About Me

Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Utah
M.A. Anthropology, Iowa State University
M.Ed. Higher Education, Iowa State University
B.A. History, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Research Interests:
I am broadly interested in understanding human-environment interactions in situations of climatic change. I maintain a particular interest in how interplay between human behaviors and local ecologies influence dietary change, inequality, territoriality, cooperation, and defense in human populations.

Methods Expertise:
To explore these human-environment dynamics I apply statistical, geospatial and digital ecological, and agent/individual based computer modeling techniques to ethnographic, behavioral, environmental, paleoecological, and archaeological data.

Regional Expertise:
The majority of my research is focused on the Central Andes, particularly Perú, with additional work in western North America

Peer-Review Publications:
Under Review
- Lamson, Roxanne Lois F., Wilson, Kurt M., Kievman, Hayley T., Vernon, Kenneth Blake, Yaworsky, Peter, Codding, Brian F. Environmental drivers of wealth inequality among Ancestral Puebloan populations in the Basin-Plateau region. American Antiquity Reports
- Weitzel, Elic M.., Wilson, Kurt M., Spake, Lauren, Schaffnit, Susan B., Lynch, Robert, Sear, Rebecca, Shaver, John H., Shenk, Mary K., and Sosis, Richard. Modeling the costs of allocare in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior
- Codding, Brian F., Cole, Kasey E., and Wilson, Kurt M. Exploring the ecological foundations of uniquely human social organization. Evolutionary Anthropology
Accepted & Published
- Accepted. Magargal, Kate E., Chee, Shaniah, Yellowman, Jonah, Wilson, Kurt M., Brewer, Simon, Bailey, Vanessa, Anderegg, William R., Dennison, Philip, Campbell, Mickey, Cachelin, Adrienne, Codding, Brian F. The impacts of climate change, energy policy, and traditional ecological practices on firewood availability for Diné (Navajo) people. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
- 2023. Wilson, Kurt M., Cole, Kasey E., and Codding, Brian F. Identifying key socioecological factors influencing the expression of egalitarianism and inequality among foragers. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2022.0311
- 2023. Wilson, Kurt M., McCool, Weston C., and Brenner-Coltrain, Joan. Climate and oceanic condition changes influence subsistence economic adaptation through intensification on the Central Andean coasts. Quaternary International https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2023.07.002
- 2023. Kievman, Hayley T., Wilson, Kurt M., Lamson, Roxanne Lois F., Gyumushyan, Arthur, Codding, Brian F., Greenwald, Alexandra M. Exploring how human-environment interactions impact mussel size during the Late Period of Northern CA. California Archaeology https://doi.org/10.1080/1947461X.2023.2223494
- 2022. Wilson, Kurt M., McCool, Weston C., Brewer, Simon C., Zamora-Wilson Nicole, Schryver, Percy., Lamson, Roxanne Lois F., Huggard, Ashlyn M., Brenner Coltrain, Joan, Contreras, Daniel A., and Codding, Brian F. Climate and demography drive 7,000 years of dietary change in the central Andes. Scientific Reports 12:2026 (2022) https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-05774-y
- 2022. McCool, Weston C., Codding, Brian F., Vernon, Kenneth B., Wilson, Kurt M., Yaworsky, Peter M, Marwan, Norbert, and Kennett, Douglas J. Climate change induced population pressure drives high rates of lethal violence in the Prehispanic central Andes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2117556119
- 2022. McCool, Weston C., Wilson, Kurt M., Vernon, Kenneth Blake. Ecological constraints on violence avoidance tactics: An explanation for high rates of lethal and sublethal violence in the Prehispanic Andean Highlands. Environmental Archaeology https://doi.org/10.1080/14614103.2022.2137652
- 2020. Wilson, Kurt M. and Codding, Brian F. The marginal utility of inequality: A global examination across ethnographic societies. Human Nature 31(4): 361-386 https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-020-09383-4
- 2020. Wilson, Kurt M. and Hill, Matthew G. Synthesis and assessment of the flat-headed peccary record in North America. Quaternary Science Reviews. 248:106601 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2020.106601

