Faculty + Staff

Michael E. Smith,
Director, ASU Teotihuacan Research Laboratory 

Michael E. Smith is an archaeologist who specializes in the Aztecs of central Mexico. He has directed excavations at numerous Aztec provincial sites to reconstruct household organization and daily life in villages, towns and cities. Smith has combined the results of his fieldwork with studies of documents to analyze the expansion of the Aztec empire, the nature of the Aztec economy, cities and city-states and patterns of social inequality.

Smith began his archaeological career as an undergraduate at Brandeis University, where he studied with George Cowgill. He wrote his senior honors thesis on Teotihuacan, and this experience stimulated a life-long interest in the cities of ancient Mesoamerica. In his publications on ancient urban planning, city life, and political dynamics he has traced the path of urban change from Teotihuacan to the Aztecs.

Since moving to ASU in 2005, Smith has teamed up with George Cowgill and other School of Human Evolution and Social Change scholars in a cross-disciplinary and comparative research project on urban neighborhoods and open spaces. This team has forged new directions in the comparative and historical analysis of cities and urbanism, particularly in comparisons between ancient and modern cities. In these projects, Teotihuacan holds a special role as an important and well-studied ancient city whose analysis yields insights into many urban phenomena.

Smith’s most recent fieldwork project is focused on the Aztec provincial city of Calixtlahuaca in the Toluca Valley, west of Mexico City.

In addition to being a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Smith is affiliated faculty in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and core faculty in the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity. He is also an Investigador Externo at El Colegio Mexiquense in Toluca, Mexico.

Michael Smith’s publications are available on his website. He blogs about cities and urbanism at Wide Urban World, where Teotihuacan is a frequent topic.

Oralia Cabrera,
Faculty Research Associate; Operations, ASU Teotihuacan Research Laboratory

Oralia Cabrera received her licenciatura in archaeology from Mexico's Escuela Nacional de AntropologÍa e Historia and her Ph.D. from Arizona State University in 2011. Her major efforts at Teotihuacan include the study of production and consumption of ritual lapidary objects and the technology and organization of textile and ceramic production systems. Her recent research addresses the socio-economic integration of low-status sectors of the Teotihuacan society, as well as issues concerning craft production by independent craftspeople.

George Cowgill,
Research Professor

In the 1960s George Cowgill assisted in the comprehensive mapping and surface collection of remains of the entire 8-square-mile ancient city, directed by Dr. René Millon. Since then, much of his effort has gone into computer-aided spatial and statistical analyses of the data collected by that project. In 1988-89 he collaborated with Rubén Cabrera of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History and Saburo Sugiyama in excavations that permanently changed the pacific image of early Teotihuacan by revealing nearly 200 sacrificial victims at the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent (also known as the Temple of Quetzalcóatl). These projects have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society and other sources.

Cowgill has served on the Executive Committee of the Society for American Archaeology, as consulting editor for mathematics and statistics for American Antiquity (the leading journal for North American archaeology) and as advisory editor for archaeology for Current Anthropology. He has held a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford, Calif.). He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is a recipient of the Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology (from the Archaeological Institute of America), the Excellence in Archaeological Analysis award of the Society for American Archaeology and the A.V. Kidder Award for Eminence in American Archaeology (from the Archeology Division of the American Anthropological Association).

Saburo Sugiyama,
Research Professor

Saburo Sugiyama obtained his Ph.D. from ASU in 1995. Along with his ASU position, Sugiyama is also a professor in the Graduate School of International Cultural Studies at Aichi Prefectural University, Japan. He has been the assistant director of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid Project, the co-director of the Moon Pyramid Project with Rubén Cabrera Castro of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico (INAH) and is currently an assistant director of the Sun Pyramid Project.

Sugiyama's major research interests are on Mesoamerican social histories (particularly Teotihuacan), ancient urbanism, iconography and symbolism and theories of cognitive archaeology.

His recent publications include the following:

(2010) “Teotihuacan City Layout as a Cosmogram: Preliminary Results of the 2007 Measurement Unit Study.” In The Archaeology of Measurement: Comprehending Heaven, Earth and Time in Ancient Societies, Iain Morley and Colin Renfrew (eds.): 130-149. Cambridge University Press.

(2007) Co-authored with R. Cabrera. “The Moon Pyramid Project and the Teotihuacan State Polity: A Brief Summary of the 1998-2004 Excavations.” Ancient Mesoamerica, 18: 109-125.

(2007) Co-authored by Leonardo Lopez Lujan. “Dedicatory Burial/Offering Complexes at the Moon Pyramid, Teotihuacan: A Preliminary Report of 1998–2004 Explorations.” Ancient Mesoamerica, 18: 127-146.

(2005) Human Sacrifice, Militarism, and Rulership: Materialization of State Ideology at the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, Teotihuacan. Cambridge University Press.

Ben Nelson,

Ben Nelson's research encompasses cycles of social complexity and connectivity among the ancient cultures of northwestern Mexico and the American Southwest, especially A.D. 200–1540; on human roles in and responses to the desertification of grasslands in those regions; and on relating archaeology to indigenous cultures of the present day.

Nelson teaches graduate and undergraduate courses and has published extensively on archaeological subjects including human-environment interaction and cultural materialism and symbolism.

His national service includes work for professional associations and agencies such as the American Anthropological Association, the Society for American Archaeology and the National Science Foundation.

Christopher Morehart,
Assistant Professor

Christopher Morehart is an environmental anthropologist/archaeologist, an ethnobotanist/paleoethnobotanist, and a landscape/household archaeologist.

Much of his work centers on Mesoamerica, and for the last several years has concentrated on the Basin of Mexico. Conceptually, a great deal of his research involves 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.

Morehart 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 pursuing since 2000. 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. Using satellite imagery and aerial photos (managed in a GIS) with intensive, on-the-ground fieldwork allowed him to document one of the largest pre-Aztec chinampa systems.