Bryan K. Hanks

  • Associate Professor

Bryan Hanks (Ph.D., University of Cambridge 2003) is an archaeologist whose research interests have focused on the development of late prehistoric societies in Europe and the Eurasian steppes. He has been engaged in collaborative field research in Russia since 1998 and has directed research projects in the southeastern Ural Mountains region of Russia and most recently in southeastern Europe in the Republic of Serbia. The projects in Russia have focused on the subsistence strategies of Iron and Bronze Age mobile pastoralists, craft production related to copper mining and metallurgy, and geophysical and geochemical study of households and settlement patterning. In Europe, he has been working with colleagues to document the appearance and growth of early Neolithic agrarian villages and the construction of early enclosures and fortifications. Since 2014, he has been working annually with the US Forest Service on the study of Native American Pit House villages along the Salmon River and its tributaries in the state of Idaho. He is committed to providing opportunities for student field training and in addition to including students in international projects he routinely offers, in collaboration with Dr. Marc Bermann, opportunities for field training in geophysics surveys in the Pittsburgh region.



Research Description

Prehistoric Pit House Village Patterning along the Salmon River and its Tributaries, Idaho

This project focuses on the study of pit house villages occupied over the last 4000 years in central Idaho. The villages are located within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, which is the largest designated wilderness in the lower 48 states encompassing over two million acres.  Collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service is focusing on the use of geophysical and geochemical surveys to examine the spatial extent of these sites and to explore near surface and subsurface cultural deposits. This research will contribute to the long-term management and protection of these important cultural heritage resources. Project Partners: Dr. Tim Canaday (United States Forest Service, Idaho), Dr. Rosemary Capo (University of Pittsburgh, Department of Geology and Environmental Science), Sarah Montag (BPhil candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Anthropology) and Petra Basar, MA (graduate program, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Anthropology).  

Village Growth, Demographic Trends, and Craft Specialization among Neolithic Vinča Culture Communities in Southeastern Europe (5400 - 4600 BCE)

This project focuses on the emergence of early agro-pastoralist communities and related developments in craft specialization, including early stages of metallurgy, village growth and demography, and evidence of enclosure and fortification. Research to date has been conducted at several Middle-Late Neolithic settlements and has integrated geophysical and geochemical site surveys, pedestrian survey and artifact collection, and targeted soil coring and excavation. Project Partners: Dr. Miroslav Kočić (Balkanological Institute, Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences), Dr. Dušan Borić  (Columbia University, UK); Dr. Dusko Slijivar (National Museum of Belgrade, Serbia), Dr. Slaviša Perić (Serbian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology) and Marija Simonović, MA and Dr. Marko Grković (Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, Serbia).

Middle to Late Bronze Age Social and Technological Change in the Southeastern Ural Mountains Region of Russia (2100-1500 BCE)

This program of research has examined settlement patterning, the scale and nature of copper metallurgy, and socio-economic organization as practiced by Bronze Age communities who inhabited the central Russian steppes from the Middle to Late Bronze Age phases (2100 to 1500 BCE). Field research has focused on micro-regional study of the Bronze Age Sintashta culture settlements of Stepnoye and Ust’ye and has employed: 1) geophysical and geochemical survey, 2) targeted small-scale excavation, 3) additional site catchment study and 4) analysis of archaeometallurgical materials and associated features. The field research component of this project has finished and the team is in the process of final data analysis and publication. Project partners: Dr. Roger Doonan (University of Sheffield, UK), Dr. Derek Pitman (University of Bournemouth, UK), Dr. Dimitri Zdanovich (Chelyabinsk State University, Russia), Dr. Elena Kupriyanova (Chelyabinsk State University, Russia) and Dr. Nikolai Vinogradov (Chelyabinsk State Pedagogical University).

Bioarchaeological Study of Bronze Age Health, Diet and Demography in the Southeastern Ural Mountains of Russia (2100-1500 BCE)

This project has focused on the study of human remains recovered previously by Dr. Andrei Epimakhov at the Kamennyi Ambar 5 Bronze Age cemetery in Russia. We have conducted detailed study of the human remains including isotopic analysis for dietary trends and aDNA analysis.  This project has now completed and we are in the process of final data analysis and publication. Project Partners: Dr. Margaret Judd (University of Pittsburgh); Dr. Andrei Epimakhov (Southern Ural State University, Russia); Dr. Dmitri Razhev (Institute of History and Archaeology, Russia); Dr. Alicia Ventresca Miller (University of Michigan) and Dr. David Reich (Reich Laboratory for aDNA).


