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ARC 47 W — The Archaeology of Human Diets: Ancient Origins, Modern Science

Quarter: Fall
Course Format: Online (System Requirements)
Duration: 6 weeks
Date(s): Oct 8—Nov 16
Drop Deadline: Oct 11
Unit: 1
Tuition: $360
Instructor(s): Maureece Levin
Limit: 40
Status: Closed
Please Note: Online courses have a new refund policy. The full tuition refund deadline for this course is 10/11 at 5:00 pm (PT); 50% tuition refund deadline is 10/16 at 5:00 pm (PT).
Oct 8—Nov 16
6 weeks
Drop By
Oct 11
1 Unit
Maureece Levin
Please Note: Online courses have a new refund policy. The full tuition refund deadline for this course is 10/11 at 5:00 pm (PT); 50% tuition refund deadline is 10/16 at 5:00 pm (PT).
In recent decades, the idea that modern humans should try to eat a “paleo” diet like our long-ago ancestors did has become prominent in popular culture. Much of this discussion focuses on health issues such as modern diet-linked diseases and physical fitness. However, this topic also raises the question: What exactly did our ancestors eat? How do archaeologists and allied researchers figure this out? And to what extent do we actually understand the diet of our ancestors? In this course, we will explore the archaeological side of human diets in the past. Taking a global perspective, we will look at the diversity of what our human ancestors across environments and cultures ate in the deep (and not-so-deep) past. We will take a special look at how archaeologists know what they do about past human food procurement and diet, exploring methods such as zooarchaeology, stable isotope analysis, archaeobotany, the study of dental calculus, and chemical residue analysis. Additionally, we will consider the ambiguities and the limits of the available data in understanding the diet of our ancestors. We will consider the things popular culture gets both right and wrong about understanding human diets of the past, and learn to critically evaluate popular media reporting on the archaeology of food and diets.


  • Course sizes are limited.
    You won't have 5,000 classmates. This course's enrollment is capped at 40 participants.

  • Frequent interaction with the instructor.
    You aren't expected to work through the material alone. Instructors will answer questions and interact with students on the discussion board and through weekly video meetings.

  • Study with a vibrant peer group.
    Stanford Continuing Studies courses attract thoughtful and engaged students who take courses for the love of learning. Students in each course will exchange ideas with one another through easy-to-use message boards as well as optional weekly real-time video conferences.

  • Direct feedback from the instructor.
    Instructors will review and offer feedback on assignment submissions. Students are not required to turn in assignments, but for those who do, their work is graded by the instructor.

  • Courses offer the flexibility to participate on your own schedule.
    Course work is completed on a weekly basis when you have the time. You can log in and participate in the class whenever it's convenient for you. If you can’t attend the weekly video meetings, the sessions are always recorded for you and your instructor is just an email away.

  • This course is offered through Stanford Continuing Studies.
    To learn more about the program, visit our About Us page. For more information on the online format, please visit the FAQ page.

Maureece Levin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stanford Archaeology Center

Maureece J. Levin is an archaeobotanist whose research focuses on human-environment relationships and food production strategies in Oceania and East Asia. She received a PhD in anthropology from the University of Oregon and she teaches archaeobotany at Stanford. She has published in scholarly journals on the archaeology of food in Micronesia and in China.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.