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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a senior research grant for $237,925 to Lycoming College faculty member, Jessica Munson, Ph.D., assistant professor of archaeology and anthropology, for work on her study, “Long-Term Impacts of Institutionalized Inequality on Household Wealth and Well-Being.” The NSF grant will provide the means for Munson and her team of international researchers and students to conduct a large-scale excavation project at the ancient Maya site of Altar de Sacrificios, a site located in the southern Maya lowlands of Guatemala.
“Inequality is an intrinsic element of large-scale human societies, and this grant from the NSF is enabling us to better understand how disparities in wealth and power differentially impacted the human condition in the past — an area that has not been well studied until now,” said Munson. “With its long-term perspective, archaeology is poised to make significant contributions to examining the impacts of permanent institutionalized inequality on the everyday lives of past people.”
Munson explained that studying the distribution of wealth and well-being in ancient societies requires a dataset that is representative of the range of socioeconomic differences that were present in the past. Combining new archaeological investigations with analyses of legacy data, Munson and her team will collect and analyze a large sample of household archaeological data spanning the Middle Preclassic to Terminal Classic time periods (ca. 950 BCE-950 CE) at Altar de Sacrificios.
The planned excavations will sample between 40-50 households identified in recent settlement surveys conducted by the Proyecto Arqueológico Altar de Sacrificios, collecting data from burials, domestic artifacts, and residential architecture to generate multiple quality of life indices. Studying the longitudinal changes and disparities in household wealth, social well-being, and health will produce a more detailed understanding of the impacts of increasing political power on socioeconomic disparities over the span of about 2000 years of Maya prehistory.
The data generated from this project will facilitate an innovative conceptual framework and methodology to analyze multiple kinds of household inequality, providing an important dataset for future comparative studies. Understanding how ancient societies responded and adapted to political instability and socioeconomic differences in the past can provide important lessons as societies confront similar challenges today. This research is also designed to improve quality of life concerns for local communities near the field site and project laboratory.
With a duration of three years, the study will provide Lycoming College students with significant opportunities to become involved in all phases of research, including excavations and artifact analyses conducted in the project laboratory located in Guatemala.
Munson is principal investigator of the Altar de Sacrificios archaeological project, which has also received funding from the Archaeological Institute of America, the Rust Family Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.