Staff Scientist Emeritus
Address: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Republic of Panama
Apo AA 34002-0948
Telephone: +507 212-8101
FAX: +507 212-8154
My research interests include the antiquity and character of prehistoric human adaptations in the lowland tropical regions of the world, together with the biogeographical and climatological history of the tropical biome. My theoretical orientation is heavily wedded to evolutionary and ecological approaches to reconstruction of human behavior, particularly behavioral ecology. I use plant microfossils, including starch grains, phytoliths, and pollen to investigate research problems, which currently center on the origins and dispersals of tropical forest agriculture and the nature of the environmental changes that marked the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene period.
Current research involves studies of phytoliths, starch grains, and pollen from sites that were occupied at an early time in the humid, lowland Neotropics. We are investigating these sites in order to come to some understanding of subsistence and horticulture during the late Pleistocene and early through middle Holocene periods. Starch grains appear to be well-preserved on the surfaces of ancient ground stone tools, as well as in the sediments attached to the artifacts. Pollen may also be preserved in early sites. In addition to developing protocols for isolating and directly dating starch and pollen grains from tools and sediments, we are building a modern reference collection of these microfossils. Phytolith research continues with the development of methods to identify Cucurbita and other important economic species in the archaeological record. We are also studying the microfossil records from ancient lakes and swamps, in order to build a coherent and solid data base bearing on the natural and human-induced changes in vegetation that have occurred in the lowland tropics since ca. 20,000 years ago.
Education and Degrees
B.S. in Medical Technology, Rutgers University, 1971.
M.A. in Anthropology, Temple University, 1979.
Ph.D.in Anthropology, Temple University, 1983.
(Major advisor: Dr. Anthony Ranere).
2003 Piperno, D.R. and J.Jones; Paleoecological and Archaeological Implications of a Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene Record of Vegetation and Climate from the Pacific Coastal Plain of Panama. Quaternary Research 59:79-87.
2002 Piperno, D.R., T.C. Andres, and L. Wessel-Beaver; Evidence for the Control of Phytolith Formation in Cucurbita Fruits by the Hard Rind (Hr) Genetic Locus: Archaeological and Ecological Implications. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 99:535-540.
2000 Piperno, D.R. A.J. Ranere, I. Holst and P. Hansell; Starch Grains Reveal Early Root Crop Horticulture in the Panamanian Tropical Forest. Nature 407:894-897.
1998. The Origins of Agriculture in the Lowland Neotropics, with D. Pearsall, Academic Press.
1997. Phytoliths and microscopic charcoal from Leg 155: A vegetational and fire history of the Amazon Basin during the last 75 K.Y. Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Progarm , Vol. 155, pp. 411-418, R.D. Flood, et al. editors.
1994. Phytolith and charcoal evidence for prehistoric slash and burn agriculture in the Darien rain forest of Panama. The Holocene 4:321-325.
1988. Phytolith analysis: An Archaeological and Geological Perspective, Academic Press.