Edited Volume / Book Chapters:
- 2023. Wilson, Kurt M. and McCool, Weston C. The environmental null: Documenting the changing influence of physical and social environments on Prehistoric Andean diets. In Foodways of the Ancient Andes: Transforming Diet, Cuisine, and Society edited by Marta P. Alfonso-Durruty and Deborah E. Blom. University of Arizona Press. pp: 23-44.
- 2023. Baitzel, Sarah I., Folk, Maureen E., **Diaz, Lucia M., Wilson, Kurt M., Rivera Infante, Arturo F., Langlie BrieAnna S. Diasporic foodways and the transformation of Andean agropastoralism in the wake of Tiwanaku collapse (11th-12th century CE) at Los Batanes, Sama Valley. In Foodways of the Ancient Andes: Transforming Diet, Cuisine, and Society edited by Marta P. Alfonso-Durruty and Deborah E. Blom. University of Arizona Press. pp: 220-239.
- 2022. Codding, Brian F., Cole, Kasey, and Wilson, Kurt M. Socioecological Factors Influence Hunter- Gatherers Group Size, Lifetime Interactions, and Emergent Properties of Culture. In Scale Matters: The Quality of Quantity in Human Culture and Sustainability edited by Thomas Widlok, and Dores Cruz. https://doi.org/10.14361/9783839460993


Ongoing Projects

1. Climate Change & Human-Environment Interactions in the Central Andes
Climate change and subsistence intensification along the Central Andean coasts
To better understand how changing ecological conditions may influence particular dietary / subsistence changes in the Central Andes (Wilson et al. 2022, Sci Rep.) we are investigating the impacts of climatic and oceanic condition change on coastal individuals in the Central Andes. On the coast, variation in sea surface temperature (SST) and El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events are expected to significantly alter the productivity of the near-shore marine environments. Condition changes which decrease near-shore marine productivity through its impact on the upwelling of the Humboldt are predicted to incentivize subsistence intensification and increased use of non-marine resources. Using stable isotope reconstructions of diet as well as spatiotemporal reconstructions of oceanic (sea surface temperature, ENSO) and climatic (precipitation) we are testing these hypotheses across the past ~2500 years.
For more see: Wilson, Kurt M. et al. (submitted) Climate and oceanic condition changes influence subsistence economic adaptation through intensification on the Central Andean coasts. Quaternary International

Above: Central Andean Pacific Ocean coast near Paracas.

Climate change drives 7,000 years of dietary variation in the Central Andes
(Above: mid-elevation farmlands, highland puna, Amazonian rainforest, and Atacama Desert in the Central Andes)
Explaining the factors that influence past dietary variation is critically important for understanding subsistence, health, and status in past societies, yet systematic studies remain scarce. Here we provided the first systematic quantitative inter-regional analysis of dietary variation in the prehistoric Central Andes using stable isotope δ13C‰ and δ15N‰ values from ~1,700 individuals over the past 7,000 years to 1) reconstruct long-term dietary trends and 2) assess the relative influence of climate and population size on long- term dietary homogenization. We coupled paleoclimatic data with relative estimates of past population inferred from archaeologically derived radiocarbon- dates and assessed their influence on dietary variation using an ensemble machine learning model capable of accounting for interactions among predictors. Results reveal that Central Andean diets across elevational contexts are dominantly explained by their local spatiotemporal climates. However, during the Late Horizon, diets across contexts converge, suggesting during this period diet is strongly influenced by the interaction between changing local climates and political interconnectivity. Ongoing investigations from this work are exploring the specific interactions of particular aspects of climate change on human subsistence behaviors within the Central Andes.

