A collaborative approach to studying the past

Despite international accolades, anthropological archeologist Dr. Andrea Cuéllar hesitates to take all of the credit for her success – after all, unearthing artifacts requires the patience and elbow grease of a committed crew.

"They are literally the ones that make a lot of this possible – as an archeologist, you cannot work on your own," says the assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Lethbridge.

Her team is composed of undergraduates from Ecuador and Colombia, indigenous people selected by a local indigenous federation, an Ecuadorian archaeologist, and archaeologists from Colombia and the United States specialized in the analysis of botanical remains and lithic tools. Cuéllar and her team unearth homes and gardens of settlements dating back to 500 A.D. in a valley in the Eastern Andes of Ecuador.

Placed against a backdrop of dispersed homesteads, the emergence of these 'central-place communities' is key for understanding social and political change in pre-Columbian times.

Cuéllar is exploring community dynamics as they relate to social and economic differentiation.

With an eye on quotidian forms of social production, kitchens and domestic material culture are very important in this research. Food production and consumption as well as other aspects of daily life are central arenas for symbolic production and ideological elaboration, the kind that naturalizes social and economic hierarchies.

Cuéllar is developing an international reputation and collaborates with experts worldwide. This spring, Cuéllar earned a prestigious grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Last year, she earned a Heinz Grant for Latin American Archaeology.