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  • Professor
  • Anthropology
  • Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies
203B Lafferty Hall
859 257-2710
Other Affiliations:

Christopher Pool

Research Interests:
Evolution of complex societies
political and economic archaeology
landscape and memory

Ph.D., Tulane, 1990



Archaeology, evolution of complex societies, political economy, historical ecology, landscape and memory, ceramic analysis, technological choice; Mesoamerica.



My archaeological research focuses primarily on the evolution of complex societies in the tropical lowlands of southern Veracruz, Mexico, including the Olmecs and their Epi-Olmec and Classic-period successors. Specifically, I study the interactions among environment, economy, ideology, and political practice at scales ranging from the individual household to supraregional political economies. In pursuing my research I draw on my interdisciplinary training in anthropology, geology, and geochemical characterization to understand patterns of resource exploitation and exchange within their social and cultural context. My research also attempts to move the archaeological investigation of culture change toward approaches that address variability within and between ancient cultures and away from typological approaches that obscure variability within cultural types and present culture change as a sequence of steady states. The analysis of variability provides a more accurate characterization of cultural systems and allows more sophisticated analysis of dynamic change.

Beginning in 1983, I have investigated ceramic production and exchange at the Classic period site of Matacapan, and household organization at the Late and Terminal Formative site of Bezuapan. Since 1995 I have directed survey and excavations at Tres Zapotes with principal financial support from the National Science Foundation and institutional support from the University of Kentucky and Ithaca College, collaborating with colleagues from the Universidad Veracruzana, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and INAH. Covering a span of 2,000 years, Tres Zapotes contains the longest continuous record of occupation for a major center in the southern Gulf lowlands, encompassing the Olmec, Epi-Olmec and Classic periods. This time span saw the emergence of the political institution of kingship, as well as the development of one of the earliest and most sophisticated writing systems in the New World. The main objective of my work at Tres Zapotes is to understand changes in political-economic power strategies in the transition from Olmec to Epi-Olmec times and beyond, including an apparent shift toward a more collective form of government around 400 B.C. To test this model, the current stage of research focuses on two related and critical aspects of Formative period political economy at Tres Zapotes: (1) the temporal and organizational relationships among formal civic-ceremonial architectural complexes and (2) differentiation in craft production at independent and elite-associated (or "attached") production loci.

Evolution of complex societies, political and economic archaeology, historical ecology, landscape and memory, ceramic analysis, archaeometry, geoarchaeology; Mesoamerica.


Selected Publications:




  • 2021 Polity and Power in the Olmec Landscape. In Mesoamerican Archaeology: Theory and Practive, 2nd edition. Edited by Julia A. Hendon, Lisa Overholtzer, and Rosemary Joyce, pp. 22-70. Wiley Blackwell, Oxford.
  • 2020 The Environs of Tres Zapotes as the Find-Spot of the Tuxtla Statuette. Latin American Antiquity 34(4):747-764. (with John Justeson, Ponciano Ortiz Ceballos, María del Carmen Rodríguez, and Jane Walsh).
  • 2018 Transisthmian Ties: Epi-Olmec and Izapan Interaction. Ancient Mesoamerica 29(2):413-437 (with Michael L. Loughlin and Ponciano Ortiz Ceballos (
  • 2018 Communities of Practice and Ceramic Production at Matacapan, Veracruz, Mexico. In City, Craft, and Residence in Mesoamerica: Research Papers in Honor of Dan M. Healan, edited by Ronald K. Faulseit, Nezahualcoyotl Xiutecutli, and Haley Holt-Mehta, pp. 61-74. Middle American Research Institute Publication 72. Tulane University, New Orleans.
  • 2017 Creating Memory and Negotiating Power in the Olmec Heartland. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 24(1):229-260. (with Michael Loughlin and Ponciano Ortiz Ceballos) DOI 10.1007/s10816-017-9319-1.
  • 2017  Early Olmec Manifestations in Western Olman: The Arroyo Phase at Tres Zapotes. In The Early Olmec and Mesoamerica: The Material Record, edited by Jeffrey Blomster and David Cheetham, pp. 89-118. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (with Ponciano Ortiz, Maria del Carmen Rodriguez, Erin L. Sears, and M. James Blackman).
  • 2016 Mapping the Tres Zapotes Polity: The Effectiveness of Lidar in Tropical Alluvial Settings. Advances in Archaeological Practice 4(3):301-313 (co-author with Michael L. Loughlin, Juan C. Fernández-Díaz, and Ramesh L. Shrestha. DOI: 10.7183/2326-3768.4.3.301
  • 2016 Tres Zapotes: The Evolution of a Resilient Polity in the Olmec Heartland of Mexico. In Beyond Collapse: Archaeological Perspectives on Resilience, Revitalization, and Transformation in Complex Societies, edited by Ronald K. Faulseit, pp. 287-312. Southern Illinois University Press. (with Michael L. Loughlin).
  • 2015 Toward an Archaeology of Disjuncture: Scale and Variability in Long-Distance Interaction Networks. Current Anthropology 56:385-420 (co-author with Wesley D. Stoner).
  • 2014  Formative Obsidian Procurement at Tres Zapotes, Veracruz, Mexico: Implications for Olmec and Epi-Olmec Political Economy. Ancient Mesoamerica.25:271-293 (with Charles L. F. Knight and Michael Glascock). 
  • 2012 The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology. Oxford University Press, Oxford. (co-editor wth Deborah Nichols)
  • 2008   Classic Period Cultural Currents in Southern and Central Veracruz. Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard University Press (co-editor with Philip J. Arnold, III).
  • 2008  Debating with Robert: Papers on Mesoamerican Archaeology in Memory of Robert S. Santley. Journal of Anthropological Research 64(3). (editor with Patricia McAnany).
  • 2008  But Robert, Where Did the Pots Go? Debating the Economy of Ancient Matacapan. Journal of Anthropological Research 64(3): 411-424 (with Wesley D. Stoner).
  • 2007  Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica. Cambridge University Press.
  • 2007  Pottery Economics in Mesoamerica. University of Arizona Press, Tucson (editor with George J. Bey, III.)
  • 2007  Economy and the Transformation of Landscapes. Society for Economic Anthropology Monograph No. 25. AltaMira Press, New York (co-editor with Lisa Cliggett).
  • 2006  Current Research on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Journal of Archaeological Research 14:189-241.
  • 2005  Contemplating variation in Olmec Settlement and Polity Using Mississippian Models. In Gulf Coast Archaeology: Southeastern U. S. and Mexico, ed. by Nancy White, pp. 223-245. University of Florida Press.
  • 2003  Settlement Archaeology and Political Economy at Tres Zapotes, Veracruz, Mexico. Monograph 50, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.
  • 2000  Why a Kiln? Firing Technology in the Sierra de los Tuxtlas, Veracruz, Mexico. Archaeometry 42:62-76.
  • 2000  From Olmec to Epi-Olmec at Tres Zapotes. In Olmec Art and Archaeology in Mesoamerica, ed. by John Clark and Mary Pye, pp. 137-153. Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • 2000  A Ceramic Perspective on the Formative to Classic Transition in Southern Veracruz, Mexico. Latin American Antiquity 10(2):139-161 (with Georgia Mudd Britt