Xinyi Liu

Xinyi Liu

​Associate Professor of Archaeology
PhD, University of Cambridge
research interests:
  • Plant domestication
  • Food Globalization in Prehistory
  • Millet
  • Prehistory of China
  • Archaeobotany
  • Stable Isotopes
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      St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Xinyi Liu is an archaeologist of food and environment studying how past societies domesticated, produced and consumed plant and animal taxa and how they adapted to new environments in prehistoric globalization.

    I am an archaeologist of food and environments devoted to understanding how past societies domesticated, produced, and consumed plant and animal resources and adapted to new environments in the context of farming dispersal. My research explores a period of ‘food globalization’ in prehistory, which transformed and laid the foundation of global foodways with long-term impacts that resonate with the challenges facing today. Past and ongoing field investigations in Inner Mongolia, the Tibetan Plateau, Hexi Corridor, and regions across Kazakhstan, Russia and Romania allow me to document long-distance translocations of domesticated taxa and the context in which agricultural innovations occurred.

    My recent research focuses on the domestication of Millet—a generic term for small-grained cereals—that is historically important, with extensive biogeography and deep biodiversity, sustaining ancient populations in the Global South. The grain is consumed less frequently today in the developed world, thus attracting little scientific attention relative to their high-yielding, large-grained counterparts. However, given its ecological merit and deep community roots, Millet holds the key to the future in the context of food security and sustainability, drawing inspirations from humanity at the deepest level.

    My research also contributes to the understanding of ancient China and its historical trajectory. I am a permanent committee member of the International Work Group of Paleoethnobotany. I serve as associate editor of Environmental Archaeology and Archaeological Research in Asia and am on editorial boards of PLOS ONE, Frontiers in Plants Science, and Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology, and served as guest editor of PNAS.

    Students and postdocs at Washington University’s Laboratory for the Analysis of Early Food-Webs (LAEF) utilize various archaeological, isotopic and biological approaches to address questions concerning paleodiets and paleoenvironments. Members of the LAEF group conduct research in a range of markedly different environments and timeframes, including the Bronze Age Tibetan Plateau and Hexi Corridor, Paleolithic and Neolithic northern China and Inner Mongolia, prehistoric Greece, Byzantine Levant, Tiwanaku Andes, the Classic Period Mesoamerica and the 20th Century Costa Rica.

    Selected Publications (see CV for the full list and google scholar)

    Li, H., Y. Sun, Y. Yang, Y. Cui, L. Ren, H. Li, G. Chen, P. Vaiglova, G. Dong* and X. Liu*, 2022. Distinct water and soil management by first wheat and barley cultivators in north China. Antiquity, 96(390): 1478-1494. Abstract


    Ritchey, M. M.*, Y. Sun, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, S. Shaoda, A. K. Pokharia, M. Spate, L. Tang, J. Song, H. Li, G. Dong, P. Vaiglova, M. Frachetti and X. Liu*, 2022. The Wind that Shakes the Barley: the role of eastern Eurasian cuisines and environments on barley grain size. World Archaeology, 53(1): 1-18. Abstract 


    Tian, D., Y. Sun, R.M. Melissa, T. Xi, M. Ren, J. Ma, J. Wang, Z. Zhao, X. Ling* and X. Liu*, 2022. Varying cultivation strategies in eastern Tianshan corresponded to growing pastoral lifeways between 1300 BCE and 300 CE. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10: 966366. Open access article


    Reid, R.E.B., J.T. Waples, D.A. Jensen, C.E. Edwards and X. Liu, 2022. Climate and vegetation and their impact on C and N isotope ratios in bat guano. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10: 929220. Open access article


    Vaiglova, P.*, R. E. B. Reid, E. Lightfoot, S. E. Pilaar Birch, H. Wang, G. Chen, S. Li, M. K. Jones and X. Liu*, 2021. Localized management of non-indigenous animal domesticates in northwestern China during the Bronze Age. Scientific Reports, 11: 15764. Open access article


    Sanborn, L. H., R. E. B. Reid, A. S. Bradley and X. Liu, 2021. The effect of water availability on the carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of a C4 plant (pearl millet, Pennisetum glabucum). Journal of Archaeological Sciences, 28: 103047. Abstract


    Liu, X., and R. E. B. Reid, 2020. The prehistoric roots of Chinese cuisines: Mapping staple food systems of China, 6000 BC -220 AD. PLOS ONE, 15(11), e0240930. Open access article


    Zhang, Z., Z. Chen, F. Marshall, H. Lü, X. Lemoine, T. Wangyal, T. Dorje and X. Liu, 2019. The importance of hunting of diverse animals at Xiaoenda (5000 - 4000 BP), East Tibet. Quaternary International, 529, 38-46. Abstract


