Dr. Alicia Ventresca Miller, Former Postdoctoral Fellows

Former Postdoctoral Fellows

Dr. Alicia Ventresca Miller

M.A. in Anthropology

PhD project Social Organization and Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia (2100 to 1400 BC): A Bioarchaeological and Statistical Approach to the Study of Communities
Research interests Bioarchaeology, Stable Isotope Geochemistry, Ecology and Ecosystems, Dietary Reconstruction, Human and Animal Mobility, Mortuary Archaeology, GIS, Isoscapes, Paleopathology and Prehistoric Health, Pastoralism and ‘Nomads’, Ancient Interactions and Globalization, Communities, Social Organization and Structure, Gender, Identity and Personhood, Eurasian Steppe Prehistory, Network Theory, History of Anthropology in Post-Soviet Eurasia
Current research
Dynamic Pastoral Landscapes: Modeling prehistoric mobility through ecology, geochemistry and isoscapes in the Eurasian steppe

My current project builds upon previous research through a bottom up approach to modeling social dynamics and how this relates to pastoral lifeways in the steppe. This project highlights landscapes surrounding local communities to identify the different ways that pastoral groups subsisted, moved, and interacted. Specific research agendas outlined below address several questions:

  • 1) While human dietary intake seems to be consistent across the MBA to LBA transition, are more subtle differences in diet evident within this relative uniformity?
  • 2) As interactions extended over a broader region during the LBA, was there a subsequent change in animal diet or mobility? Was animal movement related to local herding and foddering practices, seasonal mobility, or more nomadic forms of pastoralism?
  • 3) Was there a change in human mobility at this transition? To what degree were non-local individuals part of residential communities, and was this tied to biological or social factors such as age, sex, kinship, or status?

This is accomplished through the collection of comprehensive datasets related to local communities from the sites of Bestamak (2032 to 1633 cal BC) and Lisakovsk (1780 to 1660 cal BC). This project includes the 1) collection of modern samples: water, plant, and fauna, 2) δ18O isotopic analyses of plants and water in the field, 3) δ13C, δ15N, 87Sr/86Sr, and δ18O isotope analyses of modern and prehistoric materials, 4) calibration of isotopic values for prehistory through paleoenvironmental proxies, 5) predictive modeling of isoscapes, and 6) comparison of isoscapes with prehistoric animal and human isotopic values. The core strength of this research program is that it evaluates prehistoric mobility and subsistence in the context of greater social patterning identified in the archaeological record. This project contributes significantly to anthropological archaeology by integrating detailed geochemical analyses with a comprehensive study of environmental data to model the ways social changes connect with shifts in mobility and landscape use. In addition, this project integrates ethnographic data as an analogy for the modeling and interpretation of pastoral landscape use.

This project investigates the ways that communities navigated the local landscape and interacted with the environment. The proposed research explores significant diachronic change at the MBA to LBA transition and its relationship to human mobility, animal circulation, and subsistence in northern Kazakhstan. This is accomplished through the collection of detailed datasets related to local groups, particularly the employment of stable isotopic analyses (δ13C, δ15N, 87Sr/86Sr, δ18O) of human, animal, plant, and water samples from the sites of Bestamak (2032 to 1633 cal BC) and Lisakovsk (1780 to 1660 cal BC). As part of this research, ethnographic data is used as an analogy for the modeling and interpretation of pastoral practices, specifically the ways that people circulated, foddered, and moved herds within local landscapes. Human mobility is addressed in regard to residential movement in comparison with mortuary patterns. The results and objectives of my current project include the creation of critical baseline maps and datasets for comparison with prehistoric sample values. This includes the creation of 1) predictive isoscapes of δ180 values based on precipitation, 2) geologic maps within which δ13C, δ15N, 87Sr/86Sr, δ18O isotopic values will be tested, 3) digital elevation models to test isoscape predictions.


April 2013
PhD in Anthropology at University of Pittsburgh

Master of Arts in Anthropology, New Mexico State Universityy

Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, State University of New York at Buffalo

Work experience

2013 - 2006
Graduate Student at the University of Pittsburgh; FLAS (Foreign Language Area Studies) Fellow

