Gary M. Feinman

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Gary M. Feinman
Curator of Anthopology

Gary M. Feinman is a MacArthur curator of Mesoamerican, Central American, and East Asian anthropology at the Negaunee Integrative Research Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Latest by this author

Gary M. Feinman is the MacArthur curator of Mesoamerican, Central American, and East Asian anthropology at the Negaunee Integrative Research Center.

Feinman is the author of over a dozen books, and a contributor to and editor of many scholarly journals.

Feinman presently co-directs two international archaeological field projects: excavations at Lambityeco (in the Mexican state of Oaxaca) and settlement surveys in coastal Shandong Province, China. The Lambityeco project examines the Classic period economy in the Valley of Oaxaca, the functioning and eventual collapse of the Classic period polity centered at Monte Albán, and the reorganization of the region in the subsequent Postclassic period. Meanwhile the Shandong study is focused on the rise of hierarchical polities in the region, the eventual incorporation of this area into empires centered to the west of Shandong, and the documentation of settlement and demographic change in this coastal setting over millennia. Field dispatches from Feinman’s earlier work in Oaxaca and China are available through the Field Museum archives.

Feinman is also co-curator of the Field Museum’s permanent Ancient Americas exhibition, which highlights the peoples in the Western Hemisphere prior to the late 15th century. And he co-curates the Field Museum’s successful exhibition Chocolate, which has traveled around the United States to 22 venues and is now on a global tour.

Archaeological Institute of America, Volume 55, Number 5. September/October 2002.

April 2022

Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis.

Publications by this author
Co-author: T. Douglas Price | McGraw Hill | February 2023

Images of the Past is an introduction to prehistoric archaeology that aims to capture the excitement and visual splendor of archaeology, while providing insight into current research methods, interpretations, and theories in the field. The ninth edition offers a beautifully illustrated, full-color, site-by-site survey of prehistory and has been revised in accordance with both new discoveries in archeology and the interests of readers.

Co-authors: Anne P. Underhill, Fengshi Luan, Haiguang Yu, Hui Fang, Linda M. Nicholas | Yale Peabody Museum | October 2022

A comprehensive account of a pioneering archaeological project in the province of Shandong that transformed understandings of regional settlement patterns.

From 1995 to 2007, researchers from China and the United States conducted a systematic, full-coverage regional archaeological survey in southeastern Shandong Province, China, covering an area of more than 1,400 square kilometers. This pioneering multiyear international project transformed the archaeological understanding of regional settlement patterns from the Neolithic to the Han period in southeastern Shandong. As an update of the 2012 synthesis published in Chinese, this volume is the most detailed account of the project in English.

The team discovered many new sites, including the earliest known Neolithic settlements in the area, and revealed distinctly different regional settlement patterns in the hinterlands of the two largest late Neolithic sites, Liangchengzhen and Yaowangcheng. The book includes field procedures, methods of analysis, and descriptions of major sites generously illustrated with maps as well as photographs of key artifacts and archaeological localities.

Distributed for the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Co-author: Juan Carlos Moreno García | Cambridge University Press | March 2022

Part of the series Elements in Ancient Egypt in Context, the aim of this Element is to provide a comprehensive comparison of the basic organization of power in Mesoamerica and Egypt. This includes how power emerged and was exercised, how it reproduced itself, how social units (from households to cities) became integrated into political formation, and how these articulations of power expanded and collapsed over time. The resilience of particular areas (Oaxaca, Middle Egypt), to the point that they preserved a highly distinctive cultural personality when they were included or not within states, may provide a useful guideline about the basics of integration, negotiation, and autonomy in the organization of political formations.

Co-authors: Christopher T. Fisher and J. Brett Hill | University of Arizona Press | May 2022

Water management, soil conservation, sustainable animal husbandry... because such socio-environmental challenges have been faced throughout history, lessons from the past can often inform modern policy. In this book, case studies from a wide range of times and places reveal how archaeology can contribute to a better understanding of humans’ relation to the environment.

The Archaeology of Environmental Change shows that the challenges facing humanity today, in terms of causing and reacting to environmental change, can be better approached through an attempt to understand how societies in the past dealt with similar circumstances. The contributors draw on archaeological research in multiple regions—North America, Mesoamerica, Europe, the Near East, and Africa—from time periods spanning the Holocene, and from environments ranging from tropical forest to desert.

Through such examples as environmental degradation in Transjordan, wildlife management in East Africa, and soil conservation among the ancient Maya, they demonstrate the negative effects humans have had on their environments and how societies in the past dealt with these same problems. All call into question and ultimately refute popular notions of a simple cause-and-effect relationship between people and their environment, and reject the notion of people as either hapless victims of unstoppable forces or inevitable destroyers of natural harmony.

