Ryan Kennedy

Ryan Kennedy

Assistant Professor, Anthropology


  • Ph.D., Anthropology, Indiana University, 2016
  • M.A., Historical Archaeology, University of Massachusetts Boston, 2008
  • B.A., Archaeology, University of Virginia, 2004

Geographical Areas of Specialization
Western North America, Gulf of Mexico

Research Interests
Zooarchaeology, Historical Archaeology, Fish and Fisheries, Animal Commodification and Trade, Chinese Diaspora, Migration, Archaeology of Food

About Ryan Kennedy

I am a zooarchaeologist and I direct Indiana University’s William R. Adams Zooarchaeology Laboratory. My research focuses on the commodification and trade of animals in the past, and I am especially interested in how and why animals and animals are incorporated into broader market economies and how commodification impacts animals through processes like overfishing. I explore these themes in several contexts, including (1) Chinese diaspora sites in the American West (especially California and Wyoming) and (2) the northern Gulf of Mexico (especially New Orleans). My research takes a broad, comparative perspective, and I frequently collaborate with colleagues conducting stable isotope and ancient DNA analyses.

My work in Chinese diaspora contexts began with analysis of animal remains from the Market Street Chinatown, a 19th-century Chinese community in San Jose, California. My early research questions examined the role of food in migrant lives, how diasporic foodways compared to those in migrants’ home villages, and how archaeologists approach tradition in migrant contexts. Since then, I have focused on Chinese-run extractive industries in the American West, including dried fish and bear paw production. This work emphasizes entrepreneurialism, transnational connections, and the importance of Chinese-run import/export firms, and it is informed by collaboration with Chinese American descendant community members. This is especially the case for my analysis of fish remains from the Point Alones fishing village in Monterey Bay, California, where descendant interest in the resilience of Chinese fishers and their role in building scientific collections has shaped the work of my research team. I am currently doing ‘deep dives’ into the collection and trade of numerous animals including rockfishes, flatfishes (e.g., flounders), pikeminnows, bears, and Anatids (ducks, geese, and swans).

I am also conducting research on the development and effects of fishing industries in the Gulf of Mexico. This includes generating baseline data for fishing practices and fish consumption in New Orleans over the past 300 years, including the rising popularity of estuarine fishes by the end of the 18th century and the importation of non-local fishes, like Red Snapper, in the late-19th century. My collaborators and I have identified the first known historical overfishing of Sheepshead, a common estuarine fish, via size estimation and stable isotope analyses, and we are expanding these methods to consider other important food fishes. We are also examining the development and impacts of the Red Snapper industry, which began in the 1860s near Pensacola, Florida. New Orleans was a prime commercial outlet for Red Snapper, and archaeological data from the city provide a record of the earliest decades of this industry.

I am developing several new research projects that build on my previous studies. Most notably, my collaborators and I are beginning a multiregional study of migratory bird use in the Mississippi Flyway. This project combines zooarchaeological, isotopic, and genetic data collected from migratory bird remains from archaeological sites and natural history collections to examine human-bird interactions at regional and continental scales. Our goals with this project are to understand how different bird species were used by humans across space and time, as well as trace the ways that modern bird populations have been shaped by long-term interactions with different groups of people. Though at an earlier project stage, my team and I have also begun examining the use of different kinds of turtles in the recent past, including in New Orleans and at a mid-20th-century sea turtle kraal in the Florida Keys.

Please email me if you are interested in volunteering in the lab or studying zooarchaeology at Indiana University.