Colin Grier

  • Professor, Archaeology
  • Northwest Coast of North America; Korean Peninsula and Pacific Rim; complex hunter-gatherers; social inequality; agency theory and political economy; quantitative and spatial analysis; GIS; zooarch
  • Office: VMMC 202M
  • Phone: 360 546 9734
  • Email:

Biographical sketch ▾

Biographical sketch

B.A., McGill University, Montreal Quebec (1993)

M.A., Arizona State University, Tempe AZ (1996)

Ph.D., Arizona State University, Tempe AZ (2001)

Research statement ▾

Research statement

(list of publications appears at the bottom of this page)

My research over the past 30 years has been an effort to explain the transformations that occur in societies when they make the shift from more mobile, small-scale societies to larger, more complex societies.

I focus primarily on the small scale, examining social change in coastal fisher-hunter-gatherer groups around the globe. I consider the novel kinds of ecological and social relationships that develop as societies construct their landscapes and manage its resources in more complex and sustained ways, and how these increasing investments in built environments generate profound connections to place over the long term.

Northwest Coast Archaeology

My research is grounded foremost in the archaeology of the Pacific Northwest of North America. I take a long-term perspective, investigating the economic organization, social institutions and political economy of the region’s precontact complex hunter-gatherer-fishers. My specific study area is the Salish Sea in southwestern British Columbia, the traditional territory of Coast Salish peoples.

My field research has focused primarily on the archaeological record of the southern Gulf Islands of BC, Here, I am looking into the relationship between the development of large households, village formation, social inequality, resource ownership and constructed landscapes. This broad project includes ongoing investigations of households, communities and regional settlement patterns. I work collaboratively with Hul’q'umi’num peoples, foregrounding their research agendas and applied goals (see below) in my research.

Social Complexity: A Comparative Perspective

This Northwest Coast was (and is) home to Indigenous societies that have always stood as an apparent exception to standard anthropological ideas for how changes toward increasing scale and complexity occurred. Indeed, they challenge the very notion that such changes are predominantly linear, additive and progressive. I situate my focal case study/region in relation to other similarly-scaled societies around the world, undertaking a broadly comparative approach to identify commonalities and unique trajectories in their histories.

Two areas are key for this comparative approach. First, East Asia, specifically the Korean Peninsula and Japan, was home to complex hunter-gatherer-fisher societies who provide a useful point of comparison and contrast to the Northwest Coast. In Korea and Japan, coastal hunter-gathers ultimately adopted agricultural production. Yet, with the recent realization that Northwest Coast societies had similarly complex systems of plant resource management (but without cereal agriculture), ‘social complexity’ appears connected with changing human-land relationships more broadly than with food production specifically.

The Americas provides many examples of coastal hunter-gatherer-fisher peoples that had complex relationships with their landscapes and ecologies, and who constructed their landscapes through large-scale terraforming and engineering efforts. Archaic peoples of the US southeast, the Florida peninsula, California, and the eastern coast of South America provide critical examples for comparison.

Sustainability and Resilience: The Past and the Future

My work has been increasingly interdisciplinary, connecting archaeology with current issues of sustainability and resilience, climate change and ecological restoration. Archaeology has much to contribute to finding a way forward for human societies on this planet, and I increasingly measuring my contributions to knowledge by how they advance sustainability for ourselves now and in the future.

More specifically, the complex landscape engagements of the coastal peoples I study through archaeology inform us on how long-standing practices of sustainable resource management worked, and how these strategies can be incorporated into our own practices. Fostering a sustainable future is an effort that archaeology must be a part of.


I am a member of the Science Panel of the Puget Sound Partnership, a Washington State and US-funded organization that is charged with leading the restoration of the Puget Sound. I also am a member of the Social Sciences Advisory Committee at the Partnership, ensuring a social sciences perspective is embedded in the approach to restoring Puget Sound.

Puget Sound Partnership:

Community-Driven Archaeology and Partnerships with Indigenous Communities

In my archaeological research, I prioritize strong collaborative relationships and partnerships with the Peoples whose history I study — Indigenous peoples of the western coasts of North America. This is only just and proper given the alienation of Indigenous peoples from their past, present, and future over the last centuries. But it also reflects the reality that Indigenous peoples, through their particular ontologies, epistemologies, and practices, have much to contribute to our collective way forward. They have existed successfully and sustainably since time immemorial in ecosystems that have recently been heavily degraded and overexploited by Settler populations — those very ecosystems which we are now struggling to restore.

I also am committed to conveying to students the importance of ethical, equitable and collaborative partnerships with Indigenous peoples.

