I am a member of the history faculty at BHSEC Newark–part of the Bard Early College Network–and a Consulting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I teach courses in the history of the world’s ancient complex societies and study political and economic relationships among the Classic Maya (250-900 CE).
My research combines archaeological data with historical information from hieroglyphic texts and Colonial and modern sources. To integrate these sources of information, I draw on semiotic anthropology. This body of theory helps us understand how people use material culture and language together to mediate social relationships.
I direct the La Florida Archaeology Project, located in the town of El Naranjo on the San Pedro River in Guatemala. My collaborators on this project are Liliana Padilla and Christopher Martinez, and we are investigating how this ancient community served as a trading center, participating in economic networks that linked the Tabasco Plain, Usumacinta Valley, Peten, and beyond. We want to understand how La Florida used its strategic economic location to negotiate the dynamic world of Maya politics. We have been supported by National Geographic, Dumbarton Oaks, the Rust Family Foundation, and the Penn Museum. We are also working with community leaders in El Naranjo to protect and develop the site for tourism and public use. Read more on the “Projects” page.
My work at La Florida has led me to investigate ancient economies more broadly, especially the development of currencies in diverse cultural and economic contexts. The Classic Maya offer an interesting example of monetization, in which traditional objects of elite status gradually began to circulate as currency in different types of social interaction.
My dissertation work focused on the investigation of Maya patron deities–protective gods of particular sites–and the ways that local religious practices played a role in political relationships. My book on this topic, Patron Gods and Patron Lords, is available from the University Press of Colorado. Read more on the “Curriculum Vitae” page.