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Professor Katie Sampeck

Dr Katie Sampeck portrait

Areas of interest

  • Latin American Archaeology and Ethnohistory
  • Culinary Archaeology
  • Digital Methods in Archaeology
  • Afro-Latin American Archaeology
  • Landscape Archaeology
  • Early Modern commodities, especially chocolate

Postgraduate supervision

I am happy to discuss proposals for postgraduate research in digital methods and topics concerned with material culture, especially ceramics or obsidian, landscape archaeology, or ethnohistory of Mesoamerica or Early Modern food systems.

For more information, please contact

Research projects

A New Culinary Archaeology of Chocolate: Food Histories of Mesoamerica in Holistic Perspective

Chocolate has a complex history of profound social, economic, and political impacts on the societies who produce and consume it. Central America is pivotal to this global story, but its place in chocolate’s history has been neglected because we have lacked the material evidence and the interpretive tools to evaluate its real contribution. My current project will integrate archaeological, documentary and other contextual sources and, in collaboration with the British Museum, use cutting-edge biomolecular techniques to build a multi-scalar interpretation of Mesoamerican cuisine networks through time, from 1000 BCE-1900 CE. This will recentre the story on Indigenous societies’ agency in the global commodification of chocolate. By providing a deep-time perspective on issues of sustainability and structural inequality, the results will speak directly to social and ecological challenges surrounding chocolate today.


I investigate pre-Columbian practices and material worlds, how they both shaped and were transformed by colonial dynamics, and their lasting legacies for contemporary social, political, and economic struggles. I approach these topics through the study of material culture, food production and cuisine, and spatial organization and practices. I have developed diverse but interrelated lines of inquiry into Afro-Latin America, culinary and commodity chain studies (especially chocolate), and community-based Native American archaeology. 
My primary research locations are the Rio Ceniza Valley of what is today western El Salvador and the homeland of Cherokees in the Trans-Appalachian region of the U.S. Southeast, both areas that have seen relatively limited scholarly attention. The Izalcos region in the Rio Ceniza Valley was the site of some of the worst abuses in sixteenth-century Spanish America, legacies of violence and extraction that have had enduring repercussions. My work exposes those historical foundations, revealing their connections to the present, and highlighting the resilience and creativity of Afro-Salvadoran and Indigenous Pipil populations. 
For the last several years, I have built collaborative projects focusing on the new field of Afro-Latin American Studies with the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. The impressive scope and depth of contributions of Afro-Latin American archaeology was the subject of a 2017 workshop I co-organized with Alejandro de la Fuente at Harvard University, which was followed in 2019 with another workshop supported by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard and involved 18 scholars from across the Americas. Articles in multiple languages and the forthcoming book (Afro-Latin American Archaeology: An Introduction) resulting from these workshops establish a new field of study and addresses in powerful ways fundamental anthropological questions—race, labor, power, resiliency, memory, erasure, and political and economic dynamics.

Academic qualifications

Tulane University, Ph.D. in Anthropology, 2007.

The University of Chicago, B. A. in Anthropology, 1989; M. A. in Social Sciences, 1991.

Professional bodies/affiliations

Secretary, Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute

Executive Board Member, Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology

Executive Board Member, Center for American Archaeology

Editor, Historical Archaeology (Springer)


Selected publications

2020 - A Constitutional Approach to Cacao Money. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 61. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2020.101257

2017 - Substance & Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. Edited by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn Sampeck. Austin: University of Texas Press.


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