Urbanism and Ancient Maya Neighborhoods: Social and Spatial Organization

Scott Hutson (University of Kentucky)


Novelists, philosophers, and social scientists have highlighted negative aspects of urbanism, yet cities have thrived for nearly 5,000 years. The existence of neighborhoods helps explain this since neighborhoods afford pockets of familiarity and networks of trust among a landscape of anonymous and potentially hostile strangers. Neighborhoods are also important because they often serve as administrative units intermediate between households and central authorities. Exploring neighborhoods among ancient Maya cities has been difficult because neighborhoods generally elude researchers. Archaeological features at the urban center of Chunchucmil, however, permit the first successful attempt to detect neighborhoods across an entire large Maya city. This presentation presents methods for finding neighborhoods and reflects on how their size, function, and composition changes our understanding of ancient Maya politics.

*co-sponsored by the Center for Ancient Studies

Pilgrimage, Materiality, & Phenomenology: To Chaco Canyon and Beyond

Ruth Van Dyke (Binghamton)


 Pilgrimages involve journeys – movements and displacements – as well as spiritual encounters and social transformations. From the Turners’ forays into 1970s liminality, to contemporary ethnographies of tourism, cross-cultural anthropological investigations into pilgrimage have focused on symbols and sacred places, communitas and contestation. But what of pilgrimage’s materiality, as experienced by moving bodies? In this presentation, I adopt a phenomenological perspective to consider bodies in motion; objects carried, venerated, deposited or left behind; clothing worn and gear adopted; trails, markers, and transportation; food and lodging. My goal at the end of this phenomenological journey is to shed archaeological light on the 11th century experience of pilgrimage to Chaco Canyon – the center of the ancient Pueblo world, in northern New Mexico.

*co-sponsored by the Center for Ancient Studies (CAS)

Genetic, Epigenetic, and Sociocultural Data Applied to Questions of Human Health and Disease

Connie Mulligan (University of Florida)

A host of genetic and environmental factors, including sociocultural influences, impact complex phenotypes in humans. Based on this definition, complex phenotypes include complex diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and mental illness, as well as more broadly defined conditions such as stress and racial health disparities. My research takes a uniquely anthropological perspective and integrates biological and cultural factors to examine human health and disease. Specifically, I use genetic, epigenetic, biological and cultural data to investigate a diverse set of complex phenotypes. I’m interested in conditions with a stress component since stress is highly prevalent in our society and has many different facets, including genetic, biological, cultural and psychological aspects. I’m interested in racial health disparities since they, too, are prevalent in our society and have both genetic and environmental components. Epigenetic modifications may also play a role in complex phenotypes, possibly with an evolutionary component, by altering gene expression in response to events that happen during one’s lifetime. I’ll discuss two projects in my lab that 1) examine the genetic and cultural risk factors for hypertension in African Americans living in Tallahassee, FL and 2) investigate an epigenetic mechanism to mediate the effect of maternal stress on maternal and infant health in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

during one’s lifetime. I’ll discuss two projects in my lab that 1) examine the genetic and cultural risk

factors for hypertension in African Americans living in Tallahassee, FL and 2) investigate an epigenetic

mechanism to mediate the effect of maternal stress on maternal and infant health in the Democratic

Republic of Congo.

A Difficult Time: Archaeology and Modernity.

Alfredo González-Ruibal (National Research Council of Spain)
Despite its deceiving proximity (or perhaps because of it), the time of modernity is a difficult time to study for archaeologists. In fact, it can be argued that it can be more so than prehistoric temporalities. First, there is the epistemological question of how to produce relevant archaeological knowledge of recent periods, where there is an overabundance of written, visual and oral testimonies and a unique experience of coevalness. Secondly, the time of modernity is different to other times with which
archaeologists are used to deal with, because of its multilayered and heterogeneous nature: increasing social complexity, technology and globalization bring a proliferation and superimposition of temporalities, which is at odds with historicist perspectives. Finally, the time of modernity, as geographers and philosophers have abundantly demonstrated, has radical political implications. It is a time out of joint, as Derrida put it, an unjust time of violence and destruction that ultimately annihilates itself. In this talk, I would explore, through different examples, how an archaeological approach to the difficult time of modernity might look like.

