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My book is now available in paperback!

http://www.upf.com/book.asp?id=TUNGXS08

I’m an anthropological bioarchaeologist who analyzes mummies and skeletons from archaeological contexts in the Peruvian Andes, both to document their health status and lived experience. Generally speaking, my research interests include paleopathology, violence-related trauma, the use of the body and body parts in rituals, and bioarchaeological perspectives on embodiment. More specifically, I conduct research on what I call a “bioarchaeology of imperialism”, which aims to elucidate the biocultural impact of archaic forms of imperialism on community health and individual lifeways. My ongoing studies in the Andes examine how Wari imperial structures (AD 600 – 1000) affected, and were affected by, heartland and southern hinterland groups. Among these Wari-affiliated communities, I am documenting such things as mortuary practices, disease rates, dietary practices, migration patterns, genetic profiles as viewed through ancient mtDNA, body modification, frequencies of trauma, and specific kinds of culturally mediated violence (e.g., ritual fighting, corporeal punishment, domestic violence). My dissertation (December 2003) and various publications on the Bioarchaeology of Wari Imperialism and other bioarchaeological themes can be downloaded as .pdf’s from my Research/Publications page (see list to the right).

D-Shaped structure in Vegachayoq sector at the Wari capital site of Huari (Photo by T.A. Tung)

Building on those earlier studies, my most recent research –funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the National Science Foundation– investigates how Wari imperial collapse affected mortuary practices, morbidity profiles, diet and nutrition, and the prevalence of violence in the former imperial heartland. This new research will aid in providing a diachronic view of ancient health, foodways, and lived experience from a time of imperial rule to political disintegration. This cultural transition, which coincided with a period of climate change (intense drought), likely contributed to social and political strife, which may have been manifested as violent conflict and unequal access to some food resources.

Perimortem trauma on a child cranium from the Monqachayoq sector at Huari. (Photo by T.A. Tung)

As part of those investigations into ancient lifeways, particularly among Wari and post-Wari communities, I have just launched another project, “Turning Genes On and Off in the Ancient Past: An Epigenetic Study of the Ancient World”, co-directed with Dr. Amy Non (Research Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Vanderbilt and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UC San Diego) and in collaboration with Dr. Ripan Malhi at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Dr. Deborah Bolnick at UT-Austin. This research will examine how social and environmental stressors altered the DNA (effectively turning genes off and on and/or muting and enhancing them) in human populations from Wari and post-Wari sites in central Peru, from Roman-era populations in ancient Greece (collaboration with Dr. Joe Rife), and among an antebellum West African slave community from Nashville, Tennessee. We are examining how malnutrition and exposure to violence may have become biologically embedded and perhaps resulted in long term negative health impacts among these ancient communities. This research is supported by a Vanderbilt Discovery Grant.

View of the village of Pacaycasa, near the site of Huari. (Photo by T.A. Tung)

I am also the director of the “Beringa Bioarchaeology and Archaeology Project” in the Majes valley (Department of Arequipa), which I have been running since 2001. We have recovered at least 150 individuals from this Wari-affiliated site, including intact mummies and partially complete skeletons. These mortuary and osteological data are providing a much needed view of life in the southern hinterland of the Wari domain.


Disturbed burial from the Wari affiliated site of Beringa, Majes Valley, Dept. of Arequipa, where I directed excavations as part of my dissertation research. (Photo by T.A. Tung)

I am also the Project Bioarchaeologist for the “Conchopata Archaeological Project” (CAP), directed by William Isbell and Anita Cook. This is an important Wari imperial site located in the city of Ayacucho. My osteological analysis of the approximately 330 burials—only some of which are complete—recovered by the CAP team has provided the basis for documenting health status and mortuary rituals in the Wari imperial heartland. We continue to conduct stable isotope analyses of this mortuary population to better understand changes in diet and nutrition from the early to late phases of Wari imperial rule and to the time of Wari decline. Those studies are particularly focused on gender-based differences in diet and how those change through time. My collaborators and I are also embarking on a new ancient epigenetic analysis of this community (see above).

Adult female cranium covered in cinnabar, from the Wari site of Conchopata. (Conchopata Archaeological Project directed by William Isbell and Anita Cook.) (Photo by T.A. Tung)

I also collaborate with Dr. Steve Wernke, director of the “Tuti Antiguo Archaeological Project” in the Colca valley of southern highland Peru (Department of Arequipa). I am the Project Bioarchaeologist, and I oversaw the excavation and analysis of human burials from two major sectors at the site of Malata: 1) the Late Horizon (Inka era, AD 1450 – 1532) burial towers (chullpas) located at the eastern edge of the site and 2) the early colonial Spanish chapel where individuals were interred under the chapel floor. Analysis of these human remains ties into my broader interests in the biocultural effects of imperialism and colonialism, for this local Collagua ethnic group was first conquered by the Inka, and shortly thereafter, by the Spanish.

Excavating an adult male burial from under the floor of an early colonial chapel at the site of Malata, Colca Valley, Dept. of Arequipa. (Tuti Antiguo Archaeology Project directed by Steve Wernke.) (Photo by S.A.Wernke)

My most recent bioarcheological project is an important study of an enslaved community that was buried (without any grave markers) at the former Grassmere Plantation in Nashville, Tennessee. (This area is now the Nashville Zoo.) In collaboration with the CRM firm, TRC Solutions, the Historic Site Manager at the Nashville Zoo (Tori Mason), and Dr. Shannon Hodges of MTSU, we have been working to reconstruct the life experiences of those individuals who were omitted from the written records at the plantation. Using stable isotope analysis (oxygen and strontium), I have been particularly focused on examining whether the people buried there were from the local Nashville area or if they were forced to move to the Grassmere Plantation later in their lives. The stable isotope analyses of carbon and nitrogen are also aiding in reconstructing the diet and nutritional profile of the enslaved community.

The Dedication Ceremony for the 20 enslaved individuals from the Grassmere Plantation (now the Nashville Zoo), organized and hosted by the Historic Preservation Department of the Nashville Zoo. (Photo by T.A. Tung)