2006 - 2004
Peace Corps Volunteer – Kazakhstan

2006 - 2004
Project Manager (Archaeologist) in Cultural Resource Management

Professional Experience

  • November 2014: Co-Organizer, Coming of Age? Stable isotopes in archaeology
    The use of stable isotopic analytical approaches in archaeology has expanded remarkably over the past decade, and the discipline is grappling with some necessary growing pains relating to applications and best practices. This workshop brings together researchers with diverse isotopic backgrounds rooted in archaeology, ecology, statistics, and modeling in order to discuss the exciting challenges currently facing the field and explore new avenues for research. The workshop focused on four critical, but oft neglected, topics that are essential to understanding diet and mobility in ancient animal and human populations: Proof-of-concept, mixing models, isoscapes, and statistical treatment of data.
  • September 2014: Co-Organizer, Isotopic Investigations of Pastoral Production: Innovative Approaches to Patterns of Mobility, Economy, and Exploitation
    The pastoral lifeway has been strongly linked to patterns of intensive mobility, theories of economic and subsistence based dependency, and a general marginalization of herding groups. We now understand that pastoral groups have multiple adaptive strategies and therefore cannot be distilled into a specific set of mobility, economy, or consumption practices. Advances in isotopic techniques aid in the documentation of movement, subsistence, circulation, and productivity in the archaeological record. The aim of this session is to discuss pastoral production from a perspective of inclusiveness toward the flexible strategies of these groups in terms of their interactions with the environment, exploitation of animal resources, and movement within the landscape.
  • January 2009: Co-Organizer, Taking Small Steps: Conducting Archaeological Research in Eurasia
    This workshop was dedicated to graduate students in archaeology working in the Eurasian steppe. The aims were to present research designs, methodologies, and interpretive frameworks in order to share common experiences and foster a community to address concerns regarding institutional support, theory and method, logistical issues and sensitive materials.
  • August 2002 – July 2003: Project Manager, R. C. Goodwin & Associates, Inc.
    Directed and supervised survey, eligibility testing, and data recovery projects; prepared proposals; wrote and co-wrote final reports; completed artifact analysis; determined eligibility of sites according to section 106 of the NHPA; prepared, tracked and met budgets and schedules; ensured accuracy of all research data collected from archaeological sites; consulted with Native Americans and landowners concerning projects; employed on energy sector, federal, state, and private projects.

Teaching Experience

  • Lecturer, CAU Kiel, October 2014 – February 2015
    Human Osteology I and II. A course for undergraduate and graduate students; lectured and taught laboratory sessions related to human bone growth and development, osteological elements and markers, paleopathology, biological age and sex, non-metric variation, anthropometric techniques, joints and locomotion, muscle skeletal markers; lectured on bone biochemistry and diet, aDNA, formation processes, and the interpretation of anthropological datasets.
  • Teaching Fellow, University of Pittsburgh, August 2007 – May 2008; August 2010 – December 2010
    Archaeological Ceramics. A course for graduate students; assisted students with course materials, lectures, and constructing vessels; organized and assisted with clay and temper preparation; learned vessel firing techniques; assisted with archaeological ceramics experiments. Artifact Analysis. A course for upper level undergraduates; held lab hours and assisted students with lithic, ceramic and faunal analysis; created spreadsheets for analysis and recording; assisted students with final reports and graphs for each type of analysis.
  • Teaching Assistant, University of Pittsburgh, August 2006 – May 2007
    Introduction to Archaeology. A course for undergraduate students; prepared lectures, quizzes, and other course materials; lectured weekly on various topics including survey methodology and dating techniques; graded assignments; assisted professors during with the course.

Invited Lectures

  • 2014
    Modeling Bronze Age Isoscapes: Evaluating prehistoric subsistence and movement via modern biosphere sampling in Kazakhstan. Paper presented at the Leibniz Graduate School RITaK, Bochum.
  • 2014
    Dynamic Pastoral Landscapes. Paper presented at On the Road – Bioarchaeological and Cultural Scientific Aspects of Non-Sedentary Communities. Topoi, Berlin.
  • 2013
    Dynamic Pastoral Landscapes: Subsistence, Mobility, and Society in the Bronze Age Eurasian Steppe. Paper presented at Postdoctoral Symposium 2013: New Perspectives on Human Development in Landscapes at CAU Kiel.

