Gary Feinman

MacArthur Curator of Mesoamerican, Central American, and East Asian Anthropology

Negaunee Integrative Research Center
Science Focus

Gary Feinman is the MacArthur Curator of Mesoamerican, Central American, and East Asian Anthropology.

Feinman presently co-directs two international archaeological field projects. His long-time study region is Mesoamerica, where he currently is conducting excavations at Lambityeco. This is the fourth Classic-period (A.D. 250-900) settlement where Feinman and Linda Nicholas (Adjunct Curator, Anthropology) have led excavations (following Ejutla, El Palmillo, and the Mitla Fortress). Review field dispatches from Feinman’s earlier fieldwork in Oaxaca.  Earlier Feinman had leadership roles in the Valley of Oaxaca and Ejutla Valley Archaeological Settlement Pattern Projects. Feinman's settlement pattern experience led him to become a co-director of the Coastal Shandong Archaeological Settlement Pattern Project, which has now surveyed in eastern Shandong Province for 19 field seasons. In 2012-13, the Sino-American team was able to follow the remnants of China's first great wall, which once cut across the study region. See previous field reports from China.

In this long-term regional study, Feinman and Nicholas originally collaborated with Dr. Anne Underhill (Yale University) and colleagues from Shandong University and the Rizhao Museum. Recently, the Field Museum archaeologists are co-directing the project with Professor Fang Hui of Shandong University, the Jiaonan Museum, and the Qingdao Institute of Archaeology. This study is focused on the rise of cities and states in the region, the eventual incorporation of this coastal area into large Chinese polities centered to the West, and population change in this region over millennia. The investigation provides a focused vantage on the processes that led to the first unification of China during the 3rd century B.C.

Feinman's research also focuses on Field Museum collections. With Ronald Faulseit (Postdoctoral Scientist) and Linda Nicholas, a study of the Oaxaca effigy vessels in the Museum’s collection is currently underway. In conjunction with Professor Dean Arnold (Adjunct Curator, Anthropology) and other museum colleagues, another project is examining the production of the famous and unusual pigment, Maya Blue.  A third project with colleagues from the museum and the University of Illinois-Chicago has sourced obsidian from J. Eric Thompson's excavations at San José, Belize, as a basis for defining shifts in long-distance exchange routes with implications for the oft-discussed political transitions in the Maya region at the end of the Classic period (ca. A.D. 800-900). These findings were published (with colleagues) in the journal, Antiquity.

Under the auspices of the Museum’s Elemental Analysis Facility and with colleagues from the U.S. and Mexico, Feinman and Nicholas have undertaken the obsidian sourcing of archaeological collections from the Valley of Oaxaca using portable X-ray fluorescence devices. The first season of results from this analysis are published (in Mexicon) with Linda Nicholas and Mark Golitko (Research Scientist, Field Museum). In conjunction with Curator Emeritus Jonathan Haas, Feinman is the Co-Curator of the Field Museum's permanent Ancient Americas exhibition, which highlights the history of the Western Hemisphere before the 15th century A.D. He also is a Co-Curator of the permanentCyrus Tang Hall of China, which will open in Chicago in June 2015. Feinman also was the Curator of the Museum's small temporary exhibition, Traditions Retold, which featured artisanal nativity scenes from different regions of Mexico. In addition, Feinman co-curates the Museum's successful exhibition Chocolate, which opened at the Field, traveled around the United States to 22 venues, and was re-opened at the at the Museum (for a short run in 2011) as Chocolate Around the World. The Chocolate exhibition is now on a global tour.