Matthew Velasco

Assistant Professor


I am an anthropological bioarchaeologist who studies ancient populations of the Peruvian Andes through the analysis of their skeletal remains. My research explores the emergence of novel ethnic identities and cultural traditions during the era preceding and encompassing Inka imperial expansion in the 15th century. To explore how these dynamic social transformations impacted the lived experience of the body and its treatment at death, I analyze and interpret indicators of social identity, biological relatedness, diet, and health status written on the human skeleton.

My teaching spans the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences, covering topics such as mortuary practice, human skeletal anatomy, forensic anthropology, and human evolution. I am currently developing undergraduate courses and graduate seminars on bioarchaeology, the archaeology of death and dying, and the embodiment of inequality.

Research Focus

My current research investigates conflict and cooperation during the late pre-Hispanic period (A.D. 1000-1532), when communities across the southern Andes coped with climate change, intensified warfare, and, ultimately, conquest at the hands of the Inka Empire. My work explores three key themes during this politically tumultuous era:

1) the emergence of novel mortuary traditions and their impact on social memory and community politics

2) differential health outcomes and exposure to violence based on social, ethnic, and gender identity

3) ethnogenesis and state formation

These issues are addressed through an integrated methodological approach, which combines archaeological, ethnohistoric, and radiometric data with bioarchaeological and stable isotopic analyses. By integrating multiple lines of evidence on biological relatedness, cranial vault modification, trauma, disease patterns, and dietary practices, I examine how social identity was constructed and embodied in a multi-ethnic society and vis-à-vis the encroaching Inka state.

I direct Proyecto Bio-arqueológico Coporaque, a multi-phase project aimed at elucidating the biocultural history of the Collaguas ethnic group, which occupied the central Colca Valley of southern Peru during the late prehispanic era. In collaboration with the Bioarchaeology Stable Isotope Research Laboratory at Vanderbilt University, stable isotopic studies of human bone and enamel are currently underway to address variability in childhood and adult diet, as well as issues of migration and residential mobility.

I am also the Project Bioarchaeologist on Proyecto Machu Llaqta (directed by Elizabeth Arkush, University of Pittsburgh), a multidisciplinary project investigating prehispanic social status and foodways at one of the largest hilltop forts in the Lake Titicaca Basin.

My scholarship has received generous support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Ford Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. For more information, please visit:

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ARKEO Courses - Spring 2024

ARKEO Courses - Fall 2024