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Richard Lesure

Department: Anthropology
Keywords: Mexico, Central America, Ecuador

Richard Lesure's fieldwork in Mexico is oriented around classic problems in the archaeology of complex societies -- the origins of sedentism, the roots of social inequality, and the development of states and urban life. Both his long-term field projects have focused on the Formative period, an era of dramatic social change from the establishment of settled villages to the emergence of cities.

In coastal Chiapas, his focus has been on the social consequences of the transition to sedentism. In dissertation and post-dissertation work at the ceremonial center of Paso de la Amada, he discovered a disjunction between status systems and economic inequality. He has recently proposed that the seemingly basic distinction between public and domestic was an emergent dimension of social practice at the site; it was preceded by a spatial scheme oriented around differential formalism.

In Tlaxcala, Professor Lesure's project focuses on the emergence of urban life. With a team of specialist collaborators studying agricultural systems, subsistence, food service, interregional exchange, mortuary practices, and symbolic systems, he is seeking to develop a local understanding of social life during the first millennium B.C. while at the same time contributing to a macro-regional perspective on the social transformations that led to urban synthesis at Teotihuacan, some 80 km away.

He has also been working on prehistoric "art" and the challenges it poses for interpretation. His empirical focus is on the fired-clay figurines -- small, mainly anthropomorphic statuettes - common at Formative sites across Mesoamerica. In his book Interpreting Ancient Figurines: Context, Comparison, and Prehistoric Art (Cambridge University Press, 2011), he examines ancient figurines from several world areas to address recurring challenges in the interpretation of prehistoric art.