On Friday, January 24, 2020, author Jeffrey R. Parsons, professor emeritus in the Department of Anthropology, talked about the sites, the people, and the landscapes he encountered in four decades of archaeology in Latin America. Howard Tsai, lecturer in the Program in International and Comparative Studies and the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, spoke with Parsons. The conversation was accompanied by black and white photographs from Parsons' new book, Remembering Archaeological Fieldwork in Mexico and Peru, 1961–2003.
Watch the interview here.
Half a century ago, when Parsons began fieldwork in Mexico and Peru, he could not know that many of the sites he studied were on the brink of destruction. The rural landscapes through which he traveled were, in many cases, destined to be plowed under and paved over. His book offers readers a chance to see archaeological sites that were hundreds or thousands of years old and have since vanished or been irrevocably altered.
Parsons was the curator of Latin American archaeology in the UMMAA and professor in the Department of Anthropology from 1966 until his retirement from the University in 2006. He also served as director of the UMMAA from 1983 to 1986. He began his research career in the Valley of Mexico in 1963, perfecting the technique of archaeological surface survey now used in many areas of the world. The results were detailed reports on the settlement sites of every period from 1200 BC to AD 1520—more than 2500 hamlet, village, and town sites. These published data allowed archaeologists to address broader theoretical issues such as the roles of population growth, irrigation, and conflict. In 1998 Parsons received the highest honor given New World archaeologists, the Alfred V. Kidder Award from the American Anthropological Association.
Tsai received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan, specializing in Peruvian archaeology. His upcoming book, Las Varas: Ritual and Ethnicity in the Ancient Andes, will be published by the University of Alabama Press.