Archaeology in North America @Penn


Smith Creek Archaeological Project (SCAP)

Wilkinson County, Mississippi
Project Director: Dr. Megan C. Kassabaum 

As the flagship project in North American Archaeology at Penn, the Smith Creek Archaeological Research Project (SCAP) was launched in 2015 after preliminary excavations in 2013 as part of the Mississippi Mound Trail Project. The project focuses excavations on the Smith Creek site in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, which consists of three earthen mounds surrounding an open plaza. The site was constructed primarily during the Late Woodland, Coles Creek period (AD 700 – 1200), but heavy occupation continued into the subsequent early Plaquemine period (AD 1200 – 1350). The transition from Coles Creek to Plaquemine marks a period of major transition in the American South -- from the construction of smaller burial mounds to large platform mound-and-plaza centers, from largely egalitarian to hierarchical sociopolitical organization, and from hunting and gathering to corn agriculture. SCAP explores the relationship between these important changes through archaeological excavation and analysis of the recovered materials. 

Current Graduate Students

Selected Press

Baton Rouge Advocate, 2015, “Mississippi Valley archaeological site reveals transition from hunter-gatherer to farming cultures of ancient Native Americans

School of Arts and Sciences, 2016, “An Archaeobotanist Blooms from the Classroom to the Field”

Woodville Republican, 2016, “Archaeological Studies Continue, Digs at Two Wilkinson County Indian Mounds on Hwy. 24”

The Pennsylvania Gazette, 2017, “Earthworkers”

Broad Street Review, 2017, “America’s Earthen Pyramids”

Popular Archaeology, 2017, “5000 Years of Native American Moundbuilding”

Philadelphia Inquirer, 2017, “The Mystery of the Mound - Penn digging into ancient curiosities”

Indian Country Today, 2017, “Moundbuilders of Native North America, Before the Pyramids, at Penn Museum”

Heritage West

Working alongside the People’s Emergency Center, the West Philadelphia Community Archaeology Project aims to help the Penn Museum's neighbors engage with the concept of local heritage and what it means to document the past. Community participants will work with Museum staff, students, and faculty to develop and share their unique and grounded perspective on these topics in pursuit of confronting issues of racial and social injustice as they relate to archaeological research. Over the course of the program participants will explore these questions in four key programs, broken down into phases: a PhotoVoice project, an open dialog series, a community archive, and lastly, a local excavation. 

44th and Parkside Park, home to the Philadelphia Stars

Hawthorne Hall, Lancaster Avenue, 1907 versus 2014

42nd and Brown in the 1950s and today, with a mural entitled "journey2home"

Archaeology in the Middle East @Penn

Naxçivan Archaeological Project (NAP)

Naxçivan, Azerbaijan
Project Directors: Dr. Lauren Ristvet, Dr. Hilary Gopnik, Dr. Vəli Baxşəliyev, and Dr. Emily Hammer

Visit the project webpage here.

Current Graduate Students

Archaeology in Latin America @Penn

Tihosuco Heritage Preservation and Community Development Project

Quintana Roo, Mexico

Project Director: Dr. Richard Leventhal

The Tihosuco Heritage Preservation and Community Development Project is an ongoing collaboration between the PennCHC, the Museum of the Caste War, the Tihosuco Ejido, and the Mayor’s office of Tihosuco. Together with the PennCHC, these partners are committed to exploring diverse aspects of local cultural patrimony and evolving Maya identity.

Tihosuco, a small Maya town located on Quintana Roo’s northern frontier with the state of Yucatán, has a unique history as the place where the Caste War started in 1847. A rebellion and war of resistance that lasted many decades, the Caste War’s imprint defines both the region and the town. The Caste War of Yucatán (also known as the Maya Social War) is generally acknowledged as the longest and most successful indigenous rebellion in Latin American history. For the past 80 years, the people of Tihosuco have been preserving the remnants of this rebellion on their ejido lands. Abandoned towns, haciendas, ranchos, roads and walls are all found throughout the ejido lands surrounding the town.

Tihosuco’s remarkable early colonial history, its abandonment during the 60-year Caste War and eventual re-settlement in the 1930s creates a natural division in research focus: before and after abandonment. Personnel from the Tihosuco partners, the University of Pennsylvania, and Mexican scholars respond to community-defined priorities focused on the ties that bind place and people, the past to the present and the present to the future.

The project aims to

  • Helps bring small-scale economic growth to the town and community based on its rich cultural heritage
  • Through research and community engagement, creates an interpretive framework for the rebellion story to be understood and presented by Maya people of Tihosuco
  • Preserves the physical evidence of the colonial and Caste War eras

Current Graduate Students


Archaeology in South Asia @Penn



Primary Supervising Faculty from Anthropology

Dr. Megan C. Kassabaum: 

Dr. Richard