Department of Anthropology

Faculty ProfileRecording petroglyphs at Orongo, Rapa Nui

John Dudgeon, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Recording eroding petroglyphs at Orongo, Rapa Nui


B.A., University of Colorado (1990); M.A., University of Washington (1998); Ph.D., University of Hawai'i (2008).

I am an assistant professor of anthropology and Director/research scientist at the Center for Archaeology, Materials and Applied Spectroscopy (CAMAS) at Idaho State University. I consider myself an interdisciplinary bioarchaeologist; since coming to ISU I have partipated as affiliate faculty within ISU’s Program for Environmental Science (2010-2011), the Department of Biological Sciences (2011-2012), and the Molecular Research Core Facility (2010-present). I currently serve as Affiliate Curator of Archaeology at the Idaho Museum of Natural History. In addition to my teaching and mentoring responsibilities, I direct and coordinate research activities in the ISU Ancient DNA Extraction Laboratory (ADEL), and also lead the trace element research group in the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Isotopic and Elemental Analysis (ILIEA), a division of CAMAS. I utilize my laboratory affiliations to direct student research and teach advanced methods in bioarchaeology, archaeological chemistry (with a focus on elemental and isotopic biogeochemistry), and microfossil and residue analysis. Please see my Ongoing Research section for a list of the projects I'm actively working on, including those of my current M.S. students.

I have conducted archaeological field work, and/or bioarchaeological and archaeological chemistry and related bioanthropological research in Washington and Idaho, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, western Russia, Armenia, Fiji, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). After a four-year appointment as research associate at the Institute for Integrated Research in Materials, Environments and Societies (IIRMES) at California State University, Long Beach, I joined the faculty at Idaho State University in 2008.

Research Interests

My long-term research is focused on lineage formation, subsistence and human-environment interactions. I specialize in the recovery and interpretation of ancient biomolecules, paleoecological and biologically-incorporated residues, and microarchaeological approaches to data collection and interpretation. My primary research has largely been conducted on Pacific Islands, due to the unusual historical trajectories written on them by isolation and insularity. However, with my colleagues at ISU and abroad I am beginning new research projects in Armenia and western Russia studying community structure and bioarchaeological occupational signatures in Middle Bronze Age fortified pastoralist settlements. Within an explicitly evolutionary theoretical approach, I use molecular genetics, isotopic and elemental geochemistry and residue analysis to understand human migration, community relatedness and subsistence strategy as a function of geography, social organization and population genetics.

I am by aptitude and training a bioanthropological archaeologist, and have become a microarchaeologist by necessity. Due to the often fragmentary and taphonomically-compromised nature of mineralized tissues, I have worked to develop methods that extract the maximum classes of data from the minimum amount of skeletal or associated artifact/sedimentary material. Methodologically, I have significant expertise in analytical and instrumental approaches for bioanthropological research, especially plasma and isotope-ratio mass spectrometry, electron microscopy and nucleic acid/protein electrophoresis.

In my bioanthropological research, I use modern human teeth (both deciduous and dentally-extracted) to study spatially and temporally-discrete mineralization and trace element incorporation as indicators of stability, occupation and epidemiological risk. Using modern samples permits control over variables that are not well-understood in the archaeological record and provides proxy data for biogenic processes that can be methodologically distinguished from diagenetic processes. A relevant example is my work on the “tooth fairy project,” in collaboration with University of California, Irvine psychology researchers studying elemental intoxication during the neonatal risk interval from exfoliated deciduous teeth and their association with particular neurological disorders such as autism-spectrum behavioral diagnoses. By using laser ablation ICP-MS to study the occurrence of temporally-discrete toxic metal (e.g., manganese, selenium, arsenic, mercury and lead) incorporation in utero and ex utero, our study argues against the correlation of autism spectral disorders with enhanced metal incorporation above and below the neonatal line in deciduous teeth. This study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders has important implications for the current best practice prescription of metal chelation therapy after a diagnosis of ASD.

