J. Stephen Athens received his PhD in 1978 from the University of New Mexico. He is a Senior Archaeologist at International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc. (IARII) and at International Archaeology, LLC (IA). He has served as IARII’s General Manager since 1986 and Manager of IA since 2014. He has held an Affiliate Faculty appointment at the Dept. of Anthropology, University of Hawaii, since 1987.
Dr. Athens’ research has focused on the development of complex societies; human impacts to the environment; climate, vegetation, and landscape changes; the origin of maize cultivation in the northern Andes of South America; and the chronology of initial human settlement on Pacific islands. Besides research, Dr. Athens has also been involved in cultural resources management studies throughout his career, seeking to bridge the gap between pure research and historic preservation compliance requirements. He believes the often perceived differences between these approaches are actually different sides of the same coin and that one does not stand without the other.
In the early and middle 1970s, as a graduate archaeology student, Dr. Athens conducted large surveys and excavations at number of locations in New Mexico, including the Zuni Reservation and at several Anasazi Pueblo sites. At the same time, he was undertaking field research in the northern highlands of Ecuador for his doctoral dissertation, which concerned the geospatial distribution and socio-political implications of clusters of large earthen mound sites throughout the region. He was also able to undertake archaeological excavations near an Achuar Jívaro settlement in Ecuador’s remote southeastern Amazon region. In 1978, after completing his dissertation, he began his long research career in the Pacific, conducting extended field research on Pohnpei, Kosrae, Palau, the Mariana Islands (including the northern islands), Hawai‘i, and French Polynesia, all places where he has contributed to an understanding of initial island settlement and human impacts following settlement. At the same time, his research was continuing intermittently in the northern highlands of Ecuador, first establishing a solid chronology of archaeological periods, then determining the onset and dietary importance of maize cultivation to the prehistoric population as well as the record of repeated Holocene volcanism. During the last decade he has returned to Ecuador to pursue his initial interest in the society responsible for building the large earthen mounds, known as the Caranquí. These investigations still continue. Another significant project included one of the very few detailed paleoenvironmental investigations in a remote part of the western Amazon region, establishing a record of tropical rain forest vegetation changes from the present back to the Late Pleistocene, and documenting the onset of a probable human signature on the landscape beginning not long after the start of the Holocene, about 8,400 years ago.