    Liu, X., P.J. Jones, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviviute, H.V. Hunt, D.L. Lister, T. An, N. Przelomska, C.J. Kneale, Z. Zhao and M.K. Jones, 2019. From ecological opportunism to multi-cropping: mapping food globalisation in prehistory. Quaternary Science Reviews, 206(15), 21-8. Abstract


    Liu, X., G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute & H.V. Hunt, 2018. From a fertile idea to a fertile arc: The origins of broomcorn millet 15 years on, in Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K. Jones, eds. E. Lightfoot, X. Liu & D.Q. Fuller. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Conversations, 155-64. Abstract


    Liu, X., D.L. Lister, Z. Zhao, C.A. Petrie, X. Zeng, P.J. Jones, R. Staff, A.K. Pokharia, J. Bates, R.N. Singh, S.A. Weber, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviviute, G. Dong, H. Li, H. Lü, H. Jiang, J. Wang, J. Ma, D. Tian, G. Jin, L. Zhou, X. Wu & M.K. Jones, 2017. Journey to the East: diverse routes and variable flowering times for wheat and barley en route to prehistoric China. PLOS ONE, 12(11), e0209518. Open access article


    Liu, X., Z. Zhao & M.K. Jones, 2017. From people's commune to household responsibility: Ethnoarchaeological perspectives of millet production in prehistoric northeast China. Archaeological Research in Asia, 11, 51-7. Abstract


    Liu, X., D.L. Lister, Z.-Z. Zhao, R.A. Staff, P.J. Jones, L.-P. Zhou, A.K. Pokharia, C.A. Petrie, A. Pathak, H.-L. Lu, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, J. Bates, T.K. Pilgram and M.J. Jones, 2016. The virtues of small grain size: Potential pathways to a distinguishing feature of Asian wheats. Quaternary International, 426(28), 107-9. Abstract


    Ren, X., X. Lemoine, D. Mo, T.R. Kidder, Y. Guo, Z. Qin & X. Liu, 2016. Foothills and intermountain basins: Does China's Fertile Arc have a 'Hilly Flanks'? Quaternary International, 426(28), 86-96. Abstract


    Liu, X., D. Fuller and M. K. Jones. 2015. Early agriculture in China. In The Cambridge World History - Volume II:  A world with agriculture, 12,000 BCE-500CE, edited by G. Barker and C. Goucher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 310-334. Abstract


    Chen, F., F. Dong, D. Zhang, X. Liu, X. Jia, C. An, M. Ma, Y. Xie, L. Barton, X. Ren, Z. Zhao, X. Wu and M. K. Jones. 2015. Agriculture facilitated permanent human occupation of the Tibetan Plateau after 3600 B.P. Science 347 (6219), 248-250. Abstract


    Liu, X., E. Lightfoot, T. C. O'Connell, H. Wang, S. Li, L. Zhou, Y. Hu, G. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute and M. K. Jones. 2014. From necessity to choice: dietary revolutions in west China in the second millennium BC. World Archaeology 46 (5), 661-680. Abstract


    Liu, X. and M. K. Jones. 2014. Food globalization in prehistory: top down or bottom up? Antiquity 88 (341), 956-963. Abstract


    Liu, X., M. K. Jones, Z. Zhao, G. Liu and T. C. O'Connell. 2012. The earliest evidence of millet as a staple crop: New light on Neolithic foodways in North China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 149 (2), 238-290. Abstract


    Jones, M. K. and X. Liu. 2009. Origins of agriculture in East Asia. Science 324 (5928), 730-731. Abstract


    Liu, X., H. V. Hunt and M. K. Jones. 2009. River valleys and foothills: changing archaeological perceptions of north China's earliest farms. Antiquity 83 (319), 82-95. Abstract


    Edited Book and Special Issues:

    Lightfoot, E., X. Liu and D. Q. Fuller, eds. 2018. Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K. Jones. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Conversations.

    Xinyi Liu, Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, Shinya Shoda and Petra Vaiglova, eds. 2022/23. Research Topic: Effects of Novel Environments on Domesticated Species. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

    Jianping Zhang, Ying Guan and Xinyi Liu, eds. 2022/23. Research Topic: Frontiers in the Study of Ancient Plant Remains. Frontiers in Plant Science.

    Xinyi Liu and Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, eds. 2023. Special Issue: Millet and Pseudocereals: New Insights into Archaeobotany, Plant Domestication and Global Foodways. Agronomy.


    Archaeology of China: Food and People (L48-3163)
    New Advances in Archaeology (L48-4655)
    Environmental Archaeology (L48-4285)
    Bio-molecular Archaeology: Are you what you eat? (L48-4565)
    Introduction to Scientific Approaches in Archaeology (L48-4107)
    Culinary Globalization: The First 30,000 Years (L48-3101)