Zoë Crossland

Zoë Crossland

Research Interests

Research Concentrations

Landscape History, Historical Anthropology, Art and the Archaeological, Mission History, Semiotics, Evidence, Forensic Science, The Forensic Corpse, Mortuary Practices


East Africa, South America, Europe; Madagascar, Argentina, United Kingdom


Zoë Crossland’s research deals with the historical archaeology of Madagascar, and with evidential practices around human remains. Her approach to historical inquiry is informed by Peircean "semeiotics," which she uses to explore the imbrication of the material and the immaterial, the human and the nonhuman.

The research Crossland has undertaken in Madagascar has been concerned with archaeologies of encounter, including a consideration of how material traces in the landscape made the dead present as historical actors (2014). She is now working with colleagues Chantal Radilmilahay, Bako Rasoarifetra and Rafolo Andrianaivoarivony on the history of irrigated riziculture in the highlands, with a particular focus on the constitution of sovereignty through and with the partnership of rice plants, paddy fields and irrigation structures.

In her work on forensic evidence and the archaeological production of the dead body, Crossland considers the work of inference and practical activity by which archaeology conjures and evaluates competing claims about the past. She is presently working on a book, The Speaking Corpse, which teases out the different evidential relations through which the forensic corpse presents itself as witness. She does this by attending to the ways in which the evidence of the dead is explained and delineated for popular consumption by forensic anthropologists.

Student applications:

She is currently accepting PhD students and is especially interested in working with students who wish to explore the intersections of archaeological theory and environmental archaeology in the context of Madagascar, the East African coast and the Indian Ocean more widely. She also encourages students with an interest in semiotic archaeology to apply to Columbia's PhD program.


More information on Crossland's current project in Madagascar: https://sacredriceproject.org/



University of Michigan, PhD in Anthropology, 2001
University of Michigan, MA in Anthropology, 1995
Cambridge University, BA in Archaeology and Anthropology, 1993

2018. “Forensic Afterlives.” Signs and Society 6, no. 3: 622-647.

2018b. “‘I make this standing stone to be a sign’: Material presence and the temporality of the trace in highland Madagascar.” In Time and History in Prehistory, edited by Stella Souvatzi, Adnan Baysal, and Emma L. Baysal, 229-249. New York: Routledge.

2017. Coeditor with Alex Bauer. “Im/materialities.” Semiotic Review 4. 

2015. Coeditor with Rosemary Joyce. Disturbing Bodies: Anthropological Perspectives on Forensic Archaeology. Santa Fe: SAR Press.

2014. Encounters with Ancestors in Highland Madagascar: Material Signs and Traces of the Dead. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2013. “Signs of mission: material semeiosis and 19th century Tswana architecture.” Signs and Society 1, no. 1: 79-113.

2012. Coauthor with Annia Cherryson and Sarah Tarlow. A Fine and Private Place: The Archaeology of Death and Burial in Post-medieval Britain and Ireland. Leicester: University of Leicester Archaeological Monographs.

2009. “Acts of estrangement: the making of self and other through exhumation.” Archaeological Dialogues 16, no. 1: 102-125.

2009b. “Of clues and signs: the dead body and its evidential traces.” American Anthropologist 111, no. 1: 69-80.

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