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Christopher Morehart

Christopher Morehart

Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Arizona State University
PO Box 872402
Tempe, AZ 85287-2402


  • Senior Sustainability Scientist, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation
  • Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Christopher Morehart is an environmental anthropologist, an ethnobotanist/paleoethnobotanist, and an archaeologist. One of the best things about anthropology and archaeology is the ability and training to exhibit this kind of flexible pragmatism. Indeed, this characteristic is what drew him to anthropology and is what keeps him here. These interests have led him to tackle a number of social questions at different times and places. Regionally, the vast majority of his work as an anthropological archaeologist occurs in the region scholars call (somewhat arbitrarily) Mesoamerica. Sub-regionally, he has conducted research in the Maya Lowlands of Belize, Yucatan, and Guatemala, and has been working intensively in the Basin of Mexico over the past several years. Conceptually, much of his research centers on questions of inequality and ideology. He has studied the impact of state power on agrarian landscapes, the connection between politics and environmental sustainability, the integration of ritual with politics, community formation in the wake of imperial collapse, the effect of economic circumstances on gender relations, the role of archaeological narratives in contemporary identity politics, and many other important anthropological issues.

He continues to work as a paleoethnobotanist on archaeological projects in Yucatan, Mexico; Belize, Guatemala; and the southeast United States. Creating a Mesoamerican ethnobotanical database (based on published literature) is a project he has been working on since 2000. However, Morehart's primary research exists in central Mexico, namely the Northern Basin of Mexico. He was the director of the Proyecto Chinampero Xaltocan, an archaeological project that reconstructed the raised field agricultural landscape surrounding the pre-Aztec city state of Xaltocan. This project gave him the opportunity to invest in an agricultural landscape the same amount of time and energy archaeologists typically give to residential sites. In so doing, He realized the importance of these spaces for addressing central problems in the archaeology of political economy as well as key limitations in many of our models that explain the relationship between farmers and politics. Moreover, this work opened his eyes to agricultural landscapes as active, lived spaces—spaces where past people spent so much of their daily lives (but spaces that seem to be relegated archaeologically to a handful of surface collections, trenches or test pits, if that). Using satellite imagery and aerial photos (managed in a GIS) with this intensive, on the ground fieldwork, allowed him to document one of the largest pre-Aztec chinampa systems.

As an environmental anthropologist, however, this work is only one aspect of longer term research on the historical ecology of the northern Basin of Mexico—a project with questions whose answers are as much about the present as they are about the past. Fundamentally, this project stresses the political ecological dimension of historical ecology and seeks to understand the impact of political change on how people interacted with the environment. Archaeologically, we are working at sites that date from the Formative period to the Colonial and more recent historic periods in the northern Basin of Mexico. The kinds of sites we are studying include villages and residences, ritual shrines, specialized lake-shore sites (perhaps trading ports?), and canal and terrace systems. One of this project's great challenges is integrating data that exist at very different spatial and temporal scales, such as intensive excavation data, survey data, aerial photos and satellite images, historic texts and maps, ethnographic data and oral histories, and paleoecological records. But this challenge makes this project more exciting and significant. We will produce a historical ecology and biography of landscape that is meaningful both for scientists and historians and for living residents.


  • PhD, Anthropology, Northwestern University, 2010
  • MS, Anthropology, Florida State University, 2002
  • BA, Anthropology (minor Environmental and Plant Biology), Ohio University, 1999


Journal Articles


Manuel-Navarrete, D., C. T. Morehart, B. M. Tellman, H. Eakin, J. M. Siqueiros-Garcia and B. Hernandez Aguilar. 2019. Intentional disruption of path-dependencies in the Anthropocene: Gray versus green water infrastructure regimes in Mexico City, Mexico. Anthropocene 26(Jun):10029. DOI: 10.1016/j.ancene.2019.100209. (link )


Morehart, C. T. 2015. Archaeologies of the past and in the present in 2014: Materialities of human history. American Anthropologist 117(2):329-344. DOI: 10.1111/aman.12249. (link )

Morehart, C. T. and S. Morell-Hart. 2015. Beyond the ecofact: Toward a social paleoethnobotany in Mesoamerica. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 22(2):483-511. DOI: 10.1007/s10816-013-9183-6. (link )


Morehart, C. T. 2014. The potentiality and the consequences of surplus: Agricultural production and institutional transformation in the northern basin of Mexico. Economic Anthropology 1(1):154-166. DOI: 10.1002/sea2.12010. (link )

Morehart, C. T. and C. Frederick. 2014. The chronology and collapse of pre-Aztec raised field (chinampa) agriculture in the northern Basin of Mexico. Antiquity 88(340):531-548. DOI: 10.1017/S0003598X00101164. (link )


