valleys and foothills: changing archaeological perceptions of north China's earliest farms. Antiquity 83 (319), 82-95. Abstract

     

    Courses

    Archaeology of China – Food and People (L48-3163)

    Culinary Globalization: The First 30,000 Years (L48-3101)

    Environmental Archaeology (L48-4285)

    Introduction to Scientific Approaches in Archaeology (L48-4107)

    Bio-molecular Archaeology – Are you what you eat? (L48-4565)

    Pathways to Domestication (L48-489)