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John S. Henderson



My teaching and research revolve around early complex societies, especially in Mesoamerica.  My field work continues a long-term involvement in survey and excavation in the lower Ulúa valley in Honduras.

Research Focus

My research interests center on early complex societies and how archaeology can explore the processes through which they develop.  How do distinctions in status, wealth, and authority emerge within and between communities?  Under what circumstances do these distinctions intensify into stratification?  How does stratification relate to the centralization of political power, to the emergence of kings and states?

Another set of interests revolves around notions of identity.  How are the groups with which people associate themselves, the categories to which they see themselves as belonging, reflected in material remains?  How do these categories relate to the analytical categories archaeologists use?

I explore these issues through material remains, imagery, and written texts in Mesoamerica.  A long-term involvement in survey and excavation in the lower Ulúa valley in Honduras, a region in which the cultural affiliations of ancient populations and the emergence of social stratification are particularly salient, has intensified my interest in the ways that the data of settlement and household archaeology may be used to address these issues.  I am also concerned with the ways that contemporary groups conceptualize their cultural heritages and their identities in relation to the archaeological record.




Mesoamerica.  Andes.  Development of complex societies.  Writing systems.  Settlement archaeology.


  • Anthropology

Graduate Fields

  • American Indian Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Latin American Studies



2015 The myth of Maya: archaeology and the construction of Mesoamerican histories. In Harri Kettunen and Christophe Helmke (eds.), On Methods: How We Know What We Think We Know About the Maya, pp. 7-24. Acta Mesoamericana Vol. 28. Markt Schwaben: Verlag Anton Saurwein. (with Kathryn M. Hudson)

2015 Calendar structures for Venus in Mesoamerican divinatory books: common approaches to commensuration and correction. Journal for the History of Astronomy 46(4):387-412.

2015 Weaving words and interwoven meanings: textual polyvocality and visual literacy in the reading of Copán’s Stela J. Image: Zeitschrift für Interdisziplinäre Bildwissenschaft 22:108-128. (with Kathryn M. Hudson)

2014 Talking to the Past: endangerment, history, and the economics of language in northwest Honduras. In Patrick Heinrich and Nicholas Ostler (eds.), Indigenous Languages: Their Value to the Community, pp. 27-36. Proceedings of the 18th FEL Conference. (with Kathryn M. Hudson)

2014 Multi-proxy analysis of plant use at Formative Period Los Naranjos, Honduras. Latin American Antiquity 25(1):65-81. (with Shanti Morell-Hart and Rosemary Joyce)

2014 Life on the edge – Identity and interaction in the Land of Ulúa and the Maya World. In Janne Ikäheimo, Anna-Kaisa Salmi, and Tiina Äikäs (eds.), Sounds Like Theory, pp. 157-171. Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland 2. (with Kathryn M. Hudson)

2012 The southeastern fringe of Mesoamerica. In Christopher A. Pool and Deborah L. Nichols (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, pp. 482-494. New York: Cambridge University Press. (with Kathryn M. Hudson)

2010 Being “Olmec” in Early Formative period Honduras. Ancient Mesoamerica 21(1):187-200. (with Rosemary Joyce)

2010 Forming Mesoamerican taste: cacao consumption in Formative Period contexts. In John E. Staller and Michael Carrasco (eds.), Pre-Columbian Foodways: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Food, Culture, and Markets in Ancient Mesoamerica, pp. 157-173. New York: Springer. (with Rosemary Joyce)

2007 From feasting to cuisine: implications of archaeological research in an early Honduran village. American Anthropologist 109(4):642-653. (with Rosemary Joyce)

2007 Chemical and archaeological evidence for the earliest cacao beverages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 104(48):18937–18940. (with Rosemary Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Patrick E. McGovern)

2006 Brewing distinction: the development of cacao beverages in Formative Mesoamerica. In Cameron L. McNeil (ed.), Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao, pp. 140-153. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. (with Rosemary Joyce)

2006 The plunder of the Ulua Valley, Honduras and a market analysis for its antiquities. In Neil Brodie, Morag Kersel, Christina Luke, Kathryn Walker Tubb (eds.), Archaeology and the Commodification of Material Culture, pp. 147-172. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. (with Christina Luke)

2001 Beginnings of village life in eastern Mesoamerica. Latin American Antiquity 12(1):5-23. (with Rosemary Joyce)

1997 World of the Ancient Maya. 2nd ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

1993 Lowland Maya Civilization in the Eighth Century A.D. Washington: Dumbarton Oaks. (co-edited with Jeremy A. Sabloff)

1993 Configurations of Power: Holistic Anthropology in Theory and Practice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. (co-edited with Patricia J. Netherly)

1993 Pottery of Prehistoric Honduras: Regional Classification and Analysis. UCLA Institute of Archaeology, Monograph 35. (coedited with Marilyn P. Beaudry-Corbett)

1992 Variations on a theme: a frontier view of Maya civilization. In Elin C. Danien and Robert J. Sharer (eds.), New Theories on the Ancient Maya, pp. 161-171. Philadelphia: University Museum.

1992 Elites and ethnicity along the southeastern fringe of Mesoamerica. In D.Z. Chase and A.F. Chase (eds.), Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment, pp. 157-68. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

1984 Archaeology in Northwestern Honduras: Interim Reports of the Proyecto Arqueologico Sula. Vol. I. Occasional Papers. LatinAmerican Studies and Archaeology Programs, Cornell University. (ed.)

1979 Atopula, Guerrero, and Olmec Horizons in Mesoamerica. Yale University Publications in Anthropology, Number 77.

1977 The Valle de Naco: ethnohistory and archaeology in northwestern Honduras. Ethnohistory 24(4): 363-77.

1974 Origin of the 260-day cycle in Mesoamerica. Science 185: 542.