I am internationally recognized as a specialist in sex and gender in the past, basing my analyses on art, burials, and the remains of households. In my book, Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives (Thames and Hudson 2008), I present the results of global research on sex and gender by archaeologists for interdisciplinary scholars. As an anthropological archaeologist, I conducted field research in Honduras for more than 30 years. I have excavated some of the earliest villages in Central America, dating to 1500-500 BC; the largest settlement in the region, dating 500-1000 AD; and most recently (2008-2009), an 18th century Spanish fort on the Caribbean coast. I currently direct a major project supported by a multi-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to improve scholarly access to a microfilm collection that duplicates the main colonial archive for Central America, the Archivo General de Centroamérica.
My research on early villages resulted in the identification of traces of cacao (the plant yielding chocolate) dating to at least 1100 BC and led to reassessment of the role of this plant in the cultures of Central America. An important and continuing part of my work has been the exploration of the ethics and political contexts of archaeological research. This includes work assessing the impacts on cultural heritage policy of the 2009 coup d'etat in Honduras. Part of my cultural heritage research involves contributing to the creation of new museums and interpretive centers in Honduras.
My work in cultural heritage is in part based in my history as a museum anthropologist, a field in which I teach at Berkeley. I was Assistant Director of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University (1986-1989), and Director of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology here at Berkeley (1994-1999). I have published essays on contradictions in the definition of world heritage sites and the way archaeologists evaluate the significance of archaeological sites; on the role of nationalism in archaeology; and the way expertise is mobilized in international consulting. I am currently conducting research in North American and European museums on early collecting and histories of archaeology.
My forthcoming book from Oxford University Press builds on all of these strands applied to understanding proposals made by the US Government to mark nuclear waste repositories over the long term, which I liken to the curation of archaeological sites as World Heritage, and compare to Land Art projects created in the US West.