Current Graduate Research in Archaeology

Pitt graduate students are conducting archaeological research throughout Latin America and Eurasia.  Here is a list of ongoing projects:

 Ryan Smith is interested in studying the organization and management of large-scale social and economic interaction networks in non-state societies and how these networks relate to social identity, conflict, subsistence, and shifts in political centralization. His dissertation research will explore a complex system of resource exchange and ritual interaction which connected highlands and lower-lying eastern valleys in the central Andes during late prehispanic periods (AD 1000-1530). One of the major goals of this research is to understand the development of these interaction networks in the Late Intermediate Period, a time marked by political segmentation and internecine conflict ushered by the fall of the Wari and Tiwanaku states around AD 1000 and lasting until the expansion of the Inca empire in the fifteenth century.

 Wenjing Wang studies the regional settlement patterns and community structures of early complex societies in late Neolithic China. Her current research focuses on the developmental trajectory of social change in Lingjiatan society (5700-5300 BP) in Chaohu area, Yangzi river, China. Specifically, she is interested in the comparative study of the process leading to social complexity between Lingjiatan society and Hongshan society (in the Northeastern China), and tries to make contribution to understanding the different/similar paths taken by early complex societies in the formation and development of sociopolitical inequality.  She uses regional-scale data to reconstruct the scale and nature of human communities; and uses community/household scale data to reconstruct the nature and degree of wealth, prestige, productive and ritual differentiation within local communities. She spent part of her 2012 summer in Kenya excavating sites of Swahili Culture, and part of her 2014 summer in Peru surveying sites in the Leche Valley.

 Igor Chechushkov is interested in the development of the early complex societies in Bronze Age Eurasia (2000-1700 BC). His ongoing project evaluates ways of social-political organization of the so-called "Country of Towns" in the southern Urals, Russia (the Sintashta-Petrovka archaeological culture). Specifically, the project seeks the missing part of society: people who substantially contributed to the production of vital resources and building of the fortified settlements, but who had very simple life-style, which is almost invisible archaeologically. To do that, Igor uses the methodology of local-scale survey and excavation, as well as geochemistry and soil morphology.

 Chuenyan Ng’s dissertation research will investigate strategies of multi-resource pastoralism used by late prehistoric steppe communities at the Bronze Age settlement of Stepnoye (2100-1500 BC) located in the Southeastern Urals region, Russia. This project will undertake a systematic archaeobotanical and phytogeographical study of subsistence patterns among late prehistoric pastoralist communities during the Middle Bronze Age of north central Eurasia. It will contribute to regional studies of the Sintashta culture and also provide an important comparative case study for understanding key transitions among sedentary pastoralist societies with multi-resource subsistence economies

 Peiyu Chen is interested in investigating early social complexity by studying subsistence economy, craft production, and exchange networks in archaeological contexts. Her goal is to reveal how the lifestyle diachronic change in individual, household, and community life from a bottom-up perspective. After spending the first-half of her career on Neolithic cultures in Taiwan, Peiyu now focuses on the Late Preceramic to Initial Period on the north coast of Peru. She conducted the excavation project in Huaca Negra (5000-3200 BP), Viru Valley, Peru, in 2015-16 for her dissertation research. Long-term occupation in this early fishing community yields evidence of different socioeconomic elements, which will help to examine the evolution of social complexity, enrich our knowledge of early Andean culture, and provide worldwide comparative case study. 

 John Walden's dissertation research explores the role played by the intermediate elite in neighborhood and state level political dynamics at the Late Classic (AD 600-900) Maya center of Lower Dover, Belize. While John’s research focus rests on the ancient Maya world he is particularly interested in comparative perspectives on political power and decentralization across the ancient states of the world.  

 Fernando Franchetti is interested in the adaptation of hunter gatherers to arid and high elevation environments. During the Late Holocene (2000 BP), small scale mobile societies from Nord Patagonia incorporated ceramics, exploited a wider range of resources and environments, increased the use of distant raw materials, and expanded their social networks. The aim is to track these changes through focusing on differences in land use intensity in the Highlands, the Piedmont and the Lowlands of the Diamante Valley, central western Argentina. In the summer of 2014 he participated in fieldwork in the Atacama desert of Northern Chile on mining sites associated with the Inka road. During the same field season he also spent time in the Sogamoso Valley of Colombia in a survey of the Muisca chiefdom. Both of these projects were organized by fellow Pitt graduate students.