My Methodological Specializations

Zooarchaeology — traditional bone element IDs; approaches to quantification; indigenous animal ontologies; ancient DNA analysis for species IDs; stable isotope-based reconstructions of diet

Quantitative Analysis — exploratory multivariate applications in archaeology; (now dabbling in) Bayesian methods

Geophysical investigations — ground penetrating radar; magnetometry; predictive and experimental modeling of geophysical features

Field Sites

Southern Gulf Islands, British Columbia

Meyer’s Point Environmental Field Station, south Puget Sound

Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Fort Vancouver / Lower Columbia River, southwestern Washington

Northwest Coast Archaeology Lab

The Northwest Coast Archaeology lab is located on the Vancouver campus of WSU (VCLS 312) in southwestern Washington. It is a faculty devoted to the analysis of archaeological data, and houses significant equipment and infrastructure, including microscopes, reference collections, geophysical survey and GIS equipment, computer and photography workstations, and an espresso maker (!). Artifacts and faunal collections relating to my active research are also housed here, providing significant opportunities of student projects and research.

My Current Funded Research

With my most recent NSF grant, I am exploring new geophysical methodologies to overcome impasses in our ability to map ancient households and communities on the Northwest Coast. It is critical to acquire an increased sample of house and village site plans, since changing household and community organization is central to many theories and explanations for culture change in the region. Large households have typically been seen as the “economic engines” of social complexity. Permanent villages are viewed as the hallmark of a settled way of life, involving more institutionalized land tenure systems. Village complexes, incorporating extensive terraforming and monumental construction, reflect long-standing connections to keystone places. Data from houses and villages are critical for charting long-term histories.

Courses I Teach

I teach undergraduate courses on the Vancouver campus and graduate-level courses to both the Pullman and Vancouver campuses.

Current undergraduate offerings (on a rotating basis):

Anth 230 - Archaeological Methods and Interpretation

Anth 331 - Archaeology of the Americas

Anth 334 - Time and Culture in the Northwest

Anth 430 - Archaeological Theory and Explanation

Anth 490 - Integrative Themes in Anthropology (Senior capstone course)

Current graduate offerings:

Anth 530 - Theory in Archaeology

Anth 540 - Prehistory of the Northwest Coast

Anth 546 - Complexity in Small Scale Societies

Previously taught graduate courses (which other faculty currently offering):

Anth 573 — Quantitative Methods in Anthropology

Anth 576 — Zooarchaeology

Graduate Students

I have a substantial number of current graduate students pursuing both MA and PhD degrees, including:


Mike Lorain (NW Coast fish weirs)

Katy Leonard-Doll (NW Coast paleoethnobotany and household archaeology)


Erin Smith (large scale interactions in the PNW and California)

Emily Whistler (zooarchaeology and resource diversity in the San Juan Island

James Brown (settlement formation and built landscapes in the San Juan Islands

Kate Shantry (human responses to landscape change in southern Puget Sound)

*** Engaged Students Wanted! ***

My current NSF-funded research requires significant student labor and offers many opportunities for student thesis and dissertation research. I am always interested in talking with motivated students about the potential to join my research team. At the moment, I am most in need of students who have GIS and other geospatial or geophysical training, and who want to work in the Pacific Northwest, especially at my field sites in British Columbia. I am committed to co-publishing research with my graduate students to build their careers in a competitive academic world.

I am committed to training the next generation of Northwest Coast researchers and anthropological thinkers to carry on with and expand upon the focused projects and broader research questions I have pursued.

Select Publications

2020 Ames, Kenneth M. and Colin Grier — Inequality on the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America measured by house-floor area and storage capacity. Antiquity 94(376):1042-1059.

2020 Furholt, Martin, Colin Grier, Matthew Spriggs and Timothy Earle — Political Economy in the Archaeology of Emergent Complexity: a Synthesis of Bottom-Up and Top-Down Approaches. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 27:157-191.

2020 Wadsworth, William, Andrew Martindale, Colin Grier and Kisha Supernant — The application and evaluation of remote sensing techniques to household archaeology on the Northwest Coast. In Studies in Archaeometry, edited by Mario Ramirez Galan and Ronda S. Bard, pp. 218-266. Archaeopress Publishing, Oxford.

2019 Grier, Colin — What can the Theory of Anarchism and Its Analytical Possibilities do for us? Archaeological Dialogues 26:74-75.

2018 Hopt, Justin and Colin Grier — Continuity amidst Change: Village Organization and Fishing Subsistence at the Dionisio Point Locality in coastal southern British Columbia. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 13(1)21-42.

