The University of Arizona

James T. Watson, Ph.D.

Associate Curator of Bioarchaeology, Arizona State Museum
Associate Professor of Anthropology, School of Anthropology

B.A. University of Tennessee 1996; M.A. Wichita State University 1999;
Ph.D. University of Nevada Las Vegas 2005

James 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 the Black Death (Yersinia pestis). 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 deteriorations in dental 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.

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Selected Publications:

PLEASE NOTE: Links from certain of the titles below are to the complete articles in PDF format, which requires a reader such as Adobe ReaderOpens in a new window.

Watson, J.T., and J. Weiland

  • 2014Documenting Archaeological Mortuary Features using High Dynamic Range (HDR) Imaging. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology [in press]. DOI: 10.1002/oa.2302.

Watson, J.T., and M. Stoll

  • 2013Gendered Logistic Mobility among the Earliest Farmers in the Sonoran Desert. Latin American Antiquity 24(4):433-450.

Watson, J.T., B. Arriaza, V. Standen, and I. Muñoz Ovalle

  • 2013Tooth Wear Related to Marine Foraging, Agro-Pastoralism and the Formative Transition on the Northern Chilean Coast. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 23(3):287-302. DOI: 10.1002/oa.1247.

Watson J.T., I. Muñoz Ovalle, and B.Arriaza

  • 2010 Formative Adaptations, Diet, and Oral Health in the Azapa Valley of Northwest Chile. Latin American Antiquity 21(4):423-439.

Watson J.T.

  • 2010The Introduction of Agriculture and the Foundation of Biological Variation in the Southern Southwest. In: B. Auerbach (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.

Watson J.T., M.Fields. and D.L. Martin

Watson J.T.

  • 2009Life and Death among the Earliest Farmers. Archaeology Southwest Winter:13.

Watson J.T.

Watson J.T.

Benyshek, D.C., and J.T. Watson


Room 217N
Arizona State Museum
The University of Arizona
1013 E. University Blvd.
P.O. Box 210026
Tucson, Arizona 85721-0026

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Photo courtesy of James T. Watson