This modern biogenic incorporation research informed my recent study (with colleagues Bryan Hanks of the University of Pittsburgh and David Peterson of ISU) of trace element signatures of archaeological occupational activities, paleo-epidemiology and their relationship to arsenic uptake and its signature within human teeth. In this research, we performed trace element uptake profiling using laser ablation ICP-MS on human and faunal skeletal material recovered from Kamennyi Ambar 5, a Middle Bronze Age (c. 2025-1745 B.C.) Sintashta period cemetery in the southern Ural Mountains. Our research group used patterns of biogenic uptake in modern samples to differentiate evidence for arsenic and other trace metal incorporation characteristic of post-depositional processes occurring from soil—groundwater interactions after burial. As a result, we challenge the notion that distribution patterns of trace elements in mineralized tissues, especially those metals associated with occupational metallurgy, are unambiguously caused by post-depositional alteration. My publications currently in review, “Investigating Biogenic versus Diagenetic Trace Element Incorporation in Archaeological Mineralized Tissues with LA‐ICP‐MS” and “Investigating Diagenetic Alteration as a Cause of Dental Staining in an Historic Tenant Farmer Burial” demonstrate the importance of understanding the mechanisms of trace metal incorporation when positing anthropological explanations for altered chemistries in the archaeological skeleton.

In the microarchaeological portion of my bioarchaeological research, I utilize human teeth recovered from archaeological contexts to study: 1) genetic variation and relatedness through mitochondrial and genomic DNA phylogenetic analysis, 2) trace element chemistry for studying diagenetic alteration in the post-depositional burial context, 3) archaeological occupational exposure (such as Middle Bronze Age copper metallurgy), 4) stable isotopes for the examination of carbohydrate and protein contributions to diet, and 5) the extraction and quantification of dietary residues (starches, phytoliths and soon, proteins) for comparison to isotopic signatures. I am currently completing a project using archaeological teeth (individual molars and premolars) from the Rapa Nui (Easter Islander) skeletal collection for evaluating population history from genetic, dietary and ecological perspectives. In prior and forthcoming publications, I have shown that individual human teeth can provide genetic, microfossil, isotopic and trace element data for the simultaneous description of important classes of human-environment interactions.

I have worked very hard to build strong ties within the local communities where I have conducted research. This often includes unique opportunities for students, in the form of village stays (Fiji), outreach programs and direct educational opportunities for local communities (Rapa Nui). My dissertation field research was notable is this regard. During our summer field schools in Rapa Nui (2001-2004), my field school students and I taught groups of Rapanui middle and high school students archaeological field methods, including total station mapping, aerial photography, and surveying and excavation methods during their winter break. My subsequent field school student evaluations described their experiences working with students from the community as among the most eye-opening and memorable of the entire field season. For this reason, I include public and community outreach and education in all my field proposals and research designs because I have found that future research opportunities are only as good as the local community’s experience with the impacts and outcomes of previous research. Full disclosure, public outreach and opportunities for learning and dialogue are crucial to empowering local communities with ownership of their cultural history and its interpretations. For emphasis: largely due to my outreach programs during five field seasons on Rapa Nui, I was the first archaeologist in over a generation permitted to remove and study human skeletal material off-island (dissertation research, 2004). To date, I am the only archaeologist who has ever fully repatriated human remains back to the Rapanui (2009).

Ongoing Research

My research group and I are developing methods to recover genetic, geochemical and microfossil/residue data from ever smaller amounts of mineralized tissue (usually less than 100 mg). This strategy is logically advantageous, since it permits multiple resampling for data validation and ensures preservation of material for future analysis. Although these types of analysis are destructive, my efforts to promote conservation of important museum specimens has enabled me to sample previously unattainable archaeological collections, such as the curated skeletal material at the Museo Antropológico Padre Sebastián Englert (MAPSE) on Rapa Nui. This conservation ethic has produced enough goodwill in the local communities where I have worked and within the archaeological community that several new projects have been made available to my lab for student research and collaborative scholarly publication. Upcoming research projects that my lab will be working on over the next three years include:

In terms of field research, I am planning three different deployments over the next three years that will provide samples for ongoing laboratory projects:

Selected Publications (**Denotes student author)

The Past in Motion: Archaeological Perspectives on the Circulation of People and Objects (co-editor with C. Freiwald. Equinox Press—under contract).