Lectures and paper presentations

  • 2014
    Archaeological Research in Post-Soviet Central Asia: Adjusting our focus from global to local datasets. Paper presented at the 20th Annual European Association of Archaeology conference in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • 2014
    Dynamic Pastoral Landscapes: Modeling Bronze Age Isoscapes in Central Asia. Paper presented at the 20th Annual European Association of Archaeology conference in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • 2014
    Prehistoric globalization in Central Asia: Reconsidering the Andronovo development. Paper presented at the 20th Annual European Association of Archaeology conference in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • 2014
    Human-Animal Relationships and Agency: Evidence for interaction, companionship, and consumption in mortuary practices. Paper presented at NordicTAG in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • 2013
    Diet and Health in Bronze Age Eurasia: A Comparative Analysis of Dental Pathology and Stable Isotopes of Steppe Communities. Paper presented at the 19th Annual European Association of Archaeology conference in Pilsen, Czech Republic.
  • 2012
    Connectivity in Bronze Age Eurasia (2100 to 1400 BC): A Bioarchaeological Approach to Identity, Community Structure, and Social Organization. Paper presented at the 4th Eurasian Archaeology conference at Cornell University.
  • 2011
    Social Organization in the Eurasian Bronze Age: A Bioarchaeological Approach to the Study of Community. Paper presented at the 75th Annual Society for American Archaeology meetings in Sacramento, California.
  • 2009
    Community Organization in Eurasia: Mortuary Data from the Lisakovsk Site. Paper presentation at the 74th Annual Society for American Archaeology meetings in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • 2007a
    Kazakhstan: An American Perspective. Presentation for the GLOBE program.
  • 2007b
    No Child Left Behind: Andronovo Culture Child Burials and Social Complexity of the Eurasian Steppe. Paper presentation at the Arts and Sciences Graduate Expo, University of Pittsburgh.
  • 2007c
    The Transition Back: Middle to Late Bronze Age Collapse in Eurasia. Paper presentation at the 72nd Annual Society for American Archeology meetings in Austin, Texas.

International Projects

  • Dynamic Pastoral Landscapes: Subsistence, Mobility, and Interaction in the Bronze Age Eurasian Steppe, Kazakhstan. Collected modern plants, water, and fauna around two archaeological sites; currently processing collected materials for stable isotope analysis
  • Kherlen Archaeology Project, Mongolia (Xiongnu – Iron Age) w/ Dr. B. Miller. Samples collected; currently preparing samples for analysis; will then publish results and apply for further funding
  • Bel’sk Project, Ukraine (Iron Age) w/ Dr. J. Johnson and Dr. T. Taylor. Currently this project is delayed due to issues in Ukraine. The main goal now is to ship human remains to either CAU Kiel or Austria for osteological analysis and isotopic sampling

Selected publications

In preparation
Ventresca Miller, A., Bioarchaeology in post-Soviet Eurasia: Historical approaches, geographic quandaries, and adjusting our focus for future applications (In preparation for Annual Review of Anthropology)

In preparation
Ventresca Miller, A. and B. Hanks, Adding equine to the weaning equation? Evidence of infant feeding practices among Bronze Age pastoralists in Eurasia (In preparation for Journal of Archaeological Science)

In preparation
Hanks, B., A. Ventresca Miller, A. Epimakhov, M. Judd, D. Rajev, K. Privat, and M. Rosenmeier. Examination of Multi-Resource Pastoralism and Dietary Trends in Bronze Age North Central Eurasia (In preparation for Journal of Archaeological Science)

Ventresca Miller, A., E. R. Usmanova, I. Shevnina, A. Logvin, and A. Kolbina, 2014. Dental health, diet, and social transformations in the Bronze Age: comparative analysis of pastoral populations in northern Kazakhstan. Special Issue, The Bridging Eurasia Research Initiative: Modes of mobility and sustainability in the palaeoenvironmental and archaeological archives from Eurasia. Quaternary International 348:130-146.

Ventresca Miller, A., E. R. Usmanova, V. N. Logvin, I. Shevnina, S. Kalieva, A. Logvin, A. Kolbina, A. Simonich, K. Privat, K. Haas, M. Rosenmeier, 2014. Subsistence and social change in central Eurasia: stable isotope analysis of populations spanning the Bronze Age transition. Journal of Archaeological Science 42:525-538.

Ventresca Miller, A., 2013. Rethinking Central Asia: A Review of The Age of the Steppe Warriors. The Silk Road 11:181-184.

Ventresca Miller, A., Междисциплинарный анализ общественного строя Лисаковского поселения: биоархеологические исследования и этнографические интерпретации (An interdisciplinary analysis of the social system at Lisakovsk: Bioarchaeological and ethnographic research and interpretations). Археология Лисаковский Сайты. Mонография под редакцией Р. Усманова. Караганда - Лисаковск, Пресс-Тенгри.

Usmanova E. and Ventresca A., People of the Red Rocks

Usmanova E.R., Merts V.K., Kolbina A.B., and Ventresca A., О Некоторые Сюжетах Б <Тексте> Погребального Обряда Эпохи Бронзы (On the Subject of "Text" in Bronze Age Funerary Rites). Izuchenie Panyatnikov Arxeologii Pavlodarskogo Priirtyshya.

Usmanova E., Merts V., Ventresca A., Kolbina A., Некоторые Особенности Андроновского Погребального Обряда (Some Features of the Andronovo Funeral Rite). Pavlodar, Kazakhstan.


Lambda Alpha National Anthropology Honor Society, Alpha Chapter, New Mexico

Society for American Archaeology

European Association of Archaeologists