Anthropology Department Directory


Michael Callaghan

Adjunct Lecturer

Ph.D. 2008 Vanderbilt University
Heroy Hall 406

  • Archaeology
  • Complex Societies
  • Political Economy
  • Ritual and religion
  • Gender
  • Ceramics
  • Mesoamerica
  • Currently in the field conducting research, Spring 2015.

    Courses Taught

    ANTH 3312 - Mesoamerican Archaeology
    ANTH 3334 - Fantastic Archaeology and Pseudoscience (co-listed with CF 3334)
    ANTH 4386/6386 - The Archaeology of Gender and Sexuality
    ANTH 5033 - Pro-Seminar on Ethics in Archaeology
    ANTH 6337 - The Origins of Complex Society
    ANTH 7313 - Archaeological Theory


    Michael Callaghan joined SMU as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology in 2011. His research interests include the rise and collapse of complex societies, ancient political economy, ceramic analysis, gender in archaeology, and the archaeology of ritual. His current research focuses on the rise of political complexity and its relation to community ritual at the Preclassic Maya site of Holtun, Guatemala where he has served as project co-Director for the past three years. Callaghan's primary area of archaeological research is Mesoamerica, specializing on the ancient Maya of Guatemala, but he has also conducted research in Tennessee and Honduras. Before arriving at SMU, Callaghan held positions at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and the University of Texas at Arlington. In addition to his teaching and research in the department of Anthropology, he also teaches in the Masters of Liberal Studies Program at SMU.


    Early Maya Statecraft and Polychrome Ceramic Production

    My research interests focus on the articulation of prehistoric economy, politics, and ritual. I investigate these relationships through the study of ceramic technology. In research conducted prior to arriving at SMU, I used ceramic analysis and a nuanced theoretical framework of political economy (i.e., ritual economy) to understand innovations in ceramic technology during the second half of the Terminal Preclassic period (AD 150-250) in the Holmul region, Guatemala. Specifically, I studied the introduction of polychrome painting and its related ceramic technologies in association with well-documented changes in political organization and potential changes in ritual performance and feasting patterns. Using a suite of ceramic analytical techniques including type-variety-mode analysis, petrography, and Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis I was able to discover that production patterns changed in conjunction with changes in ritual feasting and political organization. The research revealed how ritual and performance can dramatically affect production and consumption. Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, and Vanderbilt University.

    The Holtun Archaeology Project: Religion, Politics, and Economy at a Preclassic Period Maya Center

    My current research elaborates on the articulation of ritual, economy, and politics during the Middle Preclassic period (600-300 BC) on the site and regional scale. I am Co-Director of the Holtun Archaeological Project centered at the site of Holtun in the Department of Peten, Guatemala. At Holtun, I am focusing on the rise of social complexity as it relates to public ritual, crafted objects, and settlement centered around the first monumental public construction at the site, the E-Group ceremonial compound. At first thought to be celestial observatories, recent evidence from other lowland sites has shown these early architectural groups were significant places for early community integration and identity formation, as well as loci of early social differentiation and hierarchy. Corollary goals of Holtun Project excavations include the possible transition from a heterarchical to hierarchical political organization of sites around the central Peten lakes during the Middle Preclassic to Late Preclassic period transition (~400-300 BC), a possible political and demographic collapse at the site in the Terminal Preclassic period (AD 150-400), and methodological advances into the research of Preclassic period household archaeology. Funding for this research has been provided by the Dedman College of Arts and Sciences, Sam Taylor Foundation, the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man, and the National Geographic/WAITT Institute. 

    Selected Publications

    Callaghan, Michael, Francisco Estrada-Belli, and Nina Neivens de Estrada. Technological Style and Terminal Preclassic Orange Ceramics in the Holmum Region, Guatemala. Ancient Maya Pottery: Classification, Analysis, and Interpretation. Edited by John James Aimers. University of Florida Press. (In Press)

    Callaghan, Michael. Politics through Pottery: A View of the Preclassic-Classic Period Transition from Building B, Group II, Holmul, Guatemala. Ancient Mesoamerica. (In Press)

    Callaghan, Michael. 2012. Genero y produccion de ceramica en la Prehistoria de Mesoamerica: Contribuciones de mas de 25 anose de Etnoarqueologia, Etnohistoria y Arqueologia. In XXV Simposio de Investigaciones Aqueologicas en Guatemala, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Edited by Barbara Arroyo, Lorena Paiz Arragon, Hector Mejia, pp. 465-476. Museo Nacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia, Guatemala.

    Kovacevich, Brigitte, Patricia Rivera Castillo, Michael Callaghan, and Rodrigo Guzman. 2012. Investigaciones Arqueologicas en "Cabeza de Piedra": Resultados de Dos Temporadas del Campo en el Sitio de Holtun, Guatemala. In XXV Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueologicas en Guatemala, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Edited by Barbara Arroyo, Lorena Paiz Arragon, Hector Majia, pp. 237-252. Museo Nacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia, Guatemala.

    Callaghan, Michael. 2011. Produccion de la Ceramica Policromada durante la Transicion del Preclasico Tardio al Clasico Temprano en la Region de Holmul, Guatemala. In XXIV Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueologicas en Guatemala, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Edited by Barbara Arroyo, Lorena Paiz Arragon, Adrina Linares Palma, Ana Lucia Arroyave, pp. 857-868. Museo Nacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia, Guatemala.

    Callaghan, Michael. 2008. Technologies of Power: Ritual Economy and Ceramic Production in the Terminal Preclassic Period Holmul Region, Guatemala. Ph.D. dissertation. Vanderbilty University department of Anthropology. Available online at