2018 Colin Grier — Commentary on “Many Seasons Ago: Slavery and Its Rejection among Foragers on the Pacific Coast of North America” by David Wengrow and David Graeber. American Anthropologist 120(2):254-255.

2017 Grier, Colin, Bill Angelbeck, and Eric McLay — Terraforming and Monumentality as Long-term Social Practice in the Salish Sea Region of the Northwest Coast of North America. Hunter Gatherer Research 3(1):107–132.

2017 Grier, Colin and Margo Schwadron — Terraforming and Monumentality in Hunter-Gatherer-Fisher Societies: Towards a Conceptual and Analytical Framework. Hunter Gatherer Research 3(1):3-8.

2017 Grier, Colin and Bill Angelbeck — Tradeoffs in Coast Salish Social Action: Balancing Autonomy, Inequality, and Sustainability. In The Give and Take and Sustainability: Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives on Tradeoffs, edited by Michelle Hegmon, pp. 198-221. Cambridge University Press.

2017 Grier, Colin — Expanding Notions of Hunter-Gatherer Diversity:Identifying Core Organizational Principles and Practices in Coast Salish Societies of the Northwest Coast of North America. In The Diversity of Hunter-Gatherer Pasts, edited by Graeme Warren and Bill Finlayson, pp. 16-33. Oxbow Books.

2017 Dolan, Patrick, Colin Grier, Katie Simon and Christine Markussen — Magnetic gradient survey of the Marpole Period Dionisio Point (DgRv-003) Plankhouse village, Northwest Coast of North America. Journal of Field Archaeology 42(5):437-449.

2017 Grier, Colin, Lilian Alessa and Andrew Kliskey — Looking to the Past to Shape the Future: Addressing Social-Ecological Change and Adaptive Trade-offs. Regional Environmental Change 17:1205–1215.

2016  Grier, Colin — Review of Constructing Histories: Archaic Freshwater Shell Mounds and Social Landscapes of the St. Johns River, Florida by Asa Randall (2015). American Antiquity 81(3):600-601.

2015  Grier, Colin — Past Perspectives and Recent Developments in the Archaeology of the Northwest Coast. Cultural Antiqua 67:45-56. (In Japanese. English version available from the author)

2015  Rorabaugh, Adam, Nichole Davenport and Colin Grier — Characterizing Crystalline Volcanic Rock (CVR) Deposits from Galiano Island, B.C., Canada: Implications for Lithic Material Procurement at the Dionisio Point Locality. Journal of Archaeological Science Reports 3:591-602.

2015  Witt, Kelsey E., Kathleen Judd, Andrew Kitchen, Colin Grier, Timothy A. Kohler, Scott G. Ortman, Brian M. Kemp and Ripan S. Malhi — DNA Analysis of Ancient Dogs of the Americas: Identifying Possible Founding Haplotypes and Reconstructing Population Histories. Journal of Human Evolution 79:105-118.

2014  Grier, Colin — Landscape Construction, Ownership and Social Change in the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 38(1):211-249.

2014  Grier, Colin — Which Way Forward? Introduction to the Special Section. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 38(1):135-139.

2014  Kemp Brian M, Cara Monroe, K. G. Judd, Erin Reams, and Colin Grier — Evaluation of Methods that Subdue the Effects of Polymerase Chain Reaction Inhibitors in the Study of Ancient and Degraded DNA. Journal of Archaeological Science 42: 373-380.

2014  Angelbeck, Bill and Colin Grier — From Paradigms to Practices: Pursuing Horizontal and Long-Term Relationships with Indigenous Peoples for Archaeological Heritage. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 38(2):519-540.

2013  Grier, Colin, Kelli Flanigan, Misa Winters, Leah G. Jordan, Susan Lukowski and Brian M. Kemp — Using Ancient DNA Identification and Osteometric Measures of Archaeological Pacific Salmon Vertebrae for Reconstructing Salmon Fisheries and Site Seasonality at Dionisio Point, British Columbia. Journal of Archaeological Science 40(1):544-555.

2013  Monroe, Cara, Colin Grier and Brian M. Kemp — Evaluating the Efficacy of various Thermo-stable Polymerases against co-extracted PCR Inhibitors in Ancient DNA Samples. Forensic Science International 228:142-153.

2012  Angelbeck, Bill and Colin Grier — Anarchism and the Archaeology of Anarchic Societies: Resistance to Centralization in the Coast Salish Region of the Pacific Northwest Coast (with Comments and Reply). Current Anthropology 53(5):547-587.

