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Michelle Young

Assistant Professor of Anthropology (Anthropological archaeology; Andes; material culture)

Michelle E. Young is an anthropological archaeologist who investigates small-scale (non-state) Indigenous societies in the Peruvian Andes prior to Spanish arrival. Her research is driven by two major impulses: 1) the recovery of Indigenous ways of doing and knowing that have been lost to time or overlooked by Western biases, and 2) an exploration of the role of the material world in the construction of individual and group social identities. Methodologically, her work brings together analyses of visual and material culture with archaeometric techniques to illuminate the role of the material world in fomenting large-scale social change.

Between 2014 and 2017, she directed the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológica Atalla, carrying out mapping, survey, excavation, sample collection, and laboratory analyses of materials from Atalla, Peru, in collaboration with Peruvian and international students, scholars, and local workers. This project investigated the contexts in which new forms of social behavior – such as sedentary village life, long-distance exchange, new forms of ceremonialism, superregional identity formation, and social inequality – emerged in the Andes during the early 1st millennium BCE. Her project also established a multi-year program of community outreach and education with Quechua-speaking and mestizo communities in the Huancavelica region of Peru.

Since 2019 she has directed the Cinnabar Roads Project, an archaeological survey and excavation project studying the ancient exchange routes between the highlands and the coast of southern Peru. This project aims to understand the economic and social mechanisms that supported the exchange of products across distant ecological zones. You can follow the project on Instagram and Facebook @cinnabarroadsproject to learn more.

She is also currently the director of the Pre-Columbian Pigments Project, a collections-based research initiative that is exploring new methodologies for geochemical identification and sourcing of pigments. This project, which she continued through a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship at the National Museum of the American Indian, aims to understand how the long-distance exploitation, exchange, and meaning of certain pigments varied both regionally and through time.

Professor Young has conducted archaeological field work, laboratory analyses, and collections-based research in the United States, Belize, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Madagascar. Her research has been supported by generous funding from the National Science Foundation, Fulbright, Smithsonian Institution, and Rust Family Foundation.