Dr Philippa Ryan

Research Fellow

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 crops and useful plants, agrobiodiversity and resilience. Interests include documenting endangered orphan crops from cultivation through to cuisine, to situate their present-day use within their local agroecological, historical and cultural contexts, and to better understand their perceived advantages as well as drivers of change. Much of this research is focused on traditional systems in semi-arid to arid regions, and especially in NE Africa. Aims include to further develop ethnobotanical approaches for studying traditional agricultural systems, and to connect research with interdisciplinary and cross-sector debates surrounding sustainability, resilience, and food security.

I am currently Co-I for two AHRC GCRF funded projects;  one combines ethnobotany with the study of agricultural terraces at the world heritage site of Konso in Ethiopia (with the University of York), and the other explores the role of ethnobotany within the study of indigenous food systems and biocultural heritage, with case-studies in Kenya, India, and China (with IIED).

I am PI of an AHRC/ESRC GCRF Case-Study Award ‘Indigenous engagement, research partnerships, and knowledge mobilisation’, which explores participatory approaches for working with local communities.

Current research also includes a project ‘A holistic view of plant uses within traditional agroecological settings in the middle Nile valley’ (fieldwork 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 Principal Investigator 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 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).

Nubia past and present: agriculture, crops and food.

British Museum, London and Khartoum. ISBN: 9780714182278

Ryan, P. (2018). 

Phytolith Studies in Archaeology.

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

Dalton, M.D. & Ryan, P. (2018).

Variable Ovicaprid Diet and Faecal Spherulite Production at Amara West, Sudan.

Environmental Archaeology 

Out, W.A, Ryan, P., García-Granero, J.J., Barastegui, J., Maritan, L., Madella, M. (2016).

Plant exploitation in Neolithic Sudan: A review in the light of new data from the cemeteries R12 and Ghaba.

Quaternary International 412: 36-53.

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Philippa Ryan


Philippa Ryan