Eréndira M. Quintana Morales, Archaeologist

I am an archaeologist interested in discovering how past societies interacted with their surrounding environments. My aim is to understand the past to help us face current challenges related to climate change, food security, and sustainable livelihoods.

My research has been funded by a Fyssen Postdoctoral Study Grant at the Natural History Museum in Paris during 2014 and a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Grant at Rice University from 2015-2017.

I investigate various research themes, such as the historical ecology of coasts and islands and the role of foodways in political organization and community identity. My work integrates various archaeological approaches, including zooarchaeology, biomolecular methods, and community engagement.

Explore some of my main research questions:

Delicious fish cooked on the beach on Songo Mnara Island, Tanzania

Delicious fish cooked on the beach on Songo Mnara Island, Tanzania


How does daily food shape social identity and interaction?

Fishing boats along the shores of Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania

Fishing boats along the shores of Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania

Historical Ecology

How have humans transformed their environments over time?

600 year old fish bones from the archaeological site of Vumba Kuu, Kenya

600 year old fish bones from the archaeological site of Vumba Kuu, Kenya


What can we learn from studying old fish bones?

How does daily food shape social identity and interaction?


We all need food to survive. Our daily actions to find, prepare, and eat our food shape the way we see ourselves and how we interact with others. For example, people use food to strengthen ties to their communities and to increase their influence over others.

I examined daily food at the 14th-15th century coastal town of Songo Mnara by studying fish bones and pottery fragments, the two most common remains of daily meals at many Swahili archaeological sites. At Songo Mnara, these artifacts of daily food are found in association with a variety of houses across the town, allowing me to compare the types and sizes of fish eaten by past residents as well as the shapes, sizes, and decorations of the clay containers they used to cook and serve their food. I also used organic residue analysis to identify residues of fats and oils preserved in the pottery fragments, providing the first glimpse of what types of foods were cooked or stored in the pottery from Songo Mnara.

Did all residents eat the same food and in a similar way? Why or why not? Stay tuned for a summary of the results!


How have humans transformed their environments over time?


We have been transforming our world for as long as we've existed. To make better choices today, we need to understand the impacts of past choices and collaborate with local communities.

Fishing is a major source of food and a way of life for people living in coastal eastern Africa today. Although archaeological evidence shows that people have been fishing on the coasts and islands of eastern Africa for hundreds of years, the rich biodiversity and the future of fishing in this region is threatened by climate change, overfishing, and other anthropogenic factors. My research contributes to our understanding of past fishing practices, such as information about the types of fish and marine environments that people exploited over time, which provides important historical context for today’s fisheries. For example, recent work in collaboration with international and local biologists, conservationists, and fishers combined data from the archaeological record, underwater surveys, fish landings, and oral histories to help dentify reef fish at risk of local extinction.


What can we learn from studying old fish bones?


We have many types of relationships with other animals; for example, animals play a role in our lives as food, pets, and symbols. Investigating how animals are integrated into human lives helps us understand our past.

Fish bones are abundant at archaeological sites on the eastern African coast. They provide important clues about how people lived in the past because fish are entangled in the lives of coastal residents from the moment they are captured, processed, and eventually consumed and discarded. I analyze fish remains to understand how these daily activities shaped the identity of coastal residents, their inter-relationships and their interaction with the surrounding environment.


2019 Douglass, K., E. Quintana Morales, G. Manahira, F. Fenomanana, R. Samba, F. Lahiniriko, Z. M. Chrisostome, V. Vavisoa, P. Soafiavy, R. Justome, H. Leonce, L. Hubertine, B.V. Pierre, C. Tahirisoa, C.S. Colomb, F.S. Lovanirina, V. Andriankaja and R. Robison. Toward a just and inclusive environmental archaeology of southwest Madagascar. Journal of Social Archaeology. Link

2019 Buckley, S.M., T. McClanahan, E.M. Quintana Morales, V. Mwakha, J. Nyanapah, L. Otwoma, and J.M. Pandolfi. Identifying species threatened with local extinction in tropical reef fisheries using historical reconstruction of species occurrence. PLOS ONE 14(2): e0211224. Link

2019 Douglass, K., J. Walz, E.M. Quintana Morales, R. Marcus, G. Meyers, J. Pollini. Historical perspectives on contemporary human–environment dynamics in southeast Africa. Conservation Biology. Link

2018        Douglass, K., A. Antonites, E.M. Quintana Morales, A. Grealy, M. Bunce, C. Bruwer, and C. Gough. Multi-analytical approach to zooarchaeological assemblages elucidates Late Holocene coastal lifeways in southwest Madagascar. Quaternary International 471: 111-131. Link

2017        Quintana Morales, E.M., D. Lepofsky, and F. Berkes. Ethnobiology and fisheries: Learning from the past for the present. Special Section on the Ethnobiology of Fisheries. Journal of Ethnobiology 37 (3): 369-379. Link

2017        Quintana Morales, E.M. and M.E. Prendergast. Animals and their uses in the Swahili world. In The Swahili World. S. Wynne-Jones and A. LaViolette, editors. London: Routledge. 

