I am a Mediterranean field and environmental archaeologist studying ecology and commercial exchange. My current research focuses on the cultivation, production and exchange of botanical commodities (ancient plant medicines, perfumes, and crops) throughout the Mediterranean. Birney Lab is home to the Archaeo-Ecophysiology Initiative, an interdisciplinary research project that lies at the intersection between archaeology, plant chemistry, philology, and environmental science.  “ArchaeoEcophysiology” draws upon ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian and Classical texts together with environmental archaeology to reconstruct the environments in which key plants and crops  were grown, and experimentally model the impact of microclimate on their growth patterns and bioactive compounds.

Our research helps us to understand how climate and cultivation strategies impacted the potency and viability of ancient plants, shaping their cultural and commercial value. More importantly, the Ancient Ecophysiology Initiative is shedding light on traditional practices of resilient agriculture and ancient species, often overlooked, that may offer productive pathways in a changing climate. Research in the Birney Lab is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Yale Planetary Solutions Project.

Archaeological Field Research

Outside of the lab, my archaeological field research has focused on periods of intensive trans-Mediterranean contact, particularly the Hellenistic period (323-63 B.C.),  a period during which Greek and Phoenician cultural and market forces shaped the resonated across the Mediterranean. Ashkelon in the Hellenistic period was one of the largest and most famous port cities in the ancient Mediterranean, a Ptolemaic stronghold for much of the era and a producer of perfumes. My book Ashkelon 9: The Hellenistic Period (2022) is the final archaeological site report for the Hellenistic period in the city, and includes detailed analysis of stratigraphy, ceramics and small finds. Ashkelon serves as a coastal comparison to the inland site of Tel Shimron, Israel, where I am the Head of Persian and Hellenistic Research.

Archaeological Projects

Tel Shimron, Israel (Head of Persian and Hellenistic Research)

OpenARCHEM Project and OpenARCHEM Archaeometric Database (Co-Director)

Kastrouli-Desfina Archaeological Project (Co-PI)

Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, Israel (Assistant Director)

Mouliana Project, Crete (Co-Director)


Selected Articles and Book Chapters

  • 2024. Rethinking Pliny’s “Sicilian Crocus”: Ecophysiology, Environment, and Classical Texts. Economic Botany. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-024-09600-6 [Link]
  • 2021. Hellenistic Agricultural Economies at Ashkelon, Southern Levant (with J. Marston.) Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 7/18/21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-021-00850-1 [link]
  • 2020. The Mycenaean Citadel and Environs of Desfina-Kastrouli: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Southern Phokis. (with I. Liritzis, A. Koh, I. Roy) Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 20.3: 47-73 (2020) [link]
  • 2019. Ancient Organic Residues as Cultural and Environmental Proxies: The Value of Legacy Artifacts (with A. Koh.) Sustainability 11.3: 656 [link]
  • 2019. Hellenistic Unguentaria from Ashkelon: Insight from combined Materials and Residue Analysis (with W. Gilstrap). Conference Paper, Technology in Archaeology: Recent Work in the Archaeological Sciences, ASOR, San Diego, CA, 11/19/19.
  • 2018. An Astynomos at Ascalon. Eretz Israel 33 (Lawrence E. Stager Volume) (2018):25-32 [link]
  • 2017. Phoenician Bathing in the Hellenistic East: Ashkelon and Beyond. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 378: 203-22 [link]
  • 2017. Organic Compounds and Cultural Continuity: The Penn Museum LMIIIC Stirrup Jar from Tourloti. Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 17.2: 19-33 (with A. Koh) [link]
  • 2015. To the Dregs: Drawing Meaning from the Rhodian Handles of Hellenistic Ashkelon”. CHS Research Bulletin 3.2 [link]
  • 2011. Funerary Iconography on an Inscribed Infant Burial  Jar from Ashkelon. Israel Exploration Journal 61/1 (2011): 32-53 (with. B. Doak) [link]
  • 2011. Scale Weights, in D. Stager, D. Master and D. Schloen (eds.)  Ashkelon III: The Seventh Century B.C., 473-92. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. (with E. Levine) [link]
  • 2008. Tracking the Cooking pot à la stéatite: Signs of Cyprus in Iron Age Syria. American Journal of Archaeology 112/4: 565-580 [link]