Matthew Knisley is a PhD candidate in anthropology, with an emphasis in archaeology. He previously obtained an MA in the social sciences from the University of Chicago and a BA with honors in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. His research has been funded by external grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, and Fulbright-IIE and by the Anthropology Department and Committee on African Studies at the University of Chicago. Knisley focuses broadly on human-environment relations, ranging from the historical archaeology and anthropology of foragers to the Anthropocene. He is also interested in political ecology and landscape studies, post-coloniality, temporality, and ethnobotany and archaeobotany.
Matthew’s project represents the first archaeological analysis of socio-natural landscapes in the Sandawe homeland of central Tanzania. This project is generating a basic corpus of data for the last 2,000 years of the region, including material culture inventories and chronologies, settlement patterns, and evidence of vegetation and environmental change. Traditionally, scholarship has cast the region as an isolated refuge for a remnant forager population until the late pre-colonial period. By extension, the region has been viewed as a pristine natural environment, which, until recently, was left relatively untouched by human activities. Reappraising the evidence produced by earlier research, this project hypothesizes instead that the Sandawe homeland has deep historic links to the broader sociopolitical and economic networks of eastern Africa. Further, the region’s reputation as an ecologically undisturbed hinterland may have resulted from how its inhabitants have engaged with these networks, rather than their isolation from them. This project investigates these hypotheses through a combination of landscape and frontier theory and more recent models of political economic mosaics. Multiple methods, ranging from survey and excavations to environmental proxy sampling, will help to explore the co-construction of social and ecological geographies. The multi-scalar nature of these datasets allows for an investigation of how local societies have differently organized themselves over time and in relation to broader political economic and ecological networks. This information can further allow for a critical assessment of what representations of the Sandawe homeland, and its inhabitants, as “natural” have entailed historically.