Professor of Anthropology Antonia Foias Awarded NSF Grant

Media contact:  Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., February 7, 2013—Antonia Foias, chair and professor of anthropology at Williams College, and her colleague Katherine Emery, curator of environmental archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and adjunct professor of archaeology at the University of Florida, have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study political dynamics of the Maya civilization. The NSF has awarded $286,188 to Williams College for support of the project, titled “Classic Maya Political Dynamics at Motul de San José.”

With this grant, Foias and Emery, along with an international team, will conduct two field seasons of archaeological excavations and environmental studies in the periphery of Motul de San José, the capital of a small Late Classic period (600-830 A.D.) Maya state in Northern Guatemala. There is a consensus that Maya political organization during this time was extremely dynamic, but little research has been done to explain this. The goal of this project is to study the factors governing political dynamics by tracking how Motul de San José interacted with its periphery, including two of its satellite centers. Foias and Emery aim to understand if Motul de San José ruled over its peripheries by forming alliances with local groups or through conquest and annexation of territories. Their research will add to the current understanding of the political structure of Classic Maya polities from the perspective of smaller communities.

“Maya archaeologists know a great deal about the large cities of the Maya world, such as Tikal, Calakmul, and Caracol, but much less about the small communities that sustained them. Our project will inquire how the farmers in the hinterland were integrated with the elites and royal families living in the cities, and specifically with those at Motul de San José. We want to explore how these commoners participated in the larger polity centered on Motul.”

Emery conducts research in Mesoamerican environmental archaeology and teaches graduate courses in the subject at the University of Florida. She is also a zooarchaeologist and serves as director of the Maya Ethnozoology Project and Proyecto Zooarqueologico del Area Maya. Emery received her B.S. from Trent University in Ontario, Canada, and her Ph.D. from Cornell University.

Foias has directed multifaceted archaeological research at Motul de San José since 1998. Her research focuses on the political and economic organization of this Classic Maya polity. Foias also studies pottery production and exchange, as well as the evolution of ancient civilizations. She has authored multiple journal articles and books. Foias received her B.A. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

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