Morehart, C. T. 2012. Mapping ancient chinampa landscapes in the Basin of Mexico: A remote sensing and GIS approach. Journal of Archaeological Science 39(7):2541-2551. DOI: 0.1016/j.jas.2012.03.001. (link )

Morehart, C. T. 2012. What if the Aztec Empire never existed? The prerequisites of empire and the politics of plausible alternative histories. American Anthropologist 114(2):267-281. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2012.01424.x. (link )

Morehart, C. T., A. Meza Penaloza, C. Serrano Sanchez, E. McClung de Tapia and E. Ibarra Morales. 2012. Human sacrifice during the Epiclassic Period in the northern Basin of Mexico. Latin American Antiquity 23(4):426-448. (link )


Morehart, C. T. and N. Butler. 2010. Ritual exchange and the fourth obligation: Ancient Maya food offering and the flexible materiality of ritual. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16(3):588-608. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2010.01641.x. (link )

Morehart, C. T. and D. T. Eisenberg. 2010. Prosperity, power, and change: Modeling maize at Postclassic Xaltocan, Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29(1):94-112. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2009.10.005. (link )


Morehart, C. T., D. L. Lentz and K. M. Prufer. 2005. Wood of the gods: The ritual use of pine (Pinus spp.) by the ancient lowland Maya. Latin American Antiquity 16(3):255-274. DOI: 10.2307/30042493. (link )


Morehart, C. T., J. J. Awe, M. J. Mirro, V. A. Owen and C. G. Helmke. 2004. Ancient textile remains from Barton Creek Cave, Cayo District, Belize. Mexican XXVI(Juni):50-56. (link )



Morehart, C. T. and K. De Lucia eds. 2015. Surplus: The Politics of Production and the Strategies of Everyday Life. University Press of Colorado. ISBN: 978-1607323716.


Morehart, C. T. 2011. Food, Fire, and Fragrance: A Paleoethnobotanical Perspective on Classic Maya Cave Ritua. British Archaeological Reports. ISBN: 978-1407307411.

Book Chapters

In Press

Morehart, C. T. Diversity, standardization, and the state: The politics of maize agriculture in Postclassic, central Mexico. In: Foster II, H. T., L. M. Paciulli and B. J. Goldstein eds., Viewing the Future in the Past: Historical Ecology Applications to Environmental Issues. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN: 978-1611175868.


De Lucia, K. and C. T. Morehart. 2015. Surplus and social change: The production of household and field in pre-Aztec central Mexico. In: Morehart, C. T. and K. De Lucia eds., Surplus: The Politics of Production and the Strategies of Everyday Life. University Press of Colorado. ISBN: 978-1607323716.

Morehart, C. T. 2015. Agricultural features, identification and analysis. Pp. 2-3 In: Beaudry, M. C. and K. Metheny eds., Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN: 978-0759123649.

Morehart, C. T. 2015. Irrigation/hydraulic engineering. Pp. 272-275 In: Beaudry, M. C. and K. Metheny eds., The Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN: 978-0759123649.

Morehart, C. T. and K. De Lucia. 2015. Surplus: The politics of production and the strategies of everyday and life -- an introduction. In: Morehart, C. T. and K. De Lucia eds., Surplus The Politics of Production and the Strategies of Everyday Life. University Press of Colorado. ISBN: 978-1607323716.


Morehart, C. T. 2011. The fourth obligation: Food offerings in caves and the politics of sacred relationships in Maya landscapes. In: Isendahl, C. and B. L. Persson eds., Energy, Power, and Religion in Maya Landscapes. Verlag Anton Saurewein.


Morehart, C. T. and C. G. Helmke. 2008. Situating power and locating knowledge: A paleoethnobotanical perspective on Late Classic Maya gender and social relations. Pp. 60-75 In: Robin, C. and E. M. Brumfiel eds., Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association: Gender, Households, and Society: Unraveling the Threads of the Past and the Present. Vol 18. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-4443-3403-6.


Morehart, C. T. 2005. Plants and caves in ancient Maya society. Pp. 167-185 In: Prufer, K. M. and J. Brady eds., Reconstructing Maya Ritual and Cosmology in the Cave Context. University of Colorado Press.

Blog Posts


Graff, S. B., N. Berman, R. Aggarwal, C. M. Edwards, C. Morehart, S. Hamdoun, D. Manuel-Navarrete, O. Iheduru, H. Eakin, M. Parmentier, G. M. Grossman and N. Chhetri. 2020. If "the economy" is collapsing, how do people survive? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from link