I am an anthropological archaeologist whose research interests focus on the study of early complex societies with a particular emphasis on East Asia and the Eurasian steppe region. Particularly, my interests and methodological foci include: the origins and development of complex societies, landscape archaeology, regional settlement pattern studies, household archaeology, quantitative and spatial analysis, nomadic pastoralist socio-political organization, ethnoarchaeology, and ritual practices.
I direct a multiscalar and multidisciplinary field research project in Mongolia, where I am studying the development of societal complexity among early mobile pastoralists of the Bronze and Iron Age. The project also includes a significant ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological component aimed at a better understanding of human-animal relationships and the relationship between humans and their environment.
My initial work in Mongolia was a regional-scale project that focused on investigating the early development of societal complexity in the Khanuy Valley region of north central Mongolia by empirically testing the 'dependency' hypothesis of sociopolitical development among mobile pastoralists—a long-held core-periphery issue that contends that the development of complex social organization among such societies depends upon and requires interaction with already existing agricultural state-level societies. The results of my research upend some of the ideas tied to the dependency hypothesis and suggest that while clear social hierarchies have not been identified within domestic contexts the initial development of complex social organization arose as the result of indigenous political processes and not from the influence of sedentary neighbors.
Following this, my postdoctoral research built on the regional and sub-regional data and focused attention at the household level of analysis. This research comprised a specialized and complementary suite of analytical strategies that included excavations of habitation sites, as well as the use of zooarchaeology, paleobotany and geoarchaeology (including new archaeometric methods) in order to evaluate continuity and change in the range, organization and variation of household activities as the region was incorporated into the first state-like 'nomadic' polity to develop in the Eurasian steppe region -- the Xiongnu. The objective of this research was to find out if and how mobile pastoralist households responded to and participated in the broader political and economic system. Results suggest that social organization was relatively "egalitarian" and autonomous at the local level and hierarchical and integrated at the regional level.
I am now seeking to expand this multiscalar research to a major interdisciplinary project in the Altai region of western Mongolia. This new project expands the geographic range of my research beyond north central Mongolia in order to provide comparative data and offer a comparative perspective on social change in this region of the world.
Houle, Jean-Luc. Forthcoming. The Archaeological Heritage of Mongolia. Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Springer.
Houle, Jean-Luc. 2012. Entry for ‘Archaeology of Mongolia’. The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Houle, Jean-Luc and Lee Broderick. 2011. Settlement Patterns and Domestic Economy of the Xiongnu in Khanuy Valley, Mongolia. In Ursula Brosseder and Bryan K. Miller (eds.). Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire of Inner Asia. Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology, vol.5. Bonn: Bonn University Press.
Houle, Jean-Luc. 2009. “‘Socially Integrative Facilities’ and the Emergence of Societal Complexity on the Mongolian Steppe”, In Monuments, Metals and Mobility: Trajectories of Complexity in the Late Prehistory of the Eurasian Steppe, edited by Bryan K. Hanks, and K. M. Linduff. Cambridge University Press.
Houle, Jean-Luc. 2009. “Investigating Mobility, Territoriality and Complexity in the Late Bronze Age: A Perspective from Monuments and Settlements”, In Current Archaeological Research in Mongolia. Papers from the First International Conference on ‘Archaeological Research in Mongolia’, edited by J. Bemmann, H. Parzinger, E. Pohl, and D. Tseveendorj, Bonn Contributions on Asian Archaeology 4, Bonn, Germany.
Houle, Jean-Luc and Diimaajav Erdenebaatar. 2009. Taking Small Steppes: Conducting Graduate-Level Collaborative Research in Mongolia. The SAA Archaeological Record 8(2):22-24—Special Issue: International collaborative research in East and Southeast Asia.
Allard, Francis, D. Erdenebaatar, and J.-L. Houle. 2006. “Recent Archaeological Research in the Khanuy River Valley, Central Mongolia”, In Beyond the Steppe and the Sown: Proceedings of the 2002 University of Chicago Conference on Eurasian Archaeology, edited by David L. Peterson, Laura M. Popova and Adam T. Smith., Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.