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Vanderbilt Specializations



The principal center for archaeological research in Vanderbilt University is the Department of Anthropology, and our faculty and students conduct archaeological research in collaboration with a variety of centers and programs on campus, including: The Vanderbilt Genetics Institute, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, the Center for Latin American Studies, and Classical and Mediterranean Studies, among others.

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 publication series in archaeology and anthropology.

Key themes

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

Ongoing projects

  • 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 America

Cultural Anthropology

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.

Key themes

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

Ongoing projects

  • 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

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.

Key themes

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

Ongoing projects

  • 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.