Field Museum anthropologists study and preserve the irreplaceable cultural heritage of humankind. We conduct targeted research at field sites throughout the world and investigate and conserve cultural collections and sites for posterity. We have active field projects on six continents and our research encompasses the biological, cultural, and archaeological expressions of human society. Our collections and research responsibilities are organized geographically, but our research is unified by four general themes: Human-Environment Interaction, Economic Anthropology, Urban Culture, and State-making.
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Excavations at Cerro Baul. Photo by R. Williams
Research on Human-Environment interaction
The role humans play in environmental degradation and climate change. How have human actions altered climate in the past? What human social patterns create vulnerability to environmental change? How do environmental changes affect humanity biologically and culturally? Can we conceptualize sustainable versus unsustainable environmental practices and what can we learn from human history in this regard?
Our research demonstrates how humans impact their environments, for the better and for the worse.
- The development of agriculture in the Andes
- The long-term interactions of human settlements and landscapes in Mexico and China
- Human biological evolution in environmental context
Research in Economic Anthropology
The origins and shifts in economic systems. What are the basic human tenets that underlie all forms of economic interaction and exchange? What are the causes of economic crises? How do different cultures view basic economic concepts such as value, productivity, and exchange? How do interactions between different cultural systems affect economic interpretations? Can economic system collapse be prevented?
Our research enlightens the understanding of how human economic systems work, vary, and change.
- Production and Exchange of Maya Blue
- Trade and Exchange in East Africa
- Neolithic Economics in Eastern Europe
- Friendship and Economic Networks in the Pacific
- Economics of Empire in the Ancient Andes
Research in Urban Culture
For the first time in earth’s history, more than half the human population now lives in cities (2007); urban populations are expected to double by 2050. How did life in cities emerge? What challenges does urban life present to humanity? How has humanity resolved the problems of urban conflict, waste disposal, urban security, and provisioning in various urban contexts across the world over the past 5000 years?
Our research informs how life in cities emerged and how urban life influences our existence today.
- The rise of urban societies in East Africa
- The origins of cities in Ancient Peru
- Cities and empire in Ancient China
- The multicultural modern city: Chicago and beyond
- Imperial cities in the Andes
Research on State Making
The emergence and changes in political hierarchy. What are the reasons certain political systems emerge? What strategies do leaders or social groups use to gain power in society? How do social movements reinforce or destabilize power structures? What are the root social causes of political collapse? What pathways can result from the aftermath of radical political change?
Our research creates knowledge to explain the rise and fall of civilizations, including our own.
- The rise and fall of Peruvian Civilizations: Wari and Tiwanaku
- State Origins in Ancient China
- The Foundations of Civilization in Hungary and Greece
- Rise and Fall of the Swahili States
- The rise , fall, and reorganization of polities in Oaxaca, Mexico