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Dr. Christopher Morehart will undertake archaeological and paleoecological research in the Basin of Mexico to elucidate how political and environmental shifts shaped people's lives as well as how people's responses to these circumstances contributed to regional transformation. Understanding how people respond to and are affected by broader transformations in their world is fundamentally important not only for the social sciences but for the general public. Archaeology represents a field that can effectively examine this issue. Archaeologists have access to long-term datasets. Archaeological research on material remains and landscapes captures a wide spectrum of past life. Archaeologists are trained as interdisciplinary scientists who integrate information from multiple fields in the social and physical sciences. As an archaeological project, this research contributes to understanding the role that political and environmental conditions have across time and space. Such work addresses contemporary problems by speaking to processes ongoing today, where political and ecological conditions that often emanate from afar directly affect people's livelihoods. Studying local responses to regional change represents an important area for society to understand the dynamic nature of transformation. Moreover, this research incorporates researchers and students from the United States and Mexico, providing valuable scientific training and the opportunity for long-term, international collaborations. As a regional project in Mexico, this work will occur in several communities. Students and project members, thus, will engage directly with cultural resources and contemporary community organizations. This project, in short, will make a lasting impact on science, students, and local communities.

The project selects an excellent case study to examine this issue: the Epiclassic (ca. 650-900 CE) to the Early Postclassic (ca. 900-1200 CE) periods in the northern Basin of Mexico. Major political, social, and environmental changes occurred during this time: the rise and fall of powerful states, migration, conflict, and climatic fluctuations. To understand how these processes related to peoples' livelihoods, this research centers on local subsistence and economic strategies. This project asks four simple questions. (1) How does the diversity of subsistence strategies change in communities? (2) How does diversity in economic production and exchange change? (3) How did environmental conditions change? (4) How did people's responses to regional political and environmental processes shape local resilience and regional transformation? To address these questions, the project combines ecological and archaeological research, including investigations to characterize environmental conditions, archaeological excavations of households within two community centers and one village, as well as archaeological research at a larger sample of settlements in different ecological zones. By collecting data to address the project's core questions, the research will determine the impact of changing political and natural environments on practices fundamental to human life: subsistence and economics. In so doing, this research will elucidate not only the extent to which regional ecological and political systems influence human livelihood but also how human responses to broader situations shape both the degree of local resilience and peoples' ability to either navigate or contribute to historical transformation.



National Science Foundation, Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences


September 2015 — August 2019