I am an anthropologically-trained archaeologist with fieldwork experience in Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Greece, and Cyprus. I study the collapse of ancient civilizations and am interested in how ancient peoples have survived dramatic events such as natural disasters, the breakdown of political systems, and the collapse of important trade networks. By documenting successful responses to past disasters, the goal is to offer new insight into contemporary problems, from natural disaster relief and sustainable urbanism to our ever-increasing reliance on global networks.
I direct excavations at Izapa, an ancient capital on the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico. Though Izapa is best known for its monuments and unique art style, the settlement was occupied for nearly 3,000 years (1900 B.C.-A.D. 1000), through the collapse of several major civilizations, including the Olmec and the Maya. My Izapa Household Archaeology Project provided the first economic data for this famous Mesoamerican ritual center. This project addressed how residents of Izapa survived a period of widespread collapse between A.D. 100 and 250, when many of the first Maya cities declined. Results indicate that the ability of the Izapa population to shift their trade ties, and presumably their political alliances, to suit their needs, was an important factor in this early city’s long-term survival.
My current projects take an environmental approach to the question of collapse and recovery at Izapa. As a postdoctoral fellow with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, I studied microscopic plant remains recovered from of domestic artifacts to determine if access to plant food resources from the wide range of environmental zones available nearby (e.g. coast, estuary, piedmont) contributed to the success of this population. Subsequent fieldwork will assess how a large-scale eruption of the Tacaná volcano sometime between 30 B.C. and A.D. 80, an event comparable the devastating June 2018 eruption of the Fuego volcano in Guatemala, impacted agriculture, settlement patterns, urban planning, and political systems at Izapa.
In addition to my archaeological research, I have worked in several museums, including the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the New York State Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Most recently, I acted as a consultant for the archaeology exhibits for the scheduled reopening of Panama’s national anthropology museum. Through these experiences, I have become interested in the politics of representation- that is, how cultural heritage is used to present national, regional, and community identities, as well as who gets to tell these stories. Through my training at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, I also became interested in how 3D techniques can be used to help the public understand archaeological sites and artifacts. I encourage you to explore the various pages of this site to learn more about this work.