Dr Philippa Ryan

Research Leader

Philippa Ryan

Enhanced Partnerships


Interdisciplinary Research


Ethnobotany, useful plants, biocultural heritage, traditional agriculture, orphan crops, resilience, crop histories, archaeobotany

My research focuses on the ethnobotany of traditional and Indigenous crops and useful plants. Interests include documenting endangered crops from cultivation to cuisine, to situate their use within their local agroecological, historical and cultural contexts, and to better understand their perceived advantages as well as drivers of change. Aims include to develop ethnobotanical approaches for studying traditional agricultural systems, and to connect research with interdisciplinary and cross-sector debates surrounding sustainability, resilience, and food security.

Currently I am Co-I for the NERC funded project ‘Evolutionary dynamics of vegetative agriculture in the Ethiopian Highlands' (with UCL), which integrates ethnobotany with archaeobotanical and genomic evidence to study enset (Ensete ventricosum), and PI for the AHRC project ‘AGRIHIST - Agri-system histories and trajectories: Linking crops, landscapes, and heritage in Ethiopia and Guinea’.

At Kew, I have also been Co-I for two further AHRC GCRF funded projects;  one (SoilSafe) combining ethnobotany with the study of agricultural terraces in Ethiopia (with the University of York), and the other exploring the role of ethnobotany within the study of Indigenous Peoples food systems and biocultural heritage in Kenya, India, and China (with IIED). I was also PI of an AHRC/ESRC GCRF Case-Study Award ‘Indigenous engagement, research partnerships, and knowledge mobilisation’, which explored participatory approaches for working with local communities.

My research at Kew also includes a project ‘A holistic view of plant uses within traditional agroecological settings in the middle Nile valley’ (funded by the Institute of BioArchaeology) which investigates useful wild plants in Nubia (northern Sudan). This expands upon my research prior to Kew at the British Museum, where I was PI for two projects: ‘Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan’ (AHRC 2013 - 2016), and ‘Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience; crop choices and endangered cultural heritage’ (AHRC GCRF 2018). These combined ethnobotanical and archaeobotanical approaches for a deep-time perspective on contemporary crops.

I completed my PhD in 2010 at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL entitled ‘Diversity of plant and land use during the Near Eastern Neolithic, phytolith (microbotanical remains) perspectives from Catalhöyük.’

  • PhD, Archaeobotany, Institute of Archaeology, UCL, 2010
  • MA, Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, UCL, 2005
  • Postgraduate Diploma, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 1998
  • BA, MA, Modern History, Trinity College, Oxford University, 1997

Reed K. & Ryan, P. (2019)

Lessons from the past and the future of food.

World Archaeology

Ryan, P. (2018). 

Phytolith Studies in Archaeology.

In: Smith, C. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, Springer, New York: 5920-5931. 

Pérez-Escobar OA, Tusso S, Przelomska NAS, Wu S, Ryan P, Nesbitt M, Silber MV, Preick M, Fei Z, Hofreiter M, Chomicki G, Renner SS. 2022

Genome Sequencing of up to 6,000-Year-Old Citrullus Seeds Reveals Use of a Bitter-Fleshed Species Prior to Watermelon Domestication

Molecular Biology and Evolution, Volume 39, Issue 8, August 2022

Ryan, P., Kordofani, M., Saad, M. et al. 

Nubian Agricultural Practices, Crops and Foods: Changes in Living Memory on Ernetta Island, Northern Sudan.

Economic Botany 76, 250–272 (2022).


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Philippa Ryan


Philippa Ryan


Philippa Ryan