Above: GAM regression results showing the change over time in dietary variation across three elevational zones. Patterns demonstrate significant dietary differences by elevation over time though they become far less distinguishable during the Late Horizon, coincident with the rise of the Inca Empire
For more see: Wilson et al. 2022. Climate and demography drive 7,000 years of dietary change in the central Andes. Scientific Reports 12:2026 (2022)

Climate change and ecological influences on violence and violence avoidance in the Central Andes
Interpersonal and intergroup violence is an unfortunate reality within the human condition, and prehispanic agro-pastoral populations within the Central Andes exhibit some of the highest rates of violent trauma ever recorded. An individual's likelihood of exposure to violence is comprised, generally, of factors driving others to commit violence and the individual's ability to engage in violence avoidance tactics. Using the Central Andes as a case study, collaborators and I are exploring how climate change and environmental conditions impact both of these sides of violence exposure. Our work is finding that, in the Central Andes, on the one hand a) climatic conditions favoring population growth that strains resource bases may incentivize acts of violence as individuals compete for limited productive locations while, b) on the other hand, as local resource conditions become more marginal and/or variable due to either climate degredation or population expansion individuals' are pushed towards economic risk reducing mobility strategies favoring more mobility which limits their ability to engage in more effective violence avoidance. Our work is ongoing, particularly focusing on the interplay of climate change, population growth or collapse, and how they interact to change the likelihoods of violence in the past and for predicting violence in the present/future.

For more see: McCool et al. 2022. Climate change induced population pressure drives high rates of lethal violence in the Prehispanic central Andes. PNAS and
McCool, Weston C., Wilson, Kurt M., and Vernon, Kenneth B. (2022). Ecological constraints on violence avoidance tactics: An explanation for high rates of lethal and sublethal violence in the Prehispanic Andean Highlands. Environmental Archaeology

The environmental null: Documenting the changing influence of environment and inequality on Prehispanic Andean diets
Using a database of isotope data for individuals from the Peruvian Andes and northern Chile (n = ~1600) broken out into four time periods (Early Intermediate Period, Middle Horizon, Late Intermediate Period, Late Horizon) we compare dietary changes over space and time with climatic reconstructions. Analysis reveals that the amount of diet explained by environment varies over time, suggesting social influences on life have greater and lesser effects in different periods. In particular, we see decreasing environmental influence over time in carbon isotopes, which may reflect changing sociopolitical influence on agricultural production, redistribution of resources, and social importance of maize.

Left: Amount of dietary nitrogen and carbon explained by local environmental conditions across four time periods: Early Intermediate Period, Middle Horizon, Late Intermediate Period, and Late Horizon. Results show the influence of local environments generally decreases over time, suggesting influence of social aspects of life increases over time.

For more see: (forthcoming) Wilson, Kurt M. and McCool, Weston C. 2023. The environmental null: documenting the changing influence of environment and inequality on Prehistoric Andean diets. In Transforming foods: Food, Diet and Cuisine in the Ancient Andes edited by Marta P. Alfonso-Durruty and Deborah E. Blom. Amerind Studies in Archaeology. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

2. Socioecological Dynamics of Inequality
Socioecological System Dynamics and the Emergence of Inequality
This National Science Foundation funded project (NSF SPRF #2203767) is investigating the human-environment interactions around the emergence of inequality, particularly seeking to: a) constrain uncertainty as to what factors are most influential in its cause and b) evaluate the role climate change, via its influence on subsistence economic intensification, may play in changing material inequality. Using paleoclimate reconstruction with settlement and subsistence archaeological records this project is generating high-resolution datasets of climate, inequality, storage, and intensification to explore the interconnected human-environment systems around inequality. It is also serving as a case-study generating replicable methods and tools for application in the Central Andes and other regions around the world.

Right: Map of Great Basin and Colorado Plateau watersheds with study areas highlighted in yellow. Summed probabilities on the right represent relative population change in the respective regions.