Dudgeon, J.V., **Commendador, A.S., **Tromp, M. In Press. Archaeogenetics and paleodemographic estimation of founding populations: Features of residential geography on Rapa Nui. In Stefan, V. and G. Gill, (Ed.), Skeletal Biology of the Ancient Rapa Nui. Cambridge University Press.

Dudgeon, J.V., **Tromp, M., Hanks, B.K., Epimakhov, A. In Press. Investigating Biogenic versus Diagentic Trace Element Incorporation in Archaeological Mineralized Tissues with LA-ICP-MS. In L. Dussubieux, B. Gratuze and M. Golitko (Ed.), Recent Advances in Laser Ablation ICP-MS for Archaeology. Springer-Verlag, Ltd.

Peterson, D.L., Dudgeon, J.V., Gevorkyan, A., **Tromp, M., Meliksetian, K., Bobokhyan, A. In Press. LA-ICP-MS analysis of prehistoric copper and bronze metalwork from Armenia. In L. Dussubieux, B. Gratuze and M. Golitko (Ed.), Recent Advances in Laser Ablation ICP-MS for Archaeology. Springer-Verlag, Ltd.

Dudgeon, J. V., H. Hogue and H. Neff. In Revision. Mechanisms of diagenetic alteration in tenant farmer’s remains from Mississippi. Journal of Archaeological Science.

**Tromp, M., Dudgeon, J.V., Buckley, H.R., Matisoo-Smith, E. Submitted. Dental Calculus and Plant Diet in Oceania. In M. Oxenham and H. Buckley (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Bioarchaeology in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Taylor & Francis/Routledge, Ltd.

**Tromp, M., Dudgeon, J.V. 2014. Differentiating dietary and non-dietary microfossils extracted from human dental calculus: The importance of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) in ancient Rapa Nui (Easter Island) diet. Journal of Archaeological Science.

**Commendador, A. S., Dudgeon, J. V., Fuller, B. T., Finney, B. P. 2014. New Radiocarbon Dates from Human Skeletal Material on Rapa Nui: Evaluating the Effect of Marine-Derived Carbon. Radiocarbon (1st ed., vol. 56, pp. 1–18). Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona.

** Commendador, A. S., Dudgeon, J. V., Finney, B. P., Fuller B. T., ** Esh, K. S.. 2013. A stable isotope (δ13C and δ15N) perspective on human diet on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) ca. AD 1400–1900. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 152(2):173–185.

Lipo, C. P., Dunnell, R. C., O’Brien, M. J., ** Harper, V., Dudgeon, J. 2012. Beveled Projectile Points and Ballistics Technology. American Antiquity 77(4):774–788.

Dudgeon, J. V., **Tromp, M. 2012. Diet, geography and drinking water in Polynesia: microfossil research from archaeological human dental calculus, Rapa Nui (Easter Island). International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. Published online 16 May 2012, DOI: 10.1002/oa.2249.

Golitko, M., Dudgeon, J. V., Neff, H., Terrell, J. 2012. Identification of Post-Depositional Chemical Alteration of Ceramics from the North Coast of Papua New Guinea (Sanduan Province) by Time of Flight-Laser Ablation- Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (TOF-LAICP-MS). Archaeometry 54(1):80-100.

**Abdullah, M.M., ** Ly, A. R., Goldberg, W. A., ** Clarke-Stewart, K. A., Dudgeon, J. V., ** Mull, C. G., ** Chan, T. J., ** Kent, E. E., Mason, A. Z., Ericson, J. E. 2011. Heavy Metal in Children’s Tooth Enamel: Related to Autism and Disruptive Behaviors? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-011-1318-6.

**Dudgeon, J. V. 2008. The Genetic Architecture of the Late Prehistoric and Proto Historic Rapa Nui (Easter Islanders). Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa.