2012  Grier, Colin and Jangsuk Kim — Resource Control and the Development of Political Economies in Small-Scale Societies: Contrasting Prehistoric Southwestern Korea and the Coast Salish Region of Northwestern North America. Journal of Anthropological Research 68(1):1-34.

2012  Grier, Colin and Susan Lukowski — On Villages, Quantification and Appropriate Context: A Comment on “Social Archaeology of a Northwest Coast House” by Paul A. Ewonus. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 7(3):430-436.

2012  Grier, Colin — Thinking through Local and Regional Histories: Recent Research at Dionisio Point and in the Outer Gulf Islands. The Midden 44(1):6-9.

2010  Grier, Colin — Probable Pasts and Possible Futures: Issues in the Reconstruction of Complex Hunter-Gatherers of the Northwest Coast. In La Excepción y la Norma: Las Sociedades Indígenas de la Costa Noroeste de Norteamérica desde la Archaeología,edited by A. Vila and J. Estévez, pp. 116-134. Treballs D’Ethnoarqueologia, 8, Madrid. (In Spanish with extended English abstract; English version available).

2010  Grier, Colin — Review of Projectile Point Sequences in Northwestern North America. In Canadian Journal of Archaeology 34:115-118.

2009  Grier, Colin; Patrick Dolan, Kelly Derr and Eric B. McLay — Assessing Sea Level Changes in the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia Using Archaeological Data from Coastal Spit Locations. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 33:254-280.

2009  Corr, Linda T., Michael P Richards, Colin Grier, Alexander Mackie and Richard P. Evershed — Probing Dietary Change of Kwaday Dan Ts¹inchi, An Ancient Glacier Body from British Columbia II: Deconvoluting Whole Skin and Bone Collagen Delta 13C Values via Carbon Isotope Analysis of Individual Amino Acids. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:12-18.

2008  Grier, Colin and Chief Lisa Shaver — Working Together: The Role of Archaeologists and First Nations in Sorting Out Some Very Old Problems in British Columbia. The SAA Record 8(1):33-35.

2007  Grier, Colin — Consuming the Recent for Constructing the Ancient: The Role of Ethnography in Coast Salish Archaeological Interpretation. In Be Of Good Mind: Essays on the Coast Salish, edited by Bruce G. Miller. UBC Press, Vancouver, Canada.

2006  Colin Grier, Jangsuk Kim and Junzo Uchiyama (editors) — Beyond Affluent Foragers: Rethinking Hunter-Gatherer Complexity. Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK.

2006  Grier, Colin — Affluence on the Prehistoric Northwest Coast of North America. In Beyond Affluent Foragers: Rethinking Hunter-Gatherer Complexity, edited by Colin Grier, Jangsuk Kim and Junzo Uchiyama, pp. 126-135. Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK.

2006  Kim, Jangsuk and Colin Grier — Beyond Affluent Foragers. In Beyond Affluent Foragers: Rethinking Hunter-Gatherer Complexity, edited by Colin Grier, Jangsuk Kim and Junzo Uchiyama, pp. 192-200. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

2006  Grier, Colin — Temporality in Northwest Coast Households. In Household Archaeology on the Northwest Coast, edited by Elizabeth A. Sobel, D. Ann Trieu Gahr, and Kenneth M. Ames, pp. 97-119. International Monographs in Prehistory, Ann Arbor.

2006  Grier, Colin — The Political Context of Prehistoric Coast Salish Residences on the Northwest Coast.In Palaces and Power in the Americas: From Peru to the Northwest Coast, edited by J.J. Christie and P.J. Sarro, pp. 141-165. University of Texas Press, Austin.

2003  Grier, Colin — Dimensions of Regional Interaction in the Prehistoric Gulf of Georgia. In Emerging from the Mist: Studies in Northwest Coast Culture History, edited by R.G. Matson, Quentin Mackie, and Gary Coupland, pp. 170-187. UBC Press, Vancouver.

2000  Grier, Colin — Labor Organization and Social Hierarchies in North American Arctic Whaling Societies. In Hierarchies in Action, Cui Bono?, edited by Michael W. Diehl, pp. 264-283. Center for Archaeological Investigations Occasional Paper No. 27, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois.

1999  Grier, Colin — The Organization of Production in Prehistoric Thule Whaling Societies. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 23:11-28.

1994  Grier, Colin and James M. Savelle — Intrasite Spatial Patterning and Thule Eskimo Social Organization. Arctic Anthropology 31(2):95-107.