Archaeology of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia

This course provides an overview of the key prehistoric and early historic developments that occurred in the territories of the former Soviet Union. This investigation will include: early evidence of animal and plant domestication in the Neolithic, the emergence of Indo-European languages, innovations in metallurgy and the rise of complex societies in the Bronze and Iron Age periods, and the impact of early ‘nomadic’ societies and empires.   The course will cover a vast period, stretching from the earliest occupation evidence in the Paleolithic to the Mongol Empire of the 13th century AD. The primary focus of the course will be on evaluating the main lines of archaeological evidence to interpret and understand the key cultural, economic, technological and ideological developments noted above.  However, the course also will investigate the substantial role that the discipline of archaeology and interpretations of the past have played in the larger socio-political dynamics of the Soviet and Post-Soviet periods.  Therefore, this course will appeal to a broad range of students interested in comparative studies of Old World archaeology as well as cultural and historical studies of the Soviet and Post-Soviet Union.

The Archaeologist Looks at Death

The aim of this course is to provide students with an understanding of how archaeologists investigate, analyze and interpret human remains from archaeological contexts. While the focus will be primarily on prehistoric case studies, the course will also look at the rapidly developing area of forensic archaeology in the contemporary world.  Therefore, the course will be divided into two main parts. The first half will focus on presenting some of the main elements inherent in the bioarchaeological analysis of human remains and the types of specific information that can be gained about the past lives of individuals and their place within societies. The second half of the course will focus more on how archaeologists construct interpretations relating to mortuary practices and rituals, attitudes about the afterlife, and principles of social organization and structure within past societies. 

Prehistoric Foundations of European Civilization

This course surveys European prehistory from the earliest human occupation of Europe until the Roman conquest. Geographical coverage will include Western, Central and Eastern Europe and southern areas including parts of the Mediterranean and Aegean. Emphasis will be placed on investigating major changes in social organization, cultural contact and exchange, technology and economy. Key developments covered will include the interaction between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, the emergence of Upper Palaeolithic art, Neolithic megalithic constructions, the emergence and spread of agriculture, the impact of metallurgy, Iron Age ‘Celtic’ developments, and the expansion and influence of the Roman Empire. This course will provide a useful foundation for students interested in archaeology, history, ethnic history, art history and classics.


Animal remains are often some of the most frequently encountered material remains recovered from archaeological sites and therefore provide crucial information relating to subsistence strategies, animal husbandry patterns, paleoenvironments and a wide range of other human behaviors.  This course provides an introduction to the main elements of Zooarchaeological research and will focus on the recovery, identification and contextual analysis of animal remains.  The course will provide both laboratory training as well as seminar discussions to evaluate the significance of Zooarchaeology within archaeological research.  Participants will have the opportunity to gain practical skills in faunal remains identification and analysis and to learn how this information can be applied to the comparative study of complex societies.

History of Anthropological Thought

This course provides a wide-ranging survey of the development of anthropological thought and the formation of the four-field discipline of Anthropology. Starting with early intellectual growth in Antiquity and the Middle Ages the course charts a path for students that will guide them through the dense and complex world of theory development in Anthropology from the time of Classical thought up through contemporary times. This class offers a critical foundation of knowledge for students majoring in Anthropology and/or undergraduate students planning to take more advanced seminar/writing courses in Anthropology, History, Sociology, and History and Philosophy of Science.

People, Places and Things

This course examines the use of recent theoretical perspectives that cross-cut many of the humanities and social sciences to explore the complex relationships that are created between people, landscapes and physical settings, and the use of objects and other forms of material culture. The course will survey key theoretical approaches to explore object agency, symbolism and ritual set within natural and built environments, and the roles that such places and things play within the composition of culture and long term mediation of social processes and memory. The course is diachronic in nature and examines a host of places and objects from around the world from prehistory to the present. A heavy emphasis will be placed on “interdisciplinary thought” with the goal of achieving a more nuanced and comparative understanding of the dynamic role that material culture and the natural and built environment have within the ever-evolving human condition.

