Accessibility statement

Ashley Coutu



As a bioarchaeologist working with material culture from the last 2,000 years, I am particularly interested in using bioarchaeological methods with archaeological and archival data to map people and materials across the landscape to understand exchange networks. My background encompasses training in zooarchaeology, historical/medieval archaeology, environmental archaeology, and biomolecular archaeology. Because a significant focus of my research has been on the ivory trade across Africa and beyond, I am also involved in interdisciplinary research with historians, ecologists, and wildlife biologists. This research builds on historical ecology to understand the relationship between humans and elephants in the past and applies that knowledge to modern elephant conservation as well as preserving cultural heritage in protected landscapes.

I was a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellow between the University of Cape Town, South Africa and the BioArCh laboratories in York between 2014-2017.  The project, entitled Tembo: Tracking Elephants: Mapping pre-colonial African ivory trade networks using Bioarchaeological techniques, analysed ivory working materials, ivory objects, and other small finds from over 20 sites in southern Africa dated to the Iron Age (700-1300 AD).  Using biomolecular methods such as stable and radiogenic isotope analyses, ZooMS, ancient DNA as well as non-destructive methods such as FTIR and SEM, the project highlighted early connections and trade networks between people in southern Africa. I also have been involved in a project with collaborators from the University of Illinois, USA and the University of Cape Town, South Africa, researching the remains of ivory and bone artefacts from a 16th century shipwreck excavated off the southern Namibian coast.

Prior to this, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher on the Entrepot project between Aarhus University, Denmark and BioArCh in 2013 tracing trade in Viking antler combs.  From 2007-2011, I worked as part of the Historical Ecologies of East African Landscapes (HEEAL) project at York using a combination of archival, archaeological, and biomolecular data to understand the impacts of the 19th century ivory trade on elephants, humans, and landscapes along caravan routes in East Africa.



2017 Visiting Research Fellow, Sainsbury Research Unit, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, UK

2014 – 2017 Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellow, Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, South Africa/Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK

2013 – 2014 Claude Leon Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, South Africa

2012 – 2013 Postdoctoral Researcher, Entrepôt Project, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, University of Aarhus, Denmark

2012 Teaching Fellow, Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK

2011 – 2012 Research Assistant, Department of Chemistry, University of York, UK

2011 Research Assistant, Moche Music Project, Perú

2007 – 2011 PhD in Archaeology, Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK

2006 Historical Archaeology Technician, Wake Forest University, USA

2006 – 2007 MPhil in World Archaeology, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, UK

2005 – 2006 Environmental Archaeology Technician, Department of Geography, University of London, Royal Holloway, UK

2004 Site Assistant, Briquetage de la Seille archaeological field project, Marsal, France


Selected publications

Coutu, A.N., Lee-Thorp, J., Collins, M. and Lane, P. (2016) Mapping the elephants of the 19th century East African ivory trade with a multi-isotope approach. PLoS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0163606

Coutu, A.N., Whitelaw, G., LeRoux, P. and Sealy, J. (2016) Earliest evidence for the ivory trade in southern Africa: isotopic and ZooMS analysis of 7th-10th century AD ivory from KwaZulu-Natal. African Archaeological Review. DOI: 10.1007/s10437-016-9232-0

Coutu, A.N. (2015) The elephant in the room: mapping the footsteps of historic elephants with big game hunting collections. World Archaeology 47 (3) 486-503.

Coutu, A.N. (2015) Ancient molecules connect the past to modern conservation. In Daryl Stump and Christian Isendahl (eds) Applied Archaeology, Historical Ecology and the Useable Past. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199672691.013.14

Ashby, S.P., Coutu, A.N. and Sindbæk, S.M. (2015) Urban Networks and Arctic Outlands: Craft Specialists and Reindeer Antler in Viking Towns. European Journal of Archaeology 18 (4) 679-704.

Frei, K.M., Coutu, A.N., Smiarowski, K., Harrison, R., Madsen, C.K., Arneborg, J., Frei, R., Guðmundsson, G., Sindbæk, S.M., Woollett, J., and McGovern, T.H. (2015) Was it for Walrus? Viking Age Settlement and Medieval Walrus Ivory Trade in Iceland and Greenland. World Archaeology 47 (3) 439-466.

Coutu, A.N. (2015) Investigating ivory trade with ZooMS analysis. In Sian Tiley-Nel and Annie Antonites (eds) Archaeological worked bone and ivory: A guide to best practice in preservation, research and curation. University of Pretoria, South Africa, 34-36.

Coutu, A.N. (2011) Elephants, humans and ecology during the nineteenth century East African caravan trade: a bioarchaeological study. Antiquity Project Gallery, 85 (327).



Tembo: Tracking Elephants: Mapping pre-colonial African ivory trade networks using Bioarchaeological techniques

The Tembo project is a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship between the University of York and the University of Cape Town, South Africa

Entrepot: Maritime Network Urbanism in Global Medieval Archaeology (

Historical Ecologies of East African Landscapes :

Research group(s)

Landscape and Society



Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship, University of Cape Town, South Africa and University of York, UK

Claude Leon Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Cape Town, South Africa

EuroPlanet TransNational Access Award, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher, funded as part of the Historical Ecologies of East African Landscapes (HEEAL) Project

Student Paper Prize, Society of Africanist Archaeologists and PanAfrican Historical Congress, Dakar, Senegal

World University Network Research Mobility Programme, University of Illinois

Smithsonian Museum Conservation Fellowship, Smithsonian Institution



The undergraduate teaching that I have been involved with at the University of York include these modules:

Medieval Africa

Accessing Archaeology: Study Skills


as well as teaching stable isotope and ZooMS laboratory preparation methods in the BioArCh laboratories for undergraduate and postgraduate students.


External activities


Society of Africanist Archaeologists :

British Institute in Eastern Africa:

Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists:

South African Archaeological Society:

East African Wildlife Society:


Ashley Coutu

Contact details

Ashley Coutu
University of York
BioArCh, Environment Building
Wentworth Way
YO10 5DD

Tel: (44) 1904 328559