Phone: (269) 471-3297
Fax: (269) 471-6236
J. N. Andrews Honors Program
Nethery Hall 108,
Andrews University
Berrien Springs, MI

Oystein LaBianca

Title: Associate Director, Institute of Archaeology; Professor of Anthropology
Office Location: 123-D Nethery Hall


BA in Behavioral Sciences and Religion (Andrews University)
MA in Anthropology (Loma Linda University)
PhD in Anthropology (Brandeis University)
Visiting Scholar in the Department of Archaeology (University of Cambridge, 1990-91).


Oystein LaBianca is professor of anthropology at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Mich. He joined the faculty of the behavioral science department in 1981.

Born in Kristiansand, Norway, LaBianca attended both Andrews University and Middle East College, Lebanon, for his undergraduate education in the fields of behavioral sciences and religion. He attended the French Adventist Seminary, France, before starting on his master's degree in anthropology at Loma Linda in 1971. From 1972 to 1973, LaBianca was a special student in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University studying zoo archaeology. In 1987, he received a doctor of philosophy in anthropology from Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass. His doctoral dissertation is entitled: "Sedentarization and Nomadization: Food System Cycles at Hesban and Vicinity in Transjordan."

While a graduate student at Harvard and Brandeis, LaBianca worked as a social science researcher and consultant to hospitals in the greater Boston area. In addition to his current duties as professor of anthropology, LaBianca also serves as the associate director of the Institute of Archaeology and the senior director of the International Development Program, both located at Andrews, and is the co-director of the Madaba Plains Project (MPP) in Jordan.

LaBianca serves on the board of directors of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, and the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. Recently, he was elected to serve as president of the Adventist Association of International Development Professionals. Other memberships include Sigma Xi and the Society for International Development. His research in Jordan has received research grants from the National Geographic Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and several other private foundations.

LaBianca is lead editor of the Hesban Final production series and co-editor of the seasonal report series of the MPP. In addition, he has had numerous articles published in leading journals in anthropology and Biblical archaeology. Some recent examples include, "Indigenous Hardiness Structures and State Formation in Jordan; Towards a History of Jordan?s Resident Arab Population," "Food Systems Research: An Overview and a Case Study from Madaba Plains, Jordan," and "The Kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom: The Archaeology of Society in the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age Transjordan (ca. 1400-500 B.C.E.)." He is married to Asta Sakala LaBianca, a music teacher and home-school mom. They have three sons, Erik, Aren, and Ivan.

Current Research or Professional Activities:

Zooarchaeology. My first fieldwork experience was in the summer of 1971 as a member of Andrews University's dig at Tall Hesban in Jordan. As a recent college graduate with a declared interest in a career in anthropology, I was assigned by Siegfried Horn, the director, to assist Robert M. Little, the project's physical anthropologist, to clean and label the animal bones. I ran with this opportunity, and with the help of some good reference materials I had brought along, I learned the basics of faunal analysis. My first publication (LaBianca 1973) was a report on the animal bones from the 1971 season at Hesban's report which greatly benefited from a week spent in the zooarchaeological laboratory of Johannes Lepiksaar of the Museum of Natural History in Gothenberg, Sweden. My zooarchaeological apprenticeships subsequently included work as a special student, supervised by Richard Meadow and Barbara Lawrence, at Harvard University's Department of Anthropology and Museum of Comparative Anatomy, respectively; and collaboration on the final report on the faunal remains from Hesban with Joachim Boessneck and Angela von den Driesch of the University of Munich (LaBianca and von den Driesch 1995).

Food Systems Research. It was as a doctoral student in sociocultural anthropology and archaeology at Brandeis University, supervised by Judith Zeitlin and Robert Hunt, that I received the mentorship that enabled me to adapt the food systems concept as a framework for analyzing long-term changes in the zooarchaeological record of Hesban. This concept, along with the related notions of cycles of intensification and abatement and episodes of sedentarization and nomadization, enabled me to posit systematic temporal interrelationships between various lines of archaeological evidence from Hesban and vicinity, including changes in regional settlement patterns, architectural remains, pottery, objects, carbonized seeds and animal bones. This work culminated with my doctoral dissertation, which was revised and published as the first volume in a National Endowment for the Humanities sponsored Hesban final reports series (LaBianca 1990). I have also published a number of articles describing various ways in which I have used the food systems framework as a means to interpret archaeological remains (cf. LaBianca 1991).

Ethnoarchaeology, Ethnohistory and Indigenous Knowledge. Having succeeded, in the course of my doctoral research, in documenting the existence of multi-millennial cycles of intensification and abatement in the food systems of Hesban and Central Transjordan, much of my research since then has centered on discovering the mechanisms that account for these cycles. There are two distinct phases to this research, the first begun during the late eighties and early nineties, the second since then. The first phase focused on discovering the internal cultural mechanisms that enabled individual households and whole communities to shift back and forth between sedentary and nomadic ways. This research, which was sponsored by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, involved extensive use of ethnoarchaeological and ethnohistorical data, culminated with identification of seven such mechanisms -- local level water management, mixed agro-pastoralism, fluid homeland territories, residential flexibility, hospitality, honor and tribalism. I have discussed these local-level survival strategies in several recent articles, referring to them as "indigenous hardiness structures" (LaBianca 2000).

