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Alston Thoms

Dr. Alston Thoms
  • (979) 862-8541
  • Anthropology 312B
Professional Links
PhD, Washington State University, 1989


Hunter-gatherer archeology, cooking technology

Current Research Projects:

I study hunter-gatherer land-use intensification, especially the evolution of plant-food cooking technology, under the rubric of “Ancient Pre-Agricultural Carbohydrate Revolutions.” Most of my field work has been in the Pacific Northwest and south-central North America—Texas and vicinity—along with stints directing and reporting upon archaeological investigation in the Great Plains, Southeast, and Southwest.Currently, my students and I are investigating earth-oven cookery, a subset of cook-stone technology, at sites in Texas.  We study other hot-rock cooking methods as well (e.g., stone-boiling, steaming, griddle cooking) along with related site-formation processes. We conduct laboratory and actualistic experiments on: (a) thermo-chemical weathering patterns of heating-element rocks; and (b) identification/analysis of microscopic plant-food remains (e.g., starch granules, phytoliths, calcium-oxalate crystals, and tissue) and chemical residue, via spectrometry, on cooking stones. My approach to these topics is ecologically oriented and processual.  Avenues of research include ascertaining: (1) productivity potentials of key root-foods (i.e., geophytes); (2) manners in which they were used by native peoples; and (3) nature/distribution of archaeological records attesting to exploitation of those resources, including site-formation issues.  I also have a decidedly humanistic research perspective that began during my graduate-student days when learned about ancient cooking techniques from Indian women in the Pacific Northwest. I continue to collaborate with Indian people who trace their heritage to Texas. Toward that end, as well as to gather data and integrate the public, I initiated an annual Hot-Rock Cook Off, co-sponsored by the US Army-Fort Hood, the City of College Station, the Department of Anthropology.

Courses Taught:

ANTH 202 – Introduction to Archaeology
ANTH 301 – Indians of North America
ANTH 419 – Indians of Texas
ANTH 602 – Archaeological Methods and Theory
ANTH 619 – Indians of Texas
ANTH 620 – Prehistory of Texas
ANTH 645 – Cultural Resources Management
ANTH 653 – Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology
ANTH 689 – Ancient Food and Cooking Technology

Selected and Recent Publications:

2018          Thoms, Alston V., Laura Short, Masahiro Kamiya, and Andrew R. Laurence  Ethnographies and Actualistic Cooking Experiments:  Ethnoarchaeological Pathways toward Understanding –Oven Variability in Archaeological Records. Ethnoarchaeology:  Journal of Archaeological, Ethnographic, and Experimental Studies 10 (2), 76-98.

2017          Mandel, Rolfe D., Alston V. Thoms, Lee C. Nordt, and John S. Jacob. Geoarchaeology and Paleoecology of the Deeply Stratified Richard Beene Site, Medina River Valley, South-Central Texas, USA.  Quaternary International 463 (Part A): 176-197.

2015          Thoms, Alston V., Andrew R. Laurence, Laura Short, and Masahiro Kamiya. Baking Geophytes and Tracking Microfossils:  Taphonomic Implications for Earth-Oven and Paleodietary Research.  Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 22(4):1038-1070

2015          Thoms, Alston V., Andrew R. Laurence, Laura Short, and Masahiro Kamiya.Baking Geophytes and Tracking Microfossils:  Taphonomic Implications for Earth-Oven and Paleodietary Research.  Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 22(4):1038-1070 (First online:  16 July2014).

2015         Short. Laura, Alston V. Thoms, Bin Cao, Alexander M. Sinyukov, Amitabh Joshi, Rob Scully, Virgil Sanders, and Dmitri V. Voronine. Facile Residue Analysis of Recent and Prehistoric Cook-Stones Using Handheld Raman Spectrometry. Journal of Raman Spectrometry 46:126-132.

2014          Black, Stephen L. and Alston V. Thoms. Hunter-Gatherer Earth Ovens in the Archaeological Record: Fundamental Concepts. American Antiquity 79(2):203-226.

2013          Lundelius, Ernest, Rolfe D. Mandel, Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr., Kenneth Thies, and Alston V. Thoms. The first Occurrence of a Toxodont (Mammalia: Notoungulata) in the United States. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 33(1):229-232.

2011       Laurence, Andrew R., Alston V. Thoms, Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr., and Casandra McDonough. Airborne Starch Granules as a Potential Contamination at Archaeological Sites.  Journal of Ethnobiology31(2):213-232.

2009       Thoms, Alston V. Rocks of Ages: Propagation of Hot-Rock Cookery in Western North America. Journal of Archaeological Science 36(3):573-591.

2008       Thoms, Alston V. The Fire Stones Carry: Ethnographic Records and Archaeological Expectations for Hot-Rock Cookery in Western North America.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology27:443-460.