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Social Inequality and the Body: Food, Labor, and Health in a Prehistoric Colombian Population

Melanie Miller, University of California, Berkeley, Summer Fellow 2016–2017

I focused on Colombian archaeological research, particularly related to the prehistoric Muisca culture (AD 800–1600). My project examines social inequality through the study of food consumption practices and physical activity patterns as these intersect with social status, sex, and age in a specific Muisca “archaeological” community (AD 1000–1400). It is difficult to find Colombian archaeological research in institutions outside of Colombia, so I used library resources at Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard to interpret and contextualize my bioarchaeological data. I used books and articles related to Muisca scholarship to help me situate my research in the discussions of this field. I encountered important references to prehistoric food practices that have helped me understand patterns in the dietary data. I found key sources mentioning the types of work Muisca women and men did in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which I used to interpret activity patterns related to daily labor. I enjoyed the opportunity to present a talk and share my data with a multidisciplinary scholarly community. I made progress on three chapters of my dissertation, two of which I will publish as research articles.