John W. Olsen
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John W. Olsen, Ph.D. is an American archaeologist specializing in the early Stone Age prehistory and Pleistocene paleoecology of eastern Eurasia. Olsen is Regents’ Professor of Anthropology, Executive Director of the Je Tsongkhapa Endowment for Central and Inner Asian Archaeology, and Co-Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A. He is also Co-Director of the Joint Mongolian-Russian-American Archaeological Expeditions and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Zhoukoudian International Paleoanthropological Research Center in Beijing.
Olsen’s research focuses on the Paleolithic archaeology of arid lands and high elevations in Central and Inner Asia, especially Mongolia and Tibet. His interests include Quaternary paleoecology and the impact of environmental degradation on prehistoric societies; cultural ecology and environmental archaeology with emphasis on zooarchaeology, especially animal husbandry among pastoral and nomadic societies; and spatial analysis in archaeology, including applications of remote sensing and geographic information systems. Olsen has conducted archaeological fieldwork in the United States (Florida & Arizona), Colombia, Belize, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, the People’s Republic of China (Tibet, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Gansu, & Ningxia), Việt Nam, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Türkmenistan, Russia (Siberia), and Mongolia.
Early Life & Education
John Olsen was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1955, the only offspring of Stanley John Olsen (1919–2003; vertebrate paleontologist and zooarchaeologist) and Eleanor Louise Vinez Olsen (b. 1917; executive assistant, botanist and homemaker).
Olsen spent his formative years in Tallahassee, Florida where he lived until he moved to Tucson, Arizona with his parents in 1973. Following his early graduation from Florida High School in Tallahassee after completing the eleventh grade, Olsen attended Florida State University as a freshman (1972–1973) and subsequently received Bachelor of Arts degrees with Highest Distinction and Honors in Anthropology and Oriental Studies from the University of Arizona (1976). Olsen holds Master of Arts (1977) and Doctor of Philosophy (1980) degrees in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley where his principal advisors were Glynn Ll. Isaac, J. Desmond Clark, F. Clark Howell, and William A. Clemens.
After completing his doctoral degree at Berkeley in 1980, Olsen was appointed Visiting Assistant Professor in the Departments of Anthropology and Oriental Studies at the University of Arizona where he taught until 1982. From 1982-1984, Olsen was a post-doctoral research associate of the Institute of Archaeology at University College, London where he taught courses, planned and carried out research expeditions in China and North Africa, and translated and co-edited a book on Chinese paleoanthropology published by Academic Press in 1985.
Olsen joined the permanent faculty of the University of Arizona as an Assistant Professor in 1984. He was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 1988 and to Full Professor in 1994. In 2005, Olsen was awarded a Regents’ Professorship.
In 1991-1992 Olsen held a Fulbright Research and Lecturing Award at Kazakh State University (now al-Farabi Kazakh National University; Əл Фараби атындағы Қазақ Ұлттық Университеті) in Almaty. Olsen’s administrative appointments have included Resident Representative in Beijing for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1990–1991) and Head of the Department (now School) of Anthropology at the University of Arizona (1994–1995 and 1998–2008). Over the past three decades, Olsen has accrued slightly more than US$1.9 million in sponsored support of his and his students’ research as well as spearheading successful development and fundraising activities on behalf of the University of Arizona’s School of Anthropology.
Principal Awards, Honorary Degrees, and Elected Memberships
- Phi Beta Kappa Society (1976)
- Phi Kappa Phi (1976)
- Fellow, The Explorers Club (1982)
- Academician, Mongolian Academy of Humanitarian Sciences (1998)
- Doctoris Archaeologiae Honoris Causa, Mongolian Academy of Sciences (2003)
- Regents’ Professor, University of Arizona (2005)
- 1985 (edited with Wu, Rukang) Palaeoanthropology and Palaeolithic Archaeology in the People’s Republic of China. Orlando: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-601720-4.
- 1990 (with R. L. Ciochon and J. James) Other Origins, the Search for the Giant Ape in Human Prehistory. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-07081-9.
- 2000 (edited with A. P. Derevianko and D. Tseveendorj) Archaeological Studies Carried Out by the Joint Russian-Mongolian-American Expedition in Mongolia in 1997 & 1998. Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch. ISBN 5-7803-0054-2.
- 2002 (with A. P. Derevianko, A. N. Zenin, V. T. Petrin, and D. Tseveendorj) Kamenn’i Vek Mongolii: Paleoliticheskie Kompleksi’ Kremnevoi Dolin’, Gobiskii Altai (Stone Age of Mongolia: Paleolithic Assemblages from Flint Valley, Gobi Altai). Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences. ISBN 5-7803-0085-2.
- 2008 (with A. P. Derevianko, D. Tseveendorj, S. A. Gladyshev, T. I. Nokhrina, and A. V. Tabarev) "Novoe Prochtenie Arkheologicheskogo Konteksta Peshcher’ Chikhen" (Mongolia) ("New Insights into the Archaeological Record at Chikhen Agui Rockshelter"), Arkheologiya, Etnografiya, i Antropologiya Evrazii 2(34): 2-12.
- John W. Olsen - School of Anthropology, University of Arizona
- Joint Mongolian-Russian-American Archaeological Expeditions