Identifying key socioecological factors altering expression of egalitarianism and inequaliy among foragers
Understanding what favors egalitarian versus non-egalitarian resource access and patterns of behavior is a longstanding topic of interest, however it is exceedingly difficult to identify whether the absence of evidence of inequality in many archaeological cases is also evidence of absence. Further, many external causal factors have been nominated as driving forces incentivizing inequality. Here we build an agent-based model implementing ecological conditions, behavioral theory, and individual interactions to explore how changes in key environmental conditions may incentivize egalitarianism or inequality more strongly and link these with known archaeological and ethnographic cases of non-egalitarian foragers. Preliminary results suggest the model is capable of explaining under what conditions we may expect both behaviors, more egalitarian or more unequal, and that how heterogeneously distributed and predictable key subsistence resources are represent crucial external ecological factors that interact with human decisions to set payoffs structuring behavioral outocmes.

For more see: Wilson, Kurt M. et al (under review) Identifying key socioecological factors altering the expression of egalitarianism and inequality among foragers. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

Human social organizations, ecology, and emergent properties of culture
Humans are reknown for their relatively unique social organization, including residing and co-operating with many non-kin, with much research exlporing the impacts such organization has had on the human condition. Collaborators and I are have been exploring conditions influencing how such patterns in organiztation may emerge, particularly as grouping and interaction are key influencers on inequality. Thus, we have been researching how human band sizes and interaction-rates may be influenced by specific socioecological circumstances, particularly focusing on how the economy of scale of key subsistence resources may benefit cooperation and how the availability and sustainability of these resources may incentivize different mobility strategies leading to big differences in how many people an individual may interact with over their lifetime and how frequently they may interact with new individuals. Preliminary results are calling attention to how underlying socioecological conditions may set the stage for human prosociality and cooperation, precursors to more institutationalized inequality. Continued agent-based modeling work, paired with extant ethnographic data, is ongoing.

For more see: Codding, Brian F., Cole, Kasey E., and Wilson, Kurt M. 2022. Socioecological Factors Influence Hunter-Gatherers Group Size, Lifetime Interactions, and Emergent Properties of Culture In Scale Matters: The Quality of Quantity in Human Culture and Sustainability edited by Thomas Widlok, and Dores Cruz. and
Codding, Brian F., Cole, Kasey E., and Wilson, Kurt M. (under review). Exploring the ecological foundations of uniquely human social organization

The marginal utility of inequality hypothesis: A global examination across ethnographic societies
With the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, we tested a Marginal Utility of Inequality hypothesis in ethnographically documented societies. Comparing the effects of environmental heterogeneity and circumscription on inequality reveals that environmental circumscription and environmental heterogeneity predict the presence of social inequality. When resources are unevenly distributed and/or it is difficult to leave the local area to establish oneself elsewhere, societies are more likely to have inequality and internal stratification.

Right: Generalized additive model results demonstrating how the probability of social stratification (inequality) in a society varies with changes in environmental heterogeneity and environmental circumscription across subsistence strategies.

For more see: Wilson, Kurt M. & Codding, Brian F. 2020. The marginal utility of inequality hypothesis: a global examination across ethnographic societies. Human Nature 31(4):361-386

Grants & Funding

Ongoing Grants:
Socioecological Dynamics and the Emergence of Inequality
National Science Foundation, SPRF. This project develops a joint geographical and anthropological research program evaluating how environmental change and human economic decisions influence each other to impact resource inequality among humans. Two key longstanding social science questions are investigated here: 1) what drivers of material inequality are most influential and 2) given that inequality is a complex system, how can we effectively evaluate the importance of drivers over space and time. Answering these questions helps inform us about how severe inequality came to be and predict how it may change in the future. By applying new techniques, informed by existing theory, linking archaeological and paleo-environmental data this research will provide new, replicable, approaches to understanding the relative importance of causes for inequality that may be applied around the world and used for future prediction.