  Patrick Mullins is interested in prehistoric frontiers, coastal-highland interaction, warfare, and fortifications in the Andes. During the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1470 AD), the Chimú Empire had a heavily fortified hinterland that spread from their capital at Chan Chan, on Peru's Pacific coast, to perhaps the upper tributaries of the Moche River. Patrick's research aims at understanding the extent and nature of the fortified Chimú hinterland and the interactions that created the shared frontier between the coastal Chimú, middle/upper valley, and highland settlements.  He spent part of summer 2013 surveying Neolithic - Iron Ages sites in Serbia.

  Gabriela Cervantes is a Heinz-Mellon Fellow interested in how rural organization and economic patterns change during periods of fluctuating political centralization.   She spent part of summer 2013 excavating an Iron Age house in Russia.  Her dissertation research will explore patterns in rural economic organization in the Leche Valley, Peru, between AD 300 and 1400.  A goal of the research is to investigate the different ways that the Moche, Sican, and Chimu polities interacted with non-urban populations in terms of administration and central place processes.


And here are some recent graduates:

 Juan Carlos Vargas is interested in the relationship between intensive agricultural production and the emergence of leadership in the South American lowlands. To pursue this issue he is carrying out a systematic regional settlement study of some 250 sq km in the municipality of Yopal in the Llanos of Casanare (Colombia) in order to compare the developmental trajectories of these early complex societies with those from the Llanos of Barinas (Venezuela). His aim is to advance understanding of just how these trajectories differed from each other, and how these differences emerged in two parts of the same broad environmental zone in the Orinoco basin. His research is supported by the National Science Foundation and will collaborate with the local Cataruben Foundation to help further its aims of environmental and heritage management and research. The project's results will comprise a heritage inventory for the survey area, which will aid in protecting these cultural resources. PhD 2017!

  Camilla (Kelsoe) Sturm studies the relationship between economic control and political power in the emergence of complex societies in late Neolithic China. Her research specifically investigates the role that the regulation of access to basic goods, particularly utilitarian pottery, has in the development of social inequality. She uses geochemical techniques to trace changes in pottery distribution networks within, around, and between two walled settlements in the northern Jianghan Plain, Hubei from 3,300 – 2,000 BCE. These findings will be compared to changes in regional settlement patterns documented by fellow graduate student, Dongdong Li, as part of a broader collaborative effort between the Hubei Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Wuhan University, and the University of Pittsburgh to study the evolution of social complexity in communities along the Middle Yangzi River. PhD 2017!

 Denis Sharapov is interested in understanding how the development of early complex societies in the grassland steppes of northern Eurasia compared to similar processes in other world regions. His research aims to clear up uncertainties surrounding the demographic and spatial parameters of Middle Bronze Age (MBA) (2100-1700 BC) Sintashta communities of southern Russia. To pursue this matter he is carrying out a multi-scalar investigation of a 40 sq km region that contains one MBA fortified town and its immediate hinterlands. Denis follows up on previous research efforts by Russian archaeologists with systematic shovel probing, surface collection, targeted test-pitting, and geophysical prospection. The project's results will help understand how complex societies emerged in an area that has traditionally been characterized by low demographic densities and high levels of population mobility. PhD 2017!

  Sebastian Fajardo is interested in the relationships between well-being, collective action, early community formation and settlement patterns. His current research investigates the nature of the human community in the Sogamoso Valley of the eastern highlands of Colombia. According to Spanish accounts this region provided the environmental context to one of the principal chiefly centers in the northern Muisca area. His study will assess the extent to which a large-scale consolidated regional polity with a major central place emerged. This will make it possible to compare the largest and most impressive chiefly central communities and regional polities of the northern and southern parts of Muisca territory and assess more effectively their degrees of development and the kind of forces that were driving daily interaction during prehispanic and colonial times. PhD 2016!

  Li Dongdong is interested in relationships between regional settlement patterns, social organization and environment. His current research investigates the process of social complexity in the Jianghan plain of China, and focuses on the emergence of walled towns. Specifically, he uses regional settlement pattern analysis  to study social organization at the Taojiahu walled town and its relationship with surrounding areas in the Jianghan plain. In doing so he will further evaluate functions of walled towns and roles played by walled towns in the process of social complexity in the Jianghan plain. His research will provide data for further comparative study on regional settlement patterns, social organization and social complexity. PhD 2016!