**Dudgeon, J. V. 2008. Book Review: Janaab Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life and Death of a Maya Ruler. Tiesler, V., A. Cucina (eds). Latin American Antiquity (1):19.

**Dudgeon, J. V., Balsanek, W., Neff, H., Saint, A. 2007. Exploring the Analytical Utility of LA-ICP-TOFMS for the Provenancing of Archaeological Materials. Special session publication, Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies (FACSS).

**Dudgeon, J. V., Neff, H., Saint, A., Balsanek, W. 2007. Evaluating the precision requirements for isotope ratio determination of archaeological materials using LA-TOF-ICP-MS: Increasing Ratio Precision. In M. D. Glascock, R. J. Speakman and R. S. Popelka-Filcoff (eds), Archaeological Chemistry: Analytical Techniques and Archaeological Interpretation. Oxford University Press.

**Dudgeon, J. V. 2006. Phylogeography of archaeological populations: A case study from Rapa Nui (Easter Island). In C. P. Lipo, M. J. O’Brien, M. Collard and S. J. Shennan (eds), Mapping Our Ancestors: Phylogenetic Approaches in Anthropology and Prehistory, pp. 131-148. New York: Aldine.


(In review) NSF Archaeometry: Improving access to coordinated archaeometric services, method development and post-analysis data validation and interpretation—$249,213; Co-PI with H. Neff, B. Finney.

(In review) US Bureau of Land Management Grant: Small mammals as indicators of Holocene climate change on the Snake River Plain: Implications for landscape and resource management on Public Lands in Idaho—$120,490; Co-PI with B. Finney, A. Commendador.

(2012) Idaho State University—College of Arts and Letters Special Proects Grant: Protein Residue Identification for Archaeological Research and Cultural Resource Management (CRM) contract analysis—$9,968.

(2012) NSF Archaeology Research Grant: Collaborative Proposal: Investigating the Subsistence Transition in Post-Lapita Fiji (2500-1500 years BP)—$258,395; PI with J. S. Field, C. Roos.

(2012) Idaho State University—University Research Council Grant: Dietary Subsistence in Prehistoric Rapa Nui: Empirical Evidence for Modeling Resource Depletion and Ecological Collapse in Isolated Island Environments—$11,893.

(2012) Idaho State University—College of Arts and Letters Supplemental Grant: Development of Remote Sensing Photogrammetry Capability at ISU—$3,047.

(2012) Idaho State University—College of Arts and Letters Special Projects Grant: Student recruitment and retention through improved visibility of student research at conferences and scholarly meetings—$4,992.

(2011) NSF MRI Grant: Next-Generation Sequencing for the ISU Molecular Research Core Facility (MRCF)—$246,166; Co-PI with M. A. Thomas, J. M. Pfau and C. Evilia.

(2011) Humanities and Social Science Research Council: Mapping Complex Bronze and Iron Age Networks in the South Caucasus—$8,000.

(2010) Idaho State University—Faculty Enhancement Grant: Building capacity and expanding research activity in anthropological genetics—$4,980.

(2009) NSF REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates), Physics: Research and training in inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry and x-ray fluorescence technology for bio-archaeological science—$4,500.

(2008) Idaho State University—Faculty Research Council Grant: Archaeogenetic Analysis of Prehistoric Easter Islanders: Replication Study in Advance of Publication—$4,979.

(2008) NSF MRI Grant: Proposal to Purchase a ESEM with CL, STEM, and EDX, at Idaho State University—$372,230; Co-PI with H. Maschner, J. J. Pak, M. McCurry, R. G. Rodriguez.

(2007) NSF MRI Grant: Acquisition of Mass Spectrometers and Related Equipment to Create the ISU Interdisciplinary Lab for Elemental and Isotopic Analysis (ILEIA)—$587,410; Senior Personnel.

(2006) NSF Archaeometry Grant: Solid-Sample Inorganic Analysis Facilities for Archaeological Research at IIRMES, CSULB—$154,256; Co-PI with H. Neff, C. P. Lipo.

Courses taught while at ISU (**denotes new courses that I developed)

ANTH 2203: Introduction to Archaeology. Introduction to basic methods, data and concepts of archaeology.