While inequality is multi-causal, much research has linked economic intensification, expending greater effort to obtain more returns from the same spatial area, and privatization with increasing inequality. However, intensification and privatization themselves are multi-causal, influenced by the interactions between the environment and human population size. Via implementation of a series of novel sub-models within an Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC) simulation approach, this research addresses these complexities by generating quantitative, empirical evaluations of how the interactions of environmental change and productivity, population density, subsistence economy intensification (SEI), and privatization influence the emergence of material inequality within a dynamic system. Crucially, this work will estimate which causes have the greatest impact on inequality, providing guidance for future research. Employing regional case studies, this project also generates new cross-comparative data on inequality, SEI, and the scope of privatization within the inter-mountain west of North America.
Kurt M. Wilson (PI), Simon C. Brewer (Co-PI) ($138,000)

Submitted Grants:
Intensification, Inequality, and Resilience: The Dynamic Responses of Human-Environment Systems to Climate Change
National Science Foundation, Human Networks and Data Science (HNDS). Current and future climate change is poised to significantly destabilize the planet’s physical, biological, and social systems causing crises and forcing humanity to adapt or face widespread crises. Ongoing and future climate crises will impact marginalized communities first, striking at some of the most vulnerable populations on the planet while limiting their options for adaptive resilience, which are centered in the local natural capital and the latent social capital of their community networks. However, our understanding of adaptive resilience dynamics are limited by the lack of cultural and ecological diversity and the narrow time-depth and climatic variation observed today. To address these limitations, we propose developing a rigorous, network-based framework capable of assessing adaptive capacity under dynamic conditions. To do this, we leverage approaches from the SBE fields of Geography and Archaeology. We apply this framework to a case study capturing over 2,000 years of successful and unsuccessful human adaptation to severe climate change; thereby identifying key factors promoting community resilience across the Southwestern United States. Specifically, we will couple social and climatological factors within a novel, replicable, network-based analysis, to evaluate four key hypotheses about how people utilize investment, exchange, and migration to become more resilient to damaging climate changes. Crucially, this project will create new methodological tools to advance research on how human network connectivity impacts societal resilience and will provide unique insights into past small-scale farmer adaptive responses to climate change similar in scope to our projected climate future.
Simon C. Brewer (PI), Kurt M. Wilson (Co-PI), Kenneth Blake Vernon (Co-PI), Brian F. Codding (Co-PI), Weston C. McCool (Co-PI) ($1,419,546)

Evaluating the deep time relationships between climate change, population dynamics, and warfare in the Prehispanic central Andes
National Science Foundation, SAR. The proposed project seeks to understand how climatic volatility and drought interacts with migration and population pressure to drive warfare over deep time using cross-regional climatological and demographic modeling, combined with a comprehensive violent trauma database that will span nearly 10,000 years of the Prehispanic central Andean cultural sequence. The proposed project is an extension of two research programs led by early career scholars, the first developed by the PI (McCool) to evaluate the coupled effects of climate and demography on rates of violence for a single regional case study in the Nasca highlands of Peru (McCool et al. 2022a), and the second developed by senior personnel (Wilson) to assess standardized cross-regional effects of climate and demographic changes across the central Andean Prehispanic sequence (Wilson et al. 2022). The proposed project will investigate multiregional developments and complex local interactions between climatological, demographic, and conflict processes using multiple high-resolution datasets and spatial-statistical modeling. Specifically, our project will focus on two spatio-temporal scales: interregional and intraregional.
Weston C. McCool (PI), Brian F. Codding (PI), Elizabeth Arkush (PI), Beth Scaffidi (PI), Kurt M. Wilson (Senior Personnel), Daniel A. Contreras (Senior Personnel) ($258,117)

Selected Previous Grants:
Ideal Despotism: An Agent-Based Modeling Analysis of Emergence of, and Interventions to Lessen, Despotic Behavior
Marriner S. Eccles Graduate Research Fellowship in Political Economy.
Kurt M. Wilson (PI) ($18,900)

Archaeological Survey of Cottonwood Wash, San Rafael Desert, Emory County, Utah
Bureau of Land Management Award L20AC00267.
Brian F. Codding (PI), Jerry Spangler (Co-PI), Kate Magargal and Weston McCool (Senior Personnel), Kurt M. Wilson (PhD Researcher), Kenneth B. Vernon (PhD Researcher), Kasey E. Cole (PhD Researcher), Ishmael Medina (MS Researcher) ($18,698)