2017        Prendergast, M.E., E.M. Quintana Morales, A. Crowther, M.C. Horton, and N.L. Boivin. Dietary diversity on the Swahili coast: the fauna from two Zanzibar trading locales. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 27 (4): 621-637. Link

2017        Armstrong, C.G., A.C. Shoemaker, I. McKechnie, A. Ekblom, P. Szabó, P.J. Lane, A. McAlvay, O.J. Boles, S. Walshaw, N. Petek, K.S. Gibbons, E. Quintana Morales, E.N. Anderson, A. Ibragimow, G. Podruczny, J.C. Vamosi, T. Marks-Block, J.K. LeCompte, S. Awāsis, C. Nabess, P. Sinclair, C.L. Crumley. Anthropological contributions to historical ecology: 50 questions, infinite prospects. PLOS ONE 12 (2). Link

2017        Prendergast, M.E., M. Buckley, A. Crowther, L. Frantz, H. Eager, O. Lebrasseur, R. Hutterer, A. Hulme-Beaman, W. Van Neer, K. Douka, M. Veall, E.M. Quintana Morales, et al. Reconstructing Asian faunal introductions to Eastern Africa from multi-proxy biomolecular and archaeological datasets. PLOS ONE 12 (8). Link

2017        Ottoni, C., W. Van Neer, B. De Cupere, J. Daligault, S. Guimaraes, J. Peters, N. Spassov, M.E. Prendergast, N. Boivin, A. Morales-Muñiz, A. Bălăşescu, C. Becker, N. Benecke, A. Boroneant, H. Buitenhuis, J. Chahoud, A. Crowther, L. Llorente, N. Manaseryan, H. Monchot, V. Onar, M. Osypińska, O. Putelat, E.M. Quintana Morales, et al. The Palaeogenetics of Cat Dispersal in the Ancient World. Nature Ecology and Evolution 1 (139). Link

2016        Crowther, A., P. Faulkner, M. Prendergast, E.M. Quintana Morales, M. Horton, E. Wilmsen, A.M. Kotarba-Morley, A. Christie, N. Petek, R. Tibesasa, K. Douka, L. Picornell- Gelabart, X. Carah, and N. Boivin. Coastal subsistence, island colonization and maritime population dispersal in eastern African prehistory. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 11 (2): 211-237. Link

2016        Langley, M.C., M. Prendergast, C. Shipton, E.M. Quintana Morales, A. Crowther, and N. Boivin. Poison arrows and bone utensils in Late Pleistocene Eastern Africa: Evidence from Kuumbi Cave, Zanzibar. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 51 (2): 155-177. Link

2016        Shipton, C., A. Crowther, N. Kourampas, M.E. Prendergast, M. Horton, K. Douka, J-L. Schwenninger, P. Faulkner, E.M. Quintana Morales, M.C. Langley, R. Tibesasa, L. Picornell-Gelabert, E. Wilmsen, C. Doherty, M-A. Veall, A.K. Ali, M.D. Petraglia, and N. Boivin. Reinvestigation of Kuumbi Cave, Zanzibar, reveals Later Stone Age coastal habitation, early Holocene abandonment, and Iron Age reoccupation. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 51 (2): 197-233. Link

2015        Fleisher, J., P. Lane, A. LaViolette, M. Horton, E. Pollard, E. Quintana Morales, T. Vernet, A. Christie, and S. Wynne-Jones. When did the Swahili become maritime? American Anthropologist 117 (1): 100-115. Link

2014        Quintana Morales, E.M. and M. Horton. Fishing and fish consumption in the Swahili Communities of East Africa, 700 – 1400 CE. ‘Human Exploitation of Aquatic Landscapes’ special issue, R. Fernandes and J. Meadows, editors. Internet Archaeology 37. Link

2014        Crowther, A., M. Horton, A. Kotarba-Morley, M. Prendergast, E. Quintana Morales, M. Wood, C. Shipton, D.Q. Fuller, T. Ruth, M. William, and N. Boivin. Iron Age agriculture, fishing and trade in the Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania: New evidence from Ukunju Cave. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 49 (1): 21–44. Link

2013        Quintana Morales, E.M. Shifting fish consumption and climate change on the Swahili coast (AD 800-1500). Archaeofauna: International Journal of Archaeozoology 22 (2): 113-122. Link

2013        Quintana Morales, E.M. 2013. Reconstructing Swahili Foodways: The Archaeology of Fishing and Fish Consumption in Coastal East Africa, AD 500-1500. PhD dissertation, University of Bristol. PDF