Since 1968, the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology has pursued a multidisciplinary research project entitled “Prehistory and Human Ecology of the Valley of Oaxaca.”  The project began when Kent Flannery was a curator at the Smithsonian Institution but was transferred to UMMAA in 1968, and since 1973 has been codirected by Curators Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus.

The Valley of Oaxaca is a 2100 km² valley in the highlands of southern Mexico.  Its average elevation is 1550 m above sea level (roughly the altitude of Denver, Colorado) and its climate is semiarid and semitropical.  Its appeal to archaeologists is that its archaeological sites offer information on such significant research problems as the origins of agriculture, the origins of village life and social inequality, the origins of the state, and the origins of hieroglyphic writing.

Dozens of University of Michigan students have participated in the Oaxaca Project.  Some wrote undergraduate honors theses using project data, others did their PhD research in Oaxaca, and still others did specialized studies that led to publications.

In 1973, UMMAA created a publication series called Prehistory and Human Ecology of the Valley of Oaxaca; 18 volumes had been published as of 2020.  The first three volumes were authored by women, reflecting the significant role that female scholars have played in the Oaxaca Project.

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