Anthropology Capstone - Hidden Research Skills: Developing a Capstone Course to Address Research and Resiliency
Graduate College, University of Utah.
Kurt M. Wilson (PI) ($18,000)

Climatic and Dietary Drivers of Land Cover Change in the Peruvian Andes
Global Change & Sustainability Center, the Society, Water and Climate Research Group, and Nexus: Interdisciplinary Exchange for Utah Science, Universityof Utah.
Brian F. Codding (PI), Kurt M. Wilson (Co-PI) ($10,000)

Origins of Social Inequality: Developing and Testing a Novel Ecological Model in Prehistoric Peru
University of Utah Research Foundation
Brian F. Codding (PI), Kurt M. Wilson (Co-PI) ($34,946)


Recent Courses:
Anthropology 5500 Capstone: Hidden Research Skills
Anthropology, the comparative study of people and their ways of life across the full temporal and spatial range of the human experience, enables undergraduate students to question, explore, understand, and communicate on the multi-faceted and incredible diversity of humanity. Effectively doing so requires not only engagement with individuals, present or past, but communication of such engagement. The study of anthropology is of great interest to many people, academics and non-academics alike. In this class we will be constructing new knowledge and learning how to communicate anthropological research for academic and non-academic audiences. Through in-class work, faculty mentorship, and guided practice students will improve their skills in producing research, writing scientifically, speaking about science, and workshopping their work. These skills are key for future academic and non-academic success. Student semester projects and work will be tailored to their current career goals (NGO, governmental office, graduate schools, private corporation, etc.) and will offer the opportunity to develop research and communication that will further their entry into those fields.

Anth 6305 Advanced North American Prehistory
Since the arrival of Native Americans on this continent they exhibited tremendous adaptive abilities and impressive settlement successes. Ranging from hunter-gatherers to mound-building farmers (and tons of variation in-between) these people settled the entire continent rapidly. The huge variation in subsistence strategies, adaptation to environments, and cultural developments reflects the geographic diversity of North America and has inspired many questions including but not limited to: Why are people territorial in some areas and not others? Why domesticate plants? Why form strongly interconnected polities in some areas but not others? How do behaviors differ by age/sex/societal role? Why do some people never bother with ceramics? Can reliance on fish really produce similar or greater levels of inequality as agriculture? How do you thrive in the arctic? In this course we investigate the broad temporal and spatial depth of the archaeology of North America and explore and try to answer these (and more) questions.

Recent Student's Successes:
Prevalence of Housing in Relation to Changes in Climate Over Time
Led by B.S. student Ana J. Chavez, this project explored the relationship between proportion of archaeological sites with residential features and climate over the past ~12,000 years in South Central, UT.
Also viewable here
Evaluating Travel Tradeoffs for Obsidian Acquisition Project
Led by B.S. student Jason R. Fisher, this project explored the tradeoff between travel cost to quarry and the desire to obtain highly valued obsidian for stone tools, using Beaver County, UT as a case study.
Also viewable here
Spatial Patterning in Fatal Auto-Pedestrian Incidents Project
Led by B.S. student Sofia C. Linskey, this research project explored the spatial patterning in fatal auto-pedestrian accidents on the Navajo Nation Native American Reservation to identify high risk locations and suggest interventions and mitigations to benefit the community and save lives.
Also viewable here
Fort Douglas Historic Environmental Impact Project
Led by M.S. student Ishmael Medina and B.S. student Hunter Robbins, this Global Change and Sustainability Center (Univ. of Utah) funded project explored the environmental impacts of Fort Douglas over the first 60 years of its existence.
Also viewable here

Teaching Samples:
Sample Syllabi
Follow the link here for sample syllabi for a range of anthropology and environmental studies courses.

Sample Lesson Plans
Follow the link here for sample lesson plans for undergraduate and graduate class periods.


Email: kurt.wilson@utah.edu

Address: 260 Central Campus Dr. #4625, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112