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Dr. Matthew Kerr

Specialties: Quaternary environments, prehistoric human-environment interactions, tree-ring science, isotope geochemistry, archaeological chemistry
See Also: Google Scholar, Curriculum Vitae

I am a physical geographer specializing in climate and environmental change and prehistoric human-environment interactions across the Quaternary. This period comprises the past ~2.6 million years and represents the time since genus Homo emerged. I conduct research in Central America, the Southeastern United States, and the circum-Caribbean.


I strive to answer geographical questions about:

  • The development, adoption, and spread of prehistoric agriculture.
  • When, why, how, and under what climate and environmental conditions prehistoric people occupied and later abandoned agricultural sites.
  • How humans’ relationships to climates and environments are related to the rise, fall, and regeneration of complex civilizations.

I address my research questions using a variety of scientific techniques and evidence, including:

  • Hydrogen isotope evidence of precipitation variability.
  • Carbon isotope and pollen evidence of land use and vegetation change.
  • Sedimentary charcoal evidence of prehistoric fire.
  • Tree-ring evidence of environmental change and resource use.
  • Archaeological evidence of land use, resource exploitation, and cultural change.

My research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the American Association of Geographers, and the Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society. You can read about my work in the journals Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, Archaeometry, Physical Geography, Quaternary Science Reviews, and Journal of Archaeological Science.

I am the Secretary-Treasurer of the Paleoenvironmental Change Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers. If you are interested in the type of work that I do, you can learn more about these topics at

Courses I teach:

  • GEOG 131: Weather, Climate, and Climate Change
  • GEOG 132: Landscapes and Environmental Change
  • GEOG 137: Honors Weather, Climate, and Climate Change
  • GEOG 138: Honors Landscapes and Environmental Change
  • GEOG 331: Natural Hazards
  • GEOG 345: People and Environment
  • GEOG 430: Global Environments of the Quaternary
  • GEOG 432: Environmental Change through Tree Rings
  • GEOG 436: Water Resources
  • GEOG 493: Independent Study
  • GEOG 494: Undergraduate Research Experience
  • GEOG 497-498: Honors Senior Thesis

Contact Information

Dr. Matthew Kerr
Ph.D., University of Tennessee
206A Burchfiel Geography Bldg.
Knoxville, TN 37996-0925