Mollie S. Toll, Ethnobotanist

Mollie TollMollie S. Toll

B.A., Anthropology, University of Chicago, 1970
M.A., Archaeology, Loyola University, 1975
M.S., Plant Ecology, University of New Mexico, 1977

"The engaging parts of archaeology for me have always been the element of discovery, connections between different ways of approaching questions, and communication. I met Vorsila Bohrer while working at Fresnal Shelter in Sacramento Mountains, southeast New Mexico, in 1971. I was enchanted with the option of looking at questions of human subsistence and manufacturing systems through plant remains. So much of the field of ethnobotany is (still) new and uncharted that we frequently end up figuring things out by the seat of our pants. The connections between botany, landscape, climate, and human subsistence choices and limits are enough to keep us well entertained in the Ethnobotany Lab. Increasingly, I find myself interested in communicating all this interesting information to the public, especially when it involves working with teachers and in school classrooms.

With few exceptions, I have worked in the Greater Southwest, from Colorado and Utah to northern Mexico, but with a particular affection for the Colorado Plateau."

—Mollie Toll

Mollie’s involvement in archaeology began as an undergraduate while at the University of Chicago, including a field school in Winchester, England, and a season with Dr. Cynthia Irwin-William’s Anasazi Origins project which brought her to New Mexico. On the path to an MA in Anthropology from Loyola University, she attended the University of Arizona field school at Grasshopper Pueblo. Her fieldwork through the early 1970s returned to New Mexico, and she worked in Dr. Vorsila Bohrer’s ethnobotany laboratory at Eastern New Mexico University, contributing to both the Salmon Ruins and Puerco River Valley projects.

She received her MA in 1975 and began work with the National Park Service’s Chaco Center. She enrolled in the University of New Mexico Biology Department, receiving an MS in plant ecology while continuing as an ethnobotanist for the Chaco Center, the Castetter Laboratory of UNM, and various contract archaeology programs.

Her husband, Wolky Toll, had joined OAS in 1987 to direct the La Plata Archaeological Project, the largest project that OAS had ever undertaken. Mollie joined him in 1991 as director of the OAS Ethnobotany Laboratory, a position she held until her retirement in 2022. She and her botanist collaborator, Pam McBride, managed both the move of the laboratory to the Center for New Mexico Archaeology and planned and started planting the teaching gardens around CNMA.

As a parent of sons Nick and Spencer, Mollie was aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the public education system in Santa Fe. She took a leave of absence from OAS to serve as a science coach for the Santa Fe and Española public schools, obtained her teaching credential, and even stepped in as a classroom teacher when needed. She worked to build gardens at several schools, and she was recognized as Science Teacher of the Year in 2013 by the New Mexico Science Teachers Association.

After returning to OAS half time in 2015, Mollie mixed ethnobotanical laboratory work with the role of directing the curriculum portion of OAS education outreach. Her focus was creating resources for using archaeology to teach critical thinking skills, building on the Bureau of Land Management’s Project Archaeology curriculum offerings. She sought to use the exotic and rich historical content of archaeology as a vehicle to capture student and teacher interest, guiding the OAS program in support of literacy and broader human ecology understandings.