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John Millhauser

Asst Professor

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

View CV 


My current research interests and projects include:

  • Understanding the economic, social, and political lives of salt-makers who lived and worked in the northern Basin of Mexico. Like farmers, salt-makers based their work in the land, but unlike farmers, they could not subsist on the products of their work. My archaeological and ethnohistoric study of several saltmaking settlements provides a window into the risks and rewards of salt making, the ecological circumstances of the trade, and the nature of community organization and persistence. I draw especially on ideas from economic anthropology and political ecology to better understand these communities.
  • The social, economic, and spatial organization of the city of Tlaxcallan, the capital of a republic that defied the Aztec Empire. I am part of a team of archaeologists who have mapped the ancient city and will soon begin excavating a sample of residential terraces. This project is especially relevant to the study of collective action in ancient states.
  • The circulation of resources through markets, tribute, and less formal mechanisms of exchange. My archaeological focus has been on commodities like obsidian (a volcanic glass used to make the stone tools that were staples of Mesoamerican economies) and salt, but I am also interested in the value of objects, sites, and images of the past in the present day.
  • The improvement of 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, but it extends to ceramics and other materials. My work on remote sensing is featured in a recent blog post on the at DigitalGlobe.

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 Oberlins 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)

Research Publications

Fargher, Lane F., Ricardo R. A. Pedamonte, Verenice Y. H. Espinoza, Richard E. Blanton, Aurelio López Corral, Robert A. Cook, John K. Millhauser, Marc Marino, Iziar A. Martinez-Rojo, Ivonne A. P. Alcantra, Angelica Costa. “Wealth inequality, social stratification, and the built environ-ment in Prehispanic highland Mexico: A comparative analysis with special empha-sis on Tlaxcallan. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 58. Available online, May 9.

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, NC. Economic Anthropology 7. Avialable online.

Millhauser, John K., and Lisa Overholtzer. 2020. “Commodity Chains in Archaeological Research: Cotton Cloth in the Aztec Economy.” Journal of Archaeological Research 28: 187-240 .

Millhauser, John K., Christopher T. Morehart, and Santiago Juarez (eds.). 2018. Special Issue: Uneven Terrain: Archaeologies of Political Ecology. Archaeological Papers 29, American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC.

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. doi:10.1111/apaa.12103

Morehart, Christopher T., John K. Millhauser, and Santiago Juarez. 2018. “Archaeologies of political ecology – genealogies, problems, and orientations.” Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 29: 5-29. doi:10.1111/apaa.12097

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. doi:10.1111/arcm.12330.

Millhauser, John K. 2017. “Debt as a double-edge risk: A historical case from Nahua (Aztec) Mexico.” Economic Anthropology 4: 263-275. doi:10.1002/sea2.12093.

Morehart, Christopher T., and John K. Millhauser. 2016. “Monitoring cultural landscapes from space: Evaluating archaeological sites in the Basin of Mexico using very high resolution satellite imagery.” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10:363-376. doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.11.005.

Millhauser, John K., and Christopher T. Morehart. 2016. “The ambivalence of maps: A historical perspective on sensing and representing space in Mesoamerica.” In Digital Methods and Remote Sensing in Archaeology: Archaeology in the Age of Sensing, edited by M. Forte & S. Campana, pp. 247-268. Springer, Cham, Switzerland. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-40658-9_11.

Millhauser, John K. 2016. “Aztec use of lake resources in the Basin of Mexico.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Aztecs, edited by D. Nichols and E. Rodríguez-Alegría, pp. 301-318. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Millhauser, John K.Lane F. Fargher, Verenice Y. Heredia Espinoza, and Richard E. Blanton. 2015. “The geopolitics of obsidian supply in Postclassic Tlaxcallan: A portable X-ray fluorescence study.” Journal of Archaeological Science 58:133-146. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2015.02.037.

Brumfiel, Elizabeth and John K. Millhauser. 2014. “Representing Tenochtitlan: Understanding urban life by collecting material culture.” Museum Anthropology 37:6-16. doi:10.1111/muan.12046.

Stoner, Wesley D., John K. Millhauser, Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría, Lisa Overholtzer, and Michael D. Glascock. 2014. “Taken with a grain of salt: Experimentation and the chemistry of archaeological ceramics from Xaltocan, Mexico.” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 21:862-898. doi:10.1007/s10816-013-9179-2.

Rodríguez-Alegría, Enrique, John K. Millhauser, and Wesley D. Stoner. 2013. “Trade, tribute, and neutron activation: The colonial political economy of Xaltocan, Mexico.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32:397-414. doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2013.07.001.

Millhauser, John K., Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría, and Michael D. Glascock. 2011. “Testing the accuracy of portable X-ray fluorescence to study Aztec and Colonial obsidian supply at Xaltocan, Mexico.” Journal of Archaeological Science 38:3141-3152.

Fargher, Lane, Richard E. Blanton, Verenice Y. Heredia Espinoza, John Millhauser, Nezahuacoyotl Xiutecuhtli, and Lisa Overholtzer. 2011. “Tlaxcallan: The archaeology of an ancient republic in the New World.” Antiquity 85:172-186. doi:10.1017/S0003598X0006751X.


B.A. Anthropology Brown University 1995

M.A. Anthropology Arizona State University 1999

Ph.D. Anthropology Northwestern University 2012

Area(s) of Expertise

I am an anthropological archaeologist interested how the kinds of work that people do shapes and is shaped by their social worlds, the environment, and the broader political economy. I focus on people who lived in central Mexico during the Aztec and Spanish empires and use archaeological and ethnohistoric data to give a voice to people who are typically silent in the historical record. By doing so, I hope to contribute to a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of past societies and provide context for understanding our own circumstances.

My archaeological experience and interest is primarily in Mesoamerica, and particularly in central Mexico, although I have also worked at contact period sites in West Virginia and a Roman villa in Portugal. Methodologically I work from the widest scale of regional settlement survey to the micro-scale of mineralogy, all revolving around work, community, and environment.