Alyssa Bolster

Research Interests Andean bioarchaeology, Diet & foodways, Life Course-Life History, Nutrition & health, GIS, Archaeological chemistry & stable isotope analysis, Empire


Areas of Interest

I am an anthropological bioarchaeologist, with regional interests in the Andes of South America. I completed my undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University in Anthropology, with a focus on the biocultural foundations of health, genetics, forensics, and ethics. My thesis utilized stable isotope analysis, a method of archaeological chemistry, to reconstruct individual diets at La Real, a site on the outskirts of the Middle Horizon Andean empire: the Wari. I studied dietary changes and consistencies in C4 plant (namely, maize or corn) and protein consumption before and after the Wari fully incorporated this region, and focused on differences between groups that I could root out in the (bio)archaeological record, such as one's sex, age, locality, and cultural affiliation. I completed my M.A. here at Brown as part of the PhD program. In this project, I compiled the largest database to-date of dietary isotopes for the Andes, consisting of individuals who lived between 7000 BCE and the Colonial Period. For the dissertation, I will be working in the Amazonas region of Perú, studying the imperial legacy of Wari expansion to the north in the Chachapoya culture by using a life course-life history approach to bioarchaeological excavation and analysis. I have excavated in (bio)archaeological and forensic contexts here in the continental United States at both prehistoric and historic sites; in Chiapas, México at the Late Classic Maya city of Sak Tz'i'; in Late Intermediate Period and Late Horizon mortuary contexts in caves in Ayacucho, Perú; and in France with the U.S. Department of Defense. Recently, my colleagues and I published the first bioarchaeological application of Transition Analysis 3, an emerging age estimation technology, which we used to study the mortuary community of two commingled Bronze Age tombs from Arabia. 

Previous Degrees

B.A. in Anthropology and Law, History & Society (legal history), from Vanderbilt University (2022)

M.A. in Anthropology from Brown University (2023)

Masters Thesis 

Maize Matters: Examining the Endurance of Empire in Everyday Life in the Andes, 7000 BCE - 1600 CE