*co-sponsored by the Center for Ancient Studies

Incorporations: Capitalism and Collectivity

Matthew Hull (University of Michigan)

Incorporation, a process by which a group of individuals is constituted as a legal entity, should be placed alongside commoditization as a major mechanism through which human activities are drawn into capitalist processes. In contrast to commoditization, which draws labor, land, and things into capitalist transactions, incorporation brings the guidance of collective life into a capitalist order. Through incorporation, groups become recognizable to economic and political actors. This paper will explore incorporation through an examination of the great variety of kinds of sociality that have translated themselves into the form of the Anglo-American corporation, including an Indian village, US churches, parts of the Pakistan army, Maori/Native American/Canadian tribes, New Guinea descent groups. Of particular interest is how both the pre-existing sociality and the emergent corporation are shaped by their relations.

Nostalgia in the Post-Apartheid State

Amber Reed (Penn)
What would make rural, black South Africans nostalgic for the days of apartheid? While this nascent democracy is celebrated worldwide for its “progressive” constitution and relatively peaceful transition from an oppressive government in 1994, today a growing tide of disappointment with the democratic state is emerging across the country – as evidenced in recent service delivery protests and new competitor political parties to the ruling African National Congress. Ethnographic encounters in the rural Eastern Cape Province go beyond these frustrations with the status quo, revealing widespread sentiments of nostalgia for the perceived stability and order of the apartheid regime among those who ostensibly suffered most under its rule. In this paper, I argue that nostalgic discourses for apartheid can be read as reactions to the increasing inequalities of neoliberal capitalism that have become conflated with democracy as a political system. Furthermore, many local cultural ideologies in rural South Africa aligned more closely with the hierarchical structures of apartheid than they do with contemporary Western-based human rights legislation on equality. On a broader level, I show how Eastern Cape residents are using competing epistemologies from that of the state to understand why democracy is ultimately understood as failing to create happier lives for rural South Africans.

Spring 2015 Speakers

1/26 – Tiffany Cain, Mariam Durrani, Kyle Olson, Arjun Shankar (Graduate Students)
Talking across Sub-disciplines: Building Community in Anthropology – Part I
2/09 – Amber Reed (Penn)
Nostalgia in the Post-Apartheid State
2/16 – Matthew Hull (Michigan)
Incorporations: Capitalism and Collectivity
2/23 – Alfredo González-Reubel (National Research Council of Spain)
A Difficult Time: Archaeology and Modernity
*co-sponsored by Center for Ancient Studies (CAS)

3/02 – Gabriel Dattatreyan, Kasey Diserens, Erica Jaffe Redner, Marshall Knudson (Graduate Students)
Talking across Sub-disciplines: Building Community in Anthropology – Part II
3/16 – Connie Mulligan (University of Florida)
Genetic, Epigenetic, and Sociocultural Data Applied to Questions of Human Health & Disease
3/23 – Ruth van Dyke (Binghamton University)
Pilgrimage, Materiality, and Phenomenology: To Chaco Canyon and Beyond
*co-sponsored by Center for Ancient Studies (CAS)
3/30 – Scott Hutson (University of Kentucky)
Urbanism and Ancient Maya Neighborhoods: Social and Spatial Organization
*co-sponsored by Center for Ancient Studies (CAS)

4/06 – Jonathan Rosa (UMass)
Resounding Embodiments: A Semiotics of Racial and Linguistic Recognition
4/27 – Ana Mariella Bacigalupo (University of Buffalo)
The Potency of Indigenous Bibles and Biography: Mapuche Shamanic Literacy and Historical Consciousness

On Dangerous Ground: Taphonomy, Necroviolence, and the Politics of Migrant Death in the Arizona Desert

Jason de León (University of Michigan)

In the mid-90s, the U.S. federal government implemented an immigration enforcement strategy along the southern border known as Prevention through Deterrence. This strategy increased security in unauthorized crossing areas surrounding urban ports of entry in an attempt to shift undocumented migration towards remote border regions such as the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, where security is less intense but crossing conditions are more difficult. Since 2009, I have directed the Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term anthropological analysis of clandestine border crossings between Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona that uses a combination of ethnographic, archaeological, and forensic research to understand this violent social process. In this presentation I focus on the types of deaths that migrants experience during border crossings, the decomposition of their corpses, and the impacts that these desert fatalities have on families. Drawing on the archaeological concept of taphonomy (i.e., the analysis of the phenomena that impact the remains of biological organisms at the time of and after death), I argue that the post-mortem treatment of migrant bodies is part of a larger state project that uses nature as a weapon to maintain boundary control. I label this post-mortem treatment necroviolence and aim to show its direct connection to the American government’s problematic construction of undocumented people as expendable lives.