Archaeological Geophysics 

This course introduces common methods of geophysical prospection being used within archaeology today. Classroom lectures and field surveys off campus at local historic sites provide students a unique hands-on approach to understanding and using geophysical instrumentation, collecting data, and analysis of datasets. Classroom lectures are provided on: (1) integration of geophysics as a tool within broader research programs, (II) background theory on the methods and their use in field research (fluxgate gradiometery, earth resistance, GPR, magnetic susceptibility, electrical conductivity), and (III) opportunity to process and interpret geophysics datasets.


Hanks, B., A. Ventresca Miller, M. Judd, A. Epimakhov, D. Razhev, K. Privat, 2018. ‘Bronze Age Diet and Economy: New Stable Isotope Data from the Central Eurasian Steppes (2100-1700 BC), Journal of Archaeological Science 97: 14-25.

Borić, D., B. Hanks, Duško Šljivar, Roger Doonan, Miroslav Kočić, Jelena Bulatović, Seren Griffiths, and Dragan Jacanović, 2017. ‘Enclosing the Neolithic World: A Vinča Culture Enclosed and Fortified Settlement in the Balkans’. Current Anthropology 59(3): 336-346.

Hanks, B., R. Doonan, D. Pitman, E. Kupriyanova & D. Zdanovich, 2015. Eventful Deaths – Eventful Lives? Bronze Age Mortuary Practices in the late prehistoric Eurasian steppes of Central Russia (2100-1500 B.C.), in Death Rituals, Social Order and the Archaeology of Immortality in the Ancient World, ‘Death Shall Have no Dominion’, edited by c. Renfrew, M. Boyd, and I. Morley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 328-350.

Hanks B., 2015. Warfare and Ritual in Anthropology, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Anthropology, edited by A. Strathern and P. Stewart. London: Ashgate Publications, 273-294.

Hanks, B., 2014. Post-Neolithic of Eastern Europe, in The Cambridge World Prehistory, edited by C. Renfrew and P. Bahn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doonan, R., B. Hanks, D. Zdanovich, E. Kupriyanova, D. Pitman, N. Batanina and J. Johnson, (2014) Metals, Society and Economy in the Late Prehistoric Eurasian Steppe, in Reader in Early Metallurgy, edited by B. Roberts and C. Thornton. Springer, 755-784.

Hutson, S., B. Hanks and A. Pyburn, 2013. Gender, Power and Politics in Early States, in Companion to Gender Prehistory, edited by D. Bolger. Oxford: Blackwell-Wiley, 45-67.

Batanina, N., and B. Hanks, 2012. Soviet Period Air Photography and Archaeology of the Bronze Age in the Southern Urals of Russia, in Archaeology from Historical Aerial and Satellite Archives, edited by W.S. Hanson and I.A. Oltean. London: Springer, 199-219. 

Warmuth, Vera, Anders Eriksson, Mim Ann Bower, Graeme Barker, Elizabeth Barrett, Bryan Kent Hanks, Shuicheng Li, David Lomitashvili, Maria Ochir-Goryaeva, Grigory V. Sizonov, Vasiliy Soyonov, and Andrea Manica (2012) Reconstructing the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol 109(21): 8202-8206. 

Drennan, R.D., Hanks, B.K., and Peterson, C.E. 2011. The Comparative Study of Chiefly Communities in the Eurasian Steppe Region. Social Evolution and History: Studies in the Evolution of Human Societies 10:149–186. Moscow: Uchitel Publishing House.

Hanks, B., 2010. Agency, Hybridity and Transmutation: Theorizing Human-Animal Symbolism among Early Eurasian Steppe Societies’, in Master of Animals in Old World Iconography, edited by D. Counts and B. Arnold. Budapest: Archaeolingua, 175-191.

Hanks, B., 2010. Archaeology of the Eurasian Steppes and Mongolia, Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 469-487.

Hanks, B., and K. Linduff, eds. (2009) Social Complexity in Prehistoric Eurasia: Monuments, Metals and Mobility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hanks, B. and R. Doonan. 2009. From Scale to Practice: A New Agenda for the Study of Early Metallurgy on the Eurasian Steppe. Journal of World Prehistory 22: 329-356.