Environmental Archaeology. The second phase has centered on discovering the nature of external influences that have played a role in producing these cycles. To this end I have pursued two major lines of research, the first dealing with the role of climate change, the second with the role of ancient world systems and civilizations. Our initial studies of ancient pollen, plant and animal remains from Hesban and vicinity did not produce compelling evidence of macroclimatic change during the past five millennia as a factor in explaining local food system cycles (LaBianca and Lacelle 1986). Subsequent research sponsored by the National Geographic Society has, however, suggested a possible link between episodes of food system intensification and abatement and cycles of environmental degeneration and regeneration (LaBianca and Christopherson 1998).

Civilization Research and Global History. Efforts to correlate ups and downs in Hesban's fortunes to ancient world system cycles are still underway (LaBianca and Scham 2005). What this endeavor has brought to light already is the important role that competing civilizations and imperial projects have played in shaping Transjordan's and Hesban's economic and cultural history over the past four thousand years. This realization, that global history or the history of inter-civilizational encounters and imperial clashes is crucial to understanding the archaeological record of the Levantine countries and Hesban in particular, has led me to actively pursue research partnerships with historians, epigraphers, geographers, sociologists and anthropologists who share this interest in global/local interactions.

Global Moments in the Levant. One such partnership is the Global Moments Levant Project that was recently funded by the Norwegian Research Council. The four-year 2.6 million USD project will enable an international team of sixteen scholars representing the above disciplines to collaborate on identifying breakthrough events that change people's lives and their futures (see attached announcement). I have also approached the American Schools of Oriental Research with a concept proposal that would facilitate coordinated research on imperial projects in the Levant bv ASOR scholars.

Great and Little Traditions. My own line of research in connection with the Global Moments project is re-visiting the pioneering work of University of Chicago anthropologist Robert Redfield on the topic of civilization. I have recently submitted for publication two articles that harness Redfield's great and little traditions framework to understanding intercivilizational encounters and clashes in the Levant (LaBianca forthcoming). Great traditions that are of particular importance to understanding long-term culture changes and global moments in the Levant (and in particular, at Hesban) include the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Hebrew, Greek/Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid, Latin Christian, Mamluk, Ottoman, and Modern Capitalist.

Future Research and Publishing. My goal in terms of future research is to continue fieldwork at Hesban in Jordan focusing on the above-mentioned research agenda and to publish a series of articles from the perspective of anthropological archaeology that identify and analyze the imperial projects by means of which each of the above-mentioned great traditions were spread and impacted the Levantine countries. I also plan to continue to champion the publication of the remaining six volumes of the 14-volume Hesban Final Publication Series.


Courses I Teach. The courses that I teach on a regular basis (some every other year) at Andrews University include the following: Research Methods in the Behavioral Sciences; Introduction to Anthropology; Introduction to Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology; and a general education course called Culture, Place and Interdependence. Courses I teach on an intermittent basis, often during summers in connection with overseas field schools, include the following: Development Anthropology; Development Research; Anthropological and Archaeological Perspectives on the Middle East; Supervised Fieldwork in Anthropology or Archaeology; Laboratory Methods in Archaeology; and Ethnography. Recently I have also helped team-teach a course called Water in History and Development at the University of Bergen in Norway.

Mentoring. Over the past several decades I have had the privilege of teaching and mentoring many students interested in the Middle East and Ancient Near Eastern archaeology. Since 1984 I have led over a dozen study tours/field schools to Jordan in connection with our Madaba Plains Project expeditions to Hesban, Umayri and Jalul. Through these study tours over 500 students from Andrews and elsewhere have been able to gain first-hand exposure to Jordanian society, history and culture. Thanks to generous funding from Andrews Office of Scholarly Research I have recently also been able to hire a number of students to work as undergraduate research assistants in my lab here at the Institute of Archaeology. Each student is provided with a dedicated workspace and a specific research assignment related to the history and archaeology of Hesban. Recently several of these students have had papers accepted for presentation at scholarly conferences and in scholarly journals.


Undergraduate Emphasis in Anthropology, Anthropological Archaeology, and International Development. As chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences during the eighties, I introduced the concept of "emphasis" as a means to delineate common career directions for students within particular majors. Introduced to our major in Behavioral Sciences were emphases in anthropology, anthropological archaeology and international development. I also helped introduce minors in anthropology and in geography and international development.

Master's Program in Community and International Development Program. In 1990 I resigned as department chair in order to champion the development of a master's program within our department. The first outcome of this effort was the on-campus Master of Science in Administration (MSA) in Community and International Development. The program's core curriculum teaches best practices of project cycle management while its concentration options allow students to specialize in various topics depending on students' interests.