ANTH 2232: **Sex, Culture and Human Evolution. Sociocultural anthropological study of sex and gender variation in a cross-cultural perspective, with emphasis on evolution and maintenance of distinctive features of human sexuality. (3 credit course).

ANTH 2237: **Oceanic Archaeology and Culture. Introduction to Pacific prehistory with emphasis on geography, island biogeography and human adaptation on islands. Cultural continuity and cultural revitalization movements are also discussed. (3 credit course).

ANTH 3399: **Introduction to Archaeometry: Method and Technique in Archaeological Science. Instrumental, analytical and formal approaches to the study of archaeological artifacts (3 credit course).

ANTH 4404/5504: **Material Culture Analysis in Archaeology. Undergraduate/graduate course in theoretical and methodological approaches for studying archaeological material culture. Emphases include ethnoarchaeological and experimental approaches for understanding prehistoric technology. (3 credit course with 1 credit lab).

ANTH 4430/5530: **Topics in Human Evolution. Undergraduate/graduate three-course rotation in theory and conceptual issues on the genesis and maintenance of human variation. Course rotation: Paleoanthropology; Anthropological Genetics and Modern Human Variation; Paleodemography and Human Life History Theory. (3 credit course; Repeatable).

ANTH 4464/5564: **Advanced Analytical Methods in Archaeology. Advanced undergraduate/graduate course in research design, experiment development, completion and reporting of student archaeological science projects. Emphasis on novel/experimental approaches to archaeological problems. (4 credit course).

ANTH 4499/5599: **Introduction to Laser Ablation ICP-MS for Archaeological and Earth Sciences. Intensive, laboratory-based course in theory, methods and applications of laser ablation ICP-MS for solid sampling of trace elements; course is recommended for advanced undergraduate and graduate students formulating original research projects in Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Engineering and Geology. (3 credit course).

ANTH 6615: Graduate Seminar in Biological Anthropology. Critical reading, discussion and presentation format course, covering major themes in biological anthropology from an evolutionary, ecological and historical perspective. Major themes usually drawn from current events and emerging or ongoing debates within the discipline. (3 credit course; graduate only).

Student Opportunities

Currently, I have internship opportunities for graduate students and advanced undergraduate students, both in my archaeological chemistry lab at CAMAS and in my bioarchaeology lab in Graveley Hall. My current project load includes:

My philosophy is to offer several students each semester the opportunity to work in my lab on an unpaid, internship basis to determine both the student's aptitude and possible fit for future research projects. I will generally try to find ways to fund the top students who work in my lab(s) in subsequent semesters. This funding may be in the form of ISU-based research grants and fellowships, NSF or other national funding agencies, and paid research assistantships. I currently mentor three graduate and four undergraduate students on various projects that I believe will lead to successful Masters and undergraduate Honors Theses and professional publication.

Since I value the time and work of the successful student researcher in my lab, students will be offered the opportunity for coauthorship on the research product that we create, contingent on your performance and contribution to the project. Please come and see me for details of my current projects and how you can become a part of the research effort!

Student Theses

Meredith, C. 2014. Analysis of small cave sites related to the Uxbenká polity: Application of FT-IR techniques in the study of ritual practice. Unpublished M.S. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Idaho State University.

Tromp, M. 2012. Rapanui Dental Calculus: A Dual-Method Approach Using SEMEDS and Light Microscopy to Address Ancient Dietary Hypotheses. Unpublished M.S. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Idaho State University.

Student Research Posters at National Conferences and University Symposia

My students have been very successful in bringing original research projects to national and regional conferences and University symposia (including my ISU Archaeological Sciences Student Research Symposium). Below is a list (with links) to some of their recent poster presentations:


Department of Anthropology • College of Arts and Letters • Idaho State University
921 S. 8th Avenue, Stop 8005, Pocatello, ID  83209-8005
Tel: (208) 282-2629 • Fax: (208) 282-4944 • Email:

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921 South 8th Avenue
Pocatello, Idaho, 83209