Earl Stefanyshen

PhD Student, Catherine D'Andrea

Areas of interest

Traditional agricultural knowledge
Archaeology of the Himalaya region


  • MA: Simon Fraser University
  • BFA: Emily Carr University
  • BA: University of Winnipeg

PhD Research

One of the best ways to learn about past human behavior is through dialogue with present day Indigenous communities. In my work, I utilize social-science research methods, geo-ethnoarchaeology and ecological assessments to investigate legacy farming practices found in the agricultural landscapes of high-altitude mountain habitats. For this PhD, I work with ancient farming communities in the Western Himalaya districts of North India to document the traditional ecological knowledge of the Spiti Valley cultural region.

The Spiti Valley is a unique environment where barley and other crops have been cultivated for millennia at some of the highest growing elevations in the world with many fields being actively cultivated at over 4000m above sea level. Successful food production in such an inhospitable alpine environment is achievable in part due to the local community's belief system and their deep-time view of the land. These views are maintained within their oral traditions which are sung aloud by workers in the fields during the sowing, harvesting and processing periods. They serve as reminders of the vital elements of the farming experience such as key weather patterns, essential land resources, animal behaviors, earthworks, medicinal plant use, cultivation techniques, and the basis for food preparation traditions. By these means, their traditional territory is viewed not only as a mundane natural resource but also a metaphysical landscape. Using ethnoarchaeological research methods and semi-structured interviews, I speak directly to these Himalayan farmers about their non-mechanized cultivation techniques and ask archaeologically relevant questions about their day to day practices and their origins.

Awards and Scholarships

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Award
Travel & Research Award (2020, 2021 and 2022)
Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation Scholarship
Simons Foundation Award: Environment
Canadian Pacific/Teck Resources Award (2021 and 2022)
SFU Graduate Fellowship (2019 and 2021)
CTEF Graduate Fellowship: Humanities
Andre Gerolymatos Graduate Award
SFU Graduate International Research Travel Award
BC Capacities Initiative

Other Academic Interests

Vernacular architecture of the Himalaya region; Tibetan language studies.

MA Thesis:  https://summit.sfu.ca/item/20431

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Road sign in Lahaul Valley, India
Crampon, from Ladakh, India
Snowshoe, from Ladakh, India
Black peas, a unique heirloom crop found in Spiti Valley, India
A column of soil samples ready to extract for micromorphological analysis
Rammed earth building in Spiti Valley, India
Barley and other crops near harvest time, Spiti Valley, India
Irrigation canal at 4000m above sea level, Spiti Valley, India
Terraced fields, Spiti Valley, India
Abandoned field, Spiti Valley, India