Field-based Master's Program in International Development. In 1995, Andrews partnered with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to develop a field-based master's program in international development. This effort culminated a year later with the introduction of a field-based, interschool Master of Science in Administration (MSA) in International Development. Students attend four three-week intensives at various overseas venues during which they complete 24 semester credits of core courses that include various postsession learning activities and written assignments. In addition, they are required to complete a concentration track which includes a practicum component, a best-practices benchmarking component, a final research paper and a comprehensive exam.


Community Service Assistantship Program. In 1983, while chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences, I saw a need for more hands-on experience for our majors in working with people and communities. Thanks to start-up funding provide by Derrick Proctor and the McGregor Fund, the Community Service Assistantship Program or CSAP was born. The work-study program allowed students to gain hands-on experience working with at-risk children, youth and adults in various community agencies and schools in nearby Benton Harbor and beyond. The program was reorganized in 2003 to support our general education program and is now called the Service Learning Program.

Genesis Single Parent Program. A spin-off of CSAP, the Genesis Single Parent Program came into existence in 1987 thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education or FIPSE. The program provided single parents from the inner city of Benton Harbor and beyond with individually tailored support services to help them succeed in college. Among the kinds of services provided were child care, housing assistance, tuition assistance, counseling and career planning. The program, in its duration from 1987 to 2003, helped over two hundred single parents to complete college.

Project Rainkeep is a community development initiative inspired by archaeological research on past water management practices in Jordan that seeks to heighten awareness among present-day local villagers and the public of the importance of household and agricultural cisterns as a means to assure year-round supplies of fresh water for families and farms in Jordan. A grant from CIDA through the Canadian Embassy in Amman helped launch the initiative as a community development project in 1986 when 30 cisterns were restored by ADRA Jordan. The impact of the project ten years later has recently been studied by Sonya Jenssen, a student in the Water Studies Masters Program at the University of Bergen.

Tall Hesban Restoration and Preservation Project. Since 1996, Andrews University, in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and the Village of Hisban, has undertaken to install pathways, viewing platforms and signs to make Tall Hesban accessible and understandable to visitors. The government has also erected a fence around the site to protect it from damage inflicted by flocks of grazing sheep and goats. A curriculum and teaching materials have also been developed in cooperation with a local school teacher to teach the present-day village children about the site and its importance as a cultural heritage site. A grant received in 2005 from the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation will enable several of the most prominent monumental ruins at Hesban to be preserved, including the Hellenistic fortification wall, the Roman stairway and plaza, the Byzantine church, and the Mamluk governor's palace.

Lower Jordan River Basin Program. This program is an initiative of the University of Bergen's Center for Development Studies in Norway and Bir Zeit University in Palestine with the overall aim to build up research and competence among Palestinians and Norwegians with regard to the culture, history and human ecology of the lower Jordan basin of Palestine and Jordan. The original application, which I helped write, outlined the major research dimensions of the project and how the various research components would contribute to a competence-building effort within Bir Zeit University. This again was to be linked to a more long-term institutional aim at the university, the establishment of a Resources Management Center, and the establishment of an MA program in the Department of Archaeology. Andrews University's Institute of Archaeology and the Madaba Plains Project are partners with the Center for Development Studies and Bir Zeit University in this long-term institutional capacity-building program in Palestine.

Personal Details. My primary place of employment is Andrews University's Department of Behavioral Sciences. I also hold a visiting researcher appointment at the University of Bergen's Center for Development Studies and a Studies Program at the University of Bergen. I serve on the board of trustees of ACOR in Amman Jordan and the American Schools of Oriental Research in Boston. I have also been an active member of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association, including service on its board. My research has been funded by sponsorships from Andrews University's Office of Scholarly Research, the American Schools of Oriental Research; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the National Geographic Society; the Research Council of Norway and the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Heritage Preservation.  

Curriculum Vitae


1973 The Zooarchaeological Remains from Tell Hesban. Andrews University Seminary Studies 11: 133-144.

1987 With Larry Lacelle. Environmental Foundations. Hesban 2 Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press.

1990 Sedentarization and Nomadization: Food System Cycles at Hesban and Vicinity in Transjordan. Hesban 1. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press

1991 Food Systems Research: An Overview and a Case of Study From Madaba Plains, Jordan. Food and Foodways 4: 221-235.

1995 Faunal Remains: Taphonomical and Zooarchaeological Studies of the Animal Remains from Tell Hesban and Vicinity. Edited by O. S. LaBianca and Angela von den Driesch. Hesban 13. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press.

2000 With Christopherson, G., Watson, R., Low, R. and Schnurrenberger, D. A Forest that Refuses to Disappear: Cycles of Degeneration and Regeneration in Jordan. Report to the National Geographic Society, Research Grant No. 5758-96 (March).

2000 Daily Life in the Shadow of Empire: A Food Systems Approach to the Archaeology of the Ottoman Period. In A Historical Archaeology of the Ottoman Empire. Edited by Baran, U. and Carroll, L. Plenum Publishing Co.

2005 Connectivity in Antiquity: Globalization as Long Term Historical Process. Editors Oystein LaBianca and Sandra Arnold Scham. London: Equinox Publishers. 

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