College of Liberal and Fine Arts

Laura Jane Levi, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

Research area: Archaeology

Email: laura.levi@utsa.edu

Phone: (210) 458-5709

Office: MH 4.02.76

Research in Progress

My research explores place making among the ancient Maya. Place making involves a culling of the environment, a crafting of objects, and a bringing together of things and people in the world. It is fundamentally a material process, one that is on-going and generative. The focus of my research is the community. Ancient Maya communities spanned markedly different kinds of physical environments and they also possessed different kinds of leaders and different kinds of families. Yet, in my work, people’s ties to family, land, and leadership have proven to be the three fundamental constants in Maya place making.

For several field seasons, my students and I have been investigating these themes at the site of Wari Camp in northwestern Belize. Wari Camp is a large site at the eastern margins of the Programme for Belize conservation area. Early work developed an understanding of basic organizational units within the ancient community (households, neighborhoods, and wards) and their environmental associations. Recently, we have directed our attention to one ward, in particular – the Northern Satellite – where we have found a concentration of ritual features including intercardinally-aligned eastern shrine groups and pathway markers. The ward, itself, was connected to site center by a road engineered within a massive drainage system. 

Specific Research Problems: 1) Ritual Process. We have begun systematic exploration of the ritual features in Wari Camp’s Northern Satellite. We suspect that the eastern shrine groups there were home to prominent families of ritual practitioners and the intercardinal alignments probably marked out processional pathways. 2) Institutional Action. We continue to study sources of household variation and the basic functioning of Wari Camp’s neighborhoods and wards. We are especially interested in the roles played by households, neighborhoods, and wards in provisioning both local and exotic resources. 3) Economies of Movement. Wari Camp spanned a vast, ecologically diverse territory consisting of flat riverine floodplains, steep escarpment terraces, and heavily dissected escarpment uplands. We now have evidence for intensive agrarian regimes within the floodplains and down the escarpment terraces. We also are amassing evidence for other kinds of productive activities. The ability to bring labor to sites of production and products to sites of consumption would have been of critical importance to community leaders and community members, alike. We therefore have inaugurated a multi-scalar study of the material, experiential, and cognized dimensions of movement at Wari Camp.

Degrees

Ph.D. The University of Arizona, 1993

Teaching

My teaching stresses the importance of linking data and theory, and the central role played by material culture in social process. Trained as a four-field anthropologist, my undergraduate anthropology courses span three of the discipline’s subfields. At the graduate level, I teach two required courses (History, Method, and Theory of Archaeology and Ecological Anthropology) and several electives (including Landscape and Settlement and The Archaeology of Household and Residence).

Prospective students: Wari Camp offers many productive avenues of research for new students. In addition to a variety of different kinds of artifact analyses, students can find suitable thesis and dissertation topics in field studies of terrain modifications, agrarian technologies, household economies, and ritual practices (to name just a few possibilities). 

Recent Publications

2003 - "Space and the limits to community." In Perspectives on Ancient Maya Rural Complexity, edited by G. Iannone and S. Connell, pp. 82-93. The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.

2002 - An institutional perspective on prehispanic Maya residential variation: settlement and community at San Estevan, Belize. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 21:120-141.

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Main Office: MH 4.03.38

Department of Anthropology

University of Texas at San Antonio

College of Liberal and Fine Arts

One UTSA Circle

San Antonio, TX 78249-1644