These contributions show that by examining long-term trajectories of socio-natural relationships we can better define concepts such as sustainability, land degradation, and conservation—and that gaining a more accurate and complete understanding of these connections is essential for evaluating current theories and models of environmental degradation and conservation. Their insights demonstrate that to understand the present environment and to manage landscapes for the future, we must consider the historical record of the total sweep of anthropogenic environmental change.

Co-authors: Heather A. Lapham and Linda M. Nicholas | University Press of Florida | 2022

In the book: Ancient Foodways: Integrative Approaches to Understanding Subsistence and Society.

How Archaeology Can Shed Light on Past Foodways and Social Worlds

Through various case studies, Ancient Foodways illustrates how archaeologists can use bioarchaeology, zooarchaeology, archaeobotany, architecture, and other evidence to understand how food acquisition, preparation, and consumption intersect with economics, politics, and ritual. Spanning four continents and several millennia of human history, this volume is a comprehensive and contemporary survey of how archaeological data can be used to interpret past foodways and reconstruct past social worlds.

This volume is organized around four major themes: feasting and politics; sacrifice, ritual, and ancestors; diet, landscape, and health; and integrative methods. Contributors weave together multiple threads of evidence relating to plants, animals, craft production, and human health and reconnect the material remnants with behaviors, practices, and meanings. The case studies show the varied and creative ways that multiple sources of evidence can be used to shed light on past foodways.

Ancient Foodways demonstrates how environmental and cultural factors shaped past subsistence strategies and cooking practices and reveals the role food played in shaping cultural identity and exchange networks, while also examining how food production methods can lead to environmental destruction and the detrimental role of dietary constraints on human health.

Co-author: Linda M. Nicholas | University of Arizona Press | August 2022

In the book: Pottery Economics in Mesoamerica (pp.184-211).

Pottery is one of the most important classes of artifacts available to archaeologists and anthropologists. Every year, volumes of data are generated detailing ceramic production, distribution, and consumption. How these data can be interpreted in relation to the social and cultural framework of prehistoric societies in Mesoamerica is the subject of this book. Nine chapters written by some of the most well known and respected scholars in the field offer readers an in-depth look at key advances from the past 15 years.

These scholars examine ethnoarchaeological studies and the Preclassic/Formative, Classic, and Postclassic periods and cover geographic areas from eastern to central Mesoamerica. In a series of case studies, contributors address a range of new and developing theories and methods for inferring the technological, organizational, and social dimensions of pottery economics, and draw on a range of sociopolitical examples. Specific topics include the impacts and costs of innovations, the role of the producer in technological choices, the outcomes when errors in vessel formation are tolerated or rectified, the often undocumented multiple lives and uses of ceramic pieces, and the difficulties associated with locating and documenting ceramic production areas in tropical lowlands.

A compelling collection that clearly integrates and synthesizes a wide array of data, this book is the definitive text on pottery economics in Mesoamerica and an important contribution to the fields of anthropology, archaeology, ancient history, and the economics of pre-industrial societies.

Co-author: Linda M. Nicholas | Frontiers in Political Science | April 2022

In Frontiers in Political Science, vol. 4, 2022, pp. 1-19.

Most early sedentary villages (c. 1500–500 BCE) in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico, were situated on or near well-watered land. Around 500 BCE, a new hilltop center, Monte Albán, was established at the nexus of the valley’s three arms, where agriculture was far riskier due to unreliable rainfall and a dearth of permanent water sources. During the era of its establishment, not only was Monte Albán larger than any earlier community in the region, but many other settlers moved into the rural area around Monte Albán.

This marked shift in settlement patterns in the Valley of Oaxaca and the underlying processes associated with the foundation of Monte Albán have long been debated. How can we account for the immigration of people, some likely from beyond the region itself, to an area where they faced greater risks of crop failure? One perspective, reliant on uniform models of premodern states as despotic, viewed the process from a basically top-down lens; leaders coerced subalterns to move near the capital to provide sustenance for the new center. Yet more recent research has found that governance at Monte Albán was generally more collective than autocratic, and productive activities were centered in domestic units and not managed from above.

Based on these new empirical foundations, the authors reassess earlier settlement and land use studies for the Valley of Oaxaca and view this critical transition as initiated through coactive processes in which new institutions were formed and new relations forged. Shifts in defense, ritual, domestic organization, craft production, and exchange all coincided with this episode of growth fostered by joint production, which intensified agrarian yields through increased domestic labor investments.

