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John Millhauser

Assoc Professor and Director of Graduate Programs for Anthropology

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

1911 Bldg 221

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I am an anthropological archaeologist who examines the role of communities in shaping the households and political economies of complex societies, especially in central Mexico under the Aztec and Spanish Empires. I use archaeology, ethnohistory, and archaeometry to answer questions about how communities are constituted, what they do, and how they influence social change. My substantive research addresses three areas of inquiry: how economic structures work within and transcend the worlds of local actors, how power relates to the control of natural resources, and how economic institutions operate at multiple scales.

My current research investigates how economic institutions are shaped by social and political relations at multiple scales. Most recently, I have partnered as a guest editor of an article collection on the archaeology of money, debt, and finance for the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. I am currently working on the problem of how archaeologists can contribute to a long-term understanding of the root causes of poverty by investigating its nature in non-Western and pre-Capitalist societies. In the fall of 2021 focus on this topic with the support of a Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

I continue to work to improve archaeometry (the application of scientific techniques to the study of archaeological materials) by testing and refining methods and expanding our knowledge of ancient material culture. This work focuses mainly on the study of obsidian, a volcanic glass that was the primary material used for stone tools in much of Mesoamerica. As of 2023, I am conducting ongoing X-ray fluorescence (XRF) investigations of obsidian from Nixtun Ch’ich’ (Guatemala), Los Mogotes (Mexico), Xaltocan (Mexico) and recently completed studies of obsidian from La Quemada, Teuchitlan, and Tlaxcallan (Mexico).

Extension and Community Engagement

I am currently involved in an interdisciplinary effort to help a local community group, the Friends of Oberlin Village, preserve and promote the heritage of Oberlin Cemetery. The cemetery traces its roots to the reconstruction-era Freedman’s community of Oberlin Village. As with many African-American cemeteries of this time period, its current circumstances leave it at risk of damage or destruction. Along with a team of students and faculty from NC State, I am helping to map and document the cemetery to aid in the long-term goal of securing its legacy.

This work is documented in John Wall’s “Story Map” about the Oberlin Cemetery Project, hosted by ESRI.

Additional information on the history of the cemetery and the village, and the grass-roots effort to protect it follow:

Community Brightens the Oberlin Cemetery. (NC State Technician, November 20, 2016)

No one owns Raleigh’s historic Oberlin Cemetery (News & Observer, October 3, 2016)

Revealing the Past at Oberlin Cemetery (NC State News, September 21, 2016)

Black Lives Forum – Oberlin: Freedman’s Village (UNC TV, January 15, 2017)

Oberlin Village Inches Closer to Becoming a Historic District (News & Observer, June 7, 2017)

Two Historic Houses will be Preserved in Oberlin Village (News & Observer, July 10, 2017)

Recent Research Publications

Millhauser, John K., and Timothy Earle. 2022. Biodiversity and the Human Past: Lessons for Decolonizing Conservation. Biological Conservation, 272: 109599.

Baron, Joanne, and John Millhauser. 2021. A place for archaeology in the study of money, finance, and debt. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 62: 101278.

Millhauser, John K. 2020. Let’s get fiscal: The social relations of finance and technological change in Aztec and Colonial Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 60: 101196.

McGill, Dru E., John K. Millhauser, Alicia McGill, Vincent Melomo, Del Bohnenstiehl, and John Wall. 2020. Wealth-in-people and the value of historical Oberlin Cemetery, Raleigh, NCEconomic Anthropology 7: 12173.

Millhauser, John K., and Lisa Overholtzer. 2020. Commodity Chains in Archaeological Research: Cotton Cloth in the Aztec Economy. Journal of Archaeological Research 28.

Millhauser, John K. and Christopher T. Morehart. 2018. Sustainability as a relative process: A long‐term perspective on sustainability in the northern Basin of Mexico. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 29: 134-156.

Millhauser, John K., Lindsay Bloch, Mark Golitko, Lane F. Fargher, Verenice H. Espinosa, Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecuhtli, and Michael D. Glascock. 2018. Geochemical variability in the Paredón obsidian source, Puebla and Hidalgo, Mexico: A preliminary assessment and inter-laboratory comparison. Archaeometry 60: 453-470.

Millhauser, John K. 2017. Debt as a double-edge risk: A historical case from Nahua (Aztec) Mexico. Economic Anthropology 4: 263-275.

Recent Public Scholarship

2022 How Can Societies Decolonize Conservation? September 18. Sapiens.

2019 Landscapes of Care: Affect and Emotion in the 16th-Century Testimonies of the Congregation of Xaltocan. Engagement, a blog of the Anthropology and Environment Society.


Ph.D. Anthropology Northwestern University 2012

M.A. Anthropology Arizona State University 1999

B.A. Anthropology Brown University 1995