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Vanderbilt Specializations

The principal center for archaeological research in Vanderbilt University is the Department of Anthropology, working in conjunction with the Center for Human Genetics Research, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, the Center for Latin American Studies, and other centers on campus. The Department has teaching and research rooms and specially-equipped laboratories. The academic staff covers a broad spectrum of geographical areas and thematic approaches in Latin America and is active in field projects and analytical research.

The Department has an active and internationally renowned research profile. Some of the key themes and project foci are listed below. In addition, the Department has a publications series in archaeology and anthropology.


  • Space and landscape
  • Urbanization
  • Bioarchaeology
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Social Complexity
  • Colonialism and culture change
  • Historical archaeology


  • Long-term human and environmental interactions on the north coast of Peru
  • Mound-building and ethnoarcheology among the Mapuche of south-central Chile
  • Early complexity and urbanization in the Bolivian Highlands
  • Provincial life under Inka rule and early missionary encounters in the southern Peruvian highlands
  • Conquest-period urbanism and culture contact in Mexico and Central Amer


The department specializes in the cultural anthropology of Latin America, with thematic foci on issues of political economy, health, political violence, food politics, and cognitive anthropology. Ongoing projects examine the social basis of violence, identity, mortuary practices, land claims, export agriculture, and language, culture, and cognition. The faculty are all engaged in long-term field research, have received funding from foundations and governmental sources, and actively publish their results.


  • Medical anthropology
  • Political economy
  • Psychological anthropology
  • Language and culture
  • Cognitive anthropology


  • Interpersonal dimensions of peace in the Xingu basin
  • Broccoli exports and ethnic relations in Guatemala
  • Land claims among the Wari
  • Spatial and temporal cognition among the Tzeltal Maya


Cognitive Research in the Anthropology Department is carried out in collaboration with the Cognitive Sciences (Psychology Departments) at Vanderbilt and other Universities. Anthropology plays an important role in this research, as it offers perspectives from different cultures as well as a unique methodological and theoretical vantage point. One of the basic questions asked within this domain of anthropological inquiry is how the social environment and the mind interact to create both human cognition and culture. As such, the subfield of cognitive anthropology is closely tied to ethnology as well as biological anthropology. Research includes ethnographic approaches with experimental methods, statistical analyses and computer modeling. Most of the work is carried out in Mexico and Guatemala, but collaborations with other Departments and Universities also include sites in North America and Indonesia.

The Department has an active and internationally renowned research profile. Some of the key themes and project foci are listed below.


  • Child development
  • Knowledge acquisition and knowledge loss
  • Conceptual change and cultural change
  • Space and linguistic relativism in bilingual children


  • The development of folkbiological knowledge: a cross-cultural perspective.
  • Conceptual and cultural change in folkmedical models.
  • The architecture of race: a cognitive ethnographic exploration of race and racial relations in the Highlands of Chiapas.
  • Language, culture and the development of spatial concepts among Maya children in the Highlands of Chiapas.