Heather Thakar

UCSB Alumna

Office Location

Texas A&M University, Department of Anthropology


  • Evolutionary Ecology, Human-Environment Interactions, Coastal Hunter-gatherers, Phenology & Food Risk 
  • California (Northern Channel Islands) & Mesoamerica
  • Zooarchaeology (especially fish & shellfish…just can’t get enough!)
  • Paleoethnobotany (macrobotanical)
  • Archaeometry (?18O analysis)


2014    Ph.D. in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara

2008    M.A. in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara

2004    B.A. in Anthropology and History, Texas Tech University





I am an archaeologist specializing in coastal hunter-gatherers. My primary research interests extend to human-environment interactions, prehistoric foodways, risk, and demography. I consider these issues and others through the study of food remains. Anything people ate—seeds, tubers, fish, shellfish, birds, sea mammals, etc.—I am interested in. My recent research focuses on prehistoric foodways relative to biological mechanisms of population regulation, specifically the demographic effects of seasonal risk in hunter-gatherer populations. In my dissertation, I integrate subsistence data (macrobotanical and faunal) and geochemical data (?O18) to evaluate diachronic variation in seasonal land and resource use before and after a period of significant intrinsic population growth on the Northern Channel Islands. However, my interests extend beyond California to the coast of Chiapas, Mexico where I work with Dr. Barbara Voorhies at the Archaic shell mound of Tlacuachero, uncovering evidence of early architectural features and settlement reorganization. I am also active in cross-disciplinary scientific research, participating in a working group on marine phenology at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and developing new collaborations (with Dr. Michael Glassow and Dr. Carol Blanchette) that help refine our understanding of human-environment interactions over the longue-durée.


Food & Fertility in Prehistoric California: A Case Study of Risk-Reducing Subsistence Strategies and Prehistoric Population Growth from Santa Cruz Island, California


This research project evaluates variation in risk-reducing subsistence and mobility immediately prior to, and just after, significant population growth on the Northern Channel Islands ca. 1600 cal BP. In order to test the hypothesis that significant population growth among the prehistoric Chumash was preceded by changes in land and resource use that mitigated seasonal food/nutritional risk, Heather Thakar excavated large bulk soil samples from three contemporaneous archaeological sites in distinct terrestrial resource zones on Santa Cruz Island. Altogether 779 liters of archaeological deposits pertaining three distinct periods of occupation (before, during, and after population growth) at each site were transported to UCSB for flotation. These methods proved effective for the recovery of large quantities of very small plant remains. Identification and analysis of all charred macrobotanical remains allow for the documentation of: 1) Diachronic shifts in the types, quantities, and nutritional content of plant foods exploited, 2) Differential transportation of plant resources, and 3) Seasonality of plant food resources. Furthermore, the degree of coherence between macrobotanical seasonal indicators and ?18O analysis of marine shells provides an important, albeit indirect, measure of when storage becomes an economically important activity.


Moreover, this project integrates analysis of all subsistence remains—marine and terrestrial, faunal and floral. Large bulk soil samples floated to recover macrobotanicals provided excellent recovery of small, delicate fish bones, as well as larger avian, mammal, and shellfish remains. Heather Thakar has undertaken zooarchaeological analysis of the abundant fish, sea mammal, and shellfish remains recovered. These data will provide evidence of 1) Diachronic variation in the type, quantity and nutritional content of animal food resources exploited, 2) The relationship of site locations to primary faunal resource patches, 3) Evidence of highly seasonal animal food resources, such as remains of migratory birds or fish, as well as 4) The technology required for exploitation of the identified taxa. Combined with macrobotanical data and ?18O analysis of marine shells, this research provides a basis for the scientific evaluation of seasonal variation in food risk/nutritional deficiencies and will determine whether risk-reducing strategies of diversification and/or specialization appear prior to significant population growth on the Northern Channel Islands ca. 1600 calBP.

Funding for this project was provided by: National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (BCS-1113057), Luce Environmental Science to Solutions Fellowship (UCSB Marine Science Institute), Peter Paige Memorial Fund (UCSB Department of Anthropology), Dean’s Advancement Fellowship (UCSB Graduate Division), Affiliates Dissertation Fellowship (UCSB Graduate Division), Humanities and Social Sciences Research Grant (UCSB Graduate Division), and Summer Stipend (UCSB Department of Anthropology)


2015    (In Press) “Dating the Tlacuachero Post-Archaic Deposits”. In An Archaic Mexican Shellmound and its Entombed Floors, edited by Barbara Voorhies. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, University of California, Los Angeles.

2015 (In Press) "The Tlacuachero Floors: Description and Sampling Methods”. In An Archaic Mexican Shellmound and its Entombed Floors, edited by Barbara Voorhies. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, University of California, Los Angeles.

2015    (In Press) "The Tlacuachero Floors: Spatial Analysis of Surface Color and Embedded Microrefuse". In An Archaic Mexican Shellmound and its Entombed Floors, edited by Barbara Voorhies. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, University of California, Los Angeles.

2014    (In Press) “Sites Forlorn: Dating Intervals of Abandonment at Three Shell Middens on Santa Cruz Island, California using Bayesian Chronological Models”. Journal of Archaeological Science, special issue Dates as Data: New Applications of Radiocarbon Dating to Archaeological Problems, edited by Robert L. Kelly and Nicholas Naudinot.

2012    "Red Abalone Collecting and Marine Water Temperature during the Middle Holocene Occupation of Santa Cruz Island, California". Journal of Archaeological Science 39(10):2574-2582 (with co-authors Michael Glassow and Douglas Kennett).

2012    “Ancient Actions Predict Modern Consequences: Lessons from Prehistoric Shellfish Intensification”. In Time, Space, and Form in Biological Conservation, edited by Lee Lyman and Steve Wolverton, pages 92-109.University of Arizona Press, Tuscon.

2011    “Intensification of Shellfish Exploitation: Evidence of Species-Specific Deviation from Traditional Expectations”. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(10): 2596- 2605.


Courses TA’d

LEAD TA (2008-2010) Instructor for Department’s TA training program (UCSB)

ANTH 2: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (UCSB)

ANTH 3: Introduction to Archaeology (UCSB)

ANTH 5: Introduction to Physical Anthropology (UCSB)

ANTH 131: North American Indians (UCSB)


Courses Taught

ANTH 3: Introduction to Archaeology (UCSB)

ANTH 131: North American Indians (UCSB)

ANTH 178: Internship in Archaeological Record-Keeping and Collections(UCSB)

ANTH 194P: Practicum in Field & Laboratory Methods (UCSB)