Faculty by Subfield

Tulane's Anthropology Department offers major concentrations in each of 4 subfields of anthropology. Our faculty offer a wide range of courses on specific world areas, topical subjects, and theoretical perspectives. For a listing of these courses, please refer to our Classes page.

Prospective applicants for the Ph.D. program in anthropology at Tulane should contact faculty members whose interests most closely match their own.


Archaeology professors in the Department of Anthropology at Tulane have unearthed evidence about ancient cities and monuments in Peru and Mexico, ancient Maya palaces and hieroglyphic inscriptions in the jungles of Guatemala, stone tools and symbolic material culture from Stone Age Africa, and a mid-sixteenth-century Spanish colonial fort at the capital of a Native American chiefdom in North Carolina. They venture far and wide in search of sites and artifacts; they dig along the coast, in the mountains, and in the swamps; and they search for sites in woods, fields, rainforests, and deserts. They study stone tools, pottery, trade goods, architecture, monuments, iconography, rock art, past environments, and maps.

Although adventure does figure in the archaeology undertaken by Tulane professors, they are all bound by an anthropological interest in broad patterns of cultural continuity and change in the prehistory and history of humankind. This focus is reflected in our undergraduate curriculum, which encourages students to 1) develop broad background knowledge of anthropology, 2) gain experience in archaeological fieldwork, 3) participate in analyses and management of archaeological collections, and 4) explore interests in related fields of study, including other subdisciplines of anthropology, and disciplines such as history, classics, linguistics, environmental studies, earth sciences, and geography.

Our graduate curriculum emphasizes a broad appreciation for method and theory in anthropological archaeology, as well as a breadth of knowledge of world prehistory. We also emphasize deep knowledge in particular world areas of particular interest to faculty and students. Archaeology faculty in the Department of Anthropology at Tulane have interests and expertise in human origins and the development of behavioral modernity, the archaeology of Paleolithic and Neolithic societies of the Old World, ancient civilizations of the New World, the development and collapse of complex societies, and Native American responses to European contact and colonialism in the Americas.

Regular faculty

  • Marcello Canuto specializes on the archaeology of the ancient Maya and lowland Mesoamerica more broadly.
  • Grant McCall specializes in the archaeology of the Early and Middle Stone Age, the prehistory of Africa, and lithic technology.
  • Tatsuya Murakami specializes in Mesoamerican archaeology with a special focus on Central Mexico.
  • Jason Nesbitt specializes in the archaeology of the central Andes, with a focus on the Initial Period (ca. 1700–800 B.C.) and Early Horizon (ca. 800–300 BC) of Peru.
  • Chris Rodning specializes in the archaeology of Native American peoples of North America, particularly in the American South, including Cherokee and ancestral Catawba towns in the southern Appalachians, and the Gulf South.

Affiliated faculty

  • Francisco Estrada-Belli is an expert in Maya archaeology, particularly from the Preclassic period. He teaches courses at Tulane on GIS and remote sensing in archaeology. He conducts research at Holmul and other Maya sites in Guatemala.
  • Melinda Nelson-Hurst conducts research and teaches courses about life and death in ancient Egypt.

Biological Anthropology

Biological (or as it sometimes called, physical) anthropology is a biological science that focuses on the evolution, behavior, and variation (genetic and morphological) of humans, our living primate relatives, and the fossil remains of our hominid ancestors and their relatives. As a subdiscipline of anthropology, however, biological anthropologists work in the combined realm of the biological and social sciences. Specifically, unlike human biologists, biological anthropologists study humans from a biocultural perspective.

  • Trenton Holliday specializes in paleoanthropology (the multidisciplinary study of human evolution), human paleontology (the study of hominid fossils), and human functional morphology.
  • Katharine Jack is a primatologist who specializes in the ethology (behavior), ecology, and conservation of New World primates, especially members of the Cebus (capuchin monkeys).
  • Katharine Lee specializes in modern human variation including hormones and biomarkers, menstruation, physical activity, and bone health in living people.
  • John Verano specializes in skeletal biology, paleopathology (the study of ancient disease), bioarchaeology of South America, and forensic anthropology (the application of biological anthropology to questions of medico-legal significance).

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropology (also known as sociocultural anthropology) is the branch of the discipline concerned with documenting the wide range of institutions, beliefs, practices, and technologies of contemporary human populations around the world. It is equally concerned with developing generalizations based on comparative study. The main technique of this subdiscipline is ethnographic research, the first-hand documentation of a people and their situation by a trained investigator.

  • William Balée is an historical ecologist, working in lowland South America.
  • Claudia Chávez Argüelles specializes in the anthropology of law and the state, race and ethnicity, political violence, and gender.
  • Nicole Katin focuses on ethnobiology, ethnobotany, traditional and local environmental knowledge systems, and conservation-induced displacement.
  • Adeline Masquelier is a West African specialist, focusing on issues of religion and concepts of illness and healing.
  • Andrew McDowell focuses on care, contagion, pharmaceuticals, diagnosis, and inequality in North and Western Indian social worlds entangled with tuberculosis.
  • Sabia McCoy-Torres conducts research on the English and Spanish speaking African Diaspora, race, gender/sexuality, transnationalism, and Black popular music and performance.
  • Allison Truitt has conducted research on social practices related to money, financial instruments, and religion, particularly as these practices relate to the fashioning of new identities in postwar Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora.

Linguistic Anthropology

Language is a, if not the, particularly human ability. Linguistic anthropologists are concerned with not only the sound, meaning, and structure of language, but also how it is acquired and lost and how people use it in social contexts (sometimes known as the ethnography of speaking). The program in anthropological linguistics is designed to train the student in modern techniques of language analysis and description, while providing exposure to the elements of diversity and universality in human language use. The student gains familiarity with real language data, at the same time developing theoretical frameworks within which to evaluate this knowledge and skills in formal analysis, language, and social modeling.

  • Nathalie Dajko studies Linguistics, sociolinguistics, language death, pidgins and creoles, and Louisiana French.
  • Judith Maxwell is involved in research in Mesoamerica, a long-time strength of the Department. She teaches courses in pragmatics, language and power, and language and gender. She is a fluent speaker of two Mayan languages - Chuj and Kaqchikel - both spoken in highland Guatemala, and she offers a course in spoken Nahuatl during the academic year and a sequence of courses in the Kaqchikel language and culture in Guatemala during the summer. She also teaches spoken Yucatecan Maya.
  • Nick Spitzer researches folklore, ethnography, and American vernacular music/culture.
  • Marc Zender studies contemporary and historically-attested Mesoamerican languages in order to reconstruct older stages of these languages, the better to compare them to ancient writing from the region. As an epigrapher and archaeologist, his work focuses on the ongoing decipherment and interpretation of these writing systems, and especially in their origins, development, and eventual abandonment during the Colonial era.

Visit the Interdisciplinary Linguistics Program website, or navigate to its page through the link on our Resources page.