Xinyi Liu

​Associate Professor of Archaeology
Associate Chair of Anthropology
PhD, University of Cambridge
research interests:
  • Plant domestication
  • Food Globalization in Prehistory
  • Millet
  • Prehistory of China
  • Archaeobotany
  • Stable Isotopes
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    Xinyi Liu is an archaeologist of food and environment who studies plant domestication, agricultural origins, and prehistoric food globalization.

    My research focuses on plant domestication, agricultural origins, and human-mediated adaptation of domesticated species.  My work contributed to the recent momentum in understanding the globalization of food in deep antiquity and its biological and social consequences.  It has also prompted a reconsideration of global prehistory with greater appreciation of the presence of the East and Global South.  I have conducted fieldwork on the Tibetan Plateau, in the Hexi Corridor, Inner Mongolia, and regions across Central Asia and Eastern Europe.  It highlights the relevance of archaeological investigations to contemporary challenges and draws inspirations from humanity at its deepest levels.

    My recent work centers on the domestication of millet—a generic term for small-grained cereals—that has been historically significant across extensive biogeographies, sustaining ancient populations in the Global South.  Today, millet is consumed less frequently in the developed world, thus attracting little scientific attention compared to their high-yielding, large-grained counterparts.  However, given their ecological merit and deep community roots, millets are among the key solutions to achieving food security and sustainability.

    I serve as a permanent committee member of the International Work Group of Paleoethnobotany and am an Associate Editor of journals Environmental Archaeology and Archaeological Research in Asia. Additionally, I am on the editorial boards of PLOS ONE, Frontiers in Plant Science, and Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology.

    Members of my lab group, the Laboratory for the Analysis of Early Food-Webs (LAEF), utilize a multidisciplinary approach to bear upon questions related to nutrition and ecology, paleodiet and paleoenvironment.  They conduct research in a diverse range of environments, including the Tibetan Plateau, Lower Yangtze, Kazakhstan, Mayan lowland, the Andes and Costa Rica.

    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS (see CV for the full list and google scholar)


    Zhang, Z., H. Lu, S. Wangdue, X. Chen, L. Tang, H. Xu, J. Song, P. Vaiglova and X. Liu, In press. Sequential isotope analyses of enamel bioapatite on the Tibetan Plateau reveal sheep and goat provisioning at high elevation environment, 3000-2200 BP. Antiquity.  


    Sun, Y., M. Ritchey, H. Zhong, L. Tang, E. Sergusheva, T. Shi, J. Song, H. Li, G. Dong and X. Liu, In press. Gran size variations of millets and cooking techniques across Asia between the late fourth and first millennium BCE. Antiquity.


    Liu, X. and M. K. Jones, 2024. Needs for a conceptual bridge between biological domestication and early food globalization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 121 (16), e2219055121. Abstract


    Chen, X., H. Lü, X. Liu and M. D. Frachetti, 2024. Geospatial modelling of farmer-herder interactions maps cultural geography of Bronze and Iron Age Tibet, 3600-2200 BP. Scientific Reports, 14, 2010. Open access article


    Chen, N. Z. Zhang, J. Hou, J. Chen, X. Gao, L. Tang, S. Wangdue, X. Zhang, M-H. S. Sinding, X. Liu, J. Han, H. Lü, C. Lei, F. Marshall and X. Liu, 2023. Evidence for early domestic yak, taurine cattle, and their hybrids on the Tibetan Plateau. Science Advances, 9, eadi6857. Open access article


    Li, H., Y. Sun, Y. Yang, Y. Cui, L. Ren, H. Li, G. Chen, P. Vaiglova, G. Dong and X. Liu, 2022. Distinct water and soil management by first wheat and barley cultivators in north China. Antiquity, 96(390): 1478-1494. Abstract


    Ritchey, M. M., Y. Sun, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, S. Shaoda, A. K. Pokharia, M. Spate, L. Tang, J. Song, H. Li, G. Dong, P. Vaiglova, M. Frachetti and X. Liu, 2022. The Wind that Shakes the Barley: the role of eastern Eurasian cuisines and environments on barley grain size. World Archaeology, 53(1): 1-18. Abstract 


    Tian, D., Y. Sun, R.M. Melissa, T. Xi, M. Ren, J. Ma, J. Wang, Z. Zhao, X. Ling and X. Liu, 2022. Varying cultivation strategies in eastern Tianshan corresponded to growing pastoral lifeways between 1300 BCE and 300 CE. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10: 966366. Open access article


    Reid, R.E.B., J.T. Waples, D.A. Jensen, C.E. Edwards and X. Liu, 2022. Climate and vegetation and their impact on C and N isotope ratios in bat guano. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10: 929220. Open access article


    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. Open access article


    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


    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. Open access article


    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. Open access article


    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. Abstract


    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




    Lightfoot, E., X. Liu and D. Q. Fuller, eds. 2018. Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K. Jones. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Conversations.


    Xinyi Liu, Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, Shinya Shoda and Petra Vaiglova, eds. 2022/23. Research Topic: Effects of Novel Environments on Domesticated Species. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.


    Jianping Zhang, Ying Guan and Xinyi Liu, eds. 2022/23. Research Topic: Frontiers in the Study of Ancient Plant Remains. Frontiers in Plant Science.



    Archaeology of China: Food and People (L48-3163)
    New Advances in Archaeology (L48-4655)
    Environmental Archaeology (L48-4285)
    Bio-molecular Archaeology: Are you what you eat? (L48-4565)

    Introduction to Scientific Approaches in Archaeology (L48-4107)
    Culinary Globalization: The First 30,000 Years (L48-3101)