Co-authors: Deborah A. Bekken and Lisa C. Niziolek | University of Chicago Press | February 2018

At the entrance of the Field Museum’s Cyrus Tang Hall of China, two Chinese stone guardian lions stand tall, gazing down intently at approaching visitors. One lion’s paw rests upon a decorated ball symbolizing power, while the other lion cradles a cub. Traditionally believed to possess attributes of strength and protection, statues such as these once stood guard outside imperial buildings, temples, and wealthy homes in China. Now, centuries later, they guard this incredible permanent exhibition.

China’s long history is one of the richest and most complex in the known world, and the Cyrus Tang Hall of China offers visitors a wonderful, comprehensive survey of it through some 350 artifacts on display, spanning from the Paleolithic period to present day. Now, with China: Visions through the Ages, anyone can experience the marvels of this exhibition through the book’s beautifully designed and detailed pages. Readers will gain deeper insight into the Field Museum’s important East Asian collections, the exhibition development process, and research on key aspects of China’s fascinating history. This companion book, edited by the exhibition’s own curatorial team, takes readers even deeper into the wonders of the Cyrus Tang Hall of China and enables them to study more closely the objects and themes featured in the show. Mirroring the exhibition’s layout of five galleries, the volume is divided into five sections. The first section focuses on the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods; the second, the Bronze Age, the first dynasties, and early writing; the third, the imperial system and power; the fourth, religion and performance; and the fifth, interregional trade and the Silk Routes. Each section also includes highlights containing brief stories on objects or themes in the hall, such as the famous Lanting Xu rubbing.

With chapters from a diverse set of international authors providing greater context and historical background, China: Visions through the Ages is a richly illustrated volume that allows visitors, curious readers, and China scholars alike a chance to have an enduring exchange with the objects featured in the exhibition and with their multifaceted histories.

Co-author: T. Douglas Price | Springer Publishing | June 2013

In this authoritative volume, leading researchers offer diverse theoretical perspectives and a wide range of information on the beginnings and nature of social inequality in past human societies. Their illuminating work investigates the role of status differentiation in traditional archaeological debates and major societal transitions. This volume features numerous case studies from the Old and New World spanning foraging societies to agricultural groups and complex states. Diachronic in view and archaeological in focus, this book will be of significant interest to archaeologists, anthropologists, and students.

Co-author: T. Douglas Price | Springer Publishing | August 2010

There are few questions more central to understanding the prehistory of our species than those regarding the institutionalization of social inequality. Social inequality is manifested in unequal access to goods, information, decision-making, and power. This structure is essential to higher orders of social organization and basic to the operation of more complex societies.

An understanding of the transformation from relatively egalitarian societies to a hierarchical organization and socioeconomic stratification is fundamental to our knowledge about the human condition.  In a follow-up to their 1995 book Foundations of Social Inequality, the editors of this volume have compiled a new and comprehensive group of studies concerning these central questions. When and where does hierarchy appear in human society, and how does it operate?

With numerous case studies from the Old and New World, spanning foraging societies to agricultural groups, and complex states, Pathways to Power provides key historical insights into current social and cultural questions.

Co-author: Elizabeth M. Brumfiel | Abrams | October 2008

The Aztec World is an illustrated survey of the Aztecs based on insightful research by a team of international experts from the United States and Mexico. In addition to traditional subjects like cosmology, religion, human sacrifice, and political history, this book covers such contemporary concerns as the environment and agriculture, health and disease, women and social status, and urbanism. It also discusses the effects of European conquests on Aztec culture and society, in addition to offering modern perspectives on their civilization.

The text is accompanied by colorful illustrations and photos of artifacts from the best collections in Mexico, including those of the Templo Mayor Museum and the National Museum of Anthropology, both in Mexico City, as well as pieces from archaeological sites and virtual reconstructions of lost artwork. The book accompanies an exhibition at the Field Museum.

Co-author: T. Douglas Price | Springer Publishing | 2001

In this book, an internationally distinguished roster of contributors considers the state of the art of the discipline of archaeology at the turn of the 21st century and charts an ambitious agenda for the future. The chapters address a wide range of topics including paradigms, practice, and relevance of the discipline; paleoanthropology; fully modern humans; holocene hunter-gatherers; the transition to food and craft production; social inequality; warfare; state and empire formation; and the uneasy relationship between classical and anthropological archaeology.

Co-authors: Linda M. Nicholas, Richard E. Blanton, Stephen A. Kowalewski | Cambridge University Press | June 1999

Just after 500 BC, one of the earliest states in the New World developed in the Valley of Oaxaca, in present-day Mexico. The newly created political institution brought in its wake a profound transformation of society and technology. This book investigates the rich archaeological record of the valley in an attempt to throw light on the causes and consequences of these changes.

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