Monica L. Smith

Professor, Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair in Indian Studies

Anthropology Home Page


Ph.D., University of Michigan (1997)

Areas of Interest

Urbanism, economic networks, consumption and material culture, anthropology of food, comparative historical archaeology; South Asia, Mediterranean, Southwestern U.S.


Research on Cities Past and Present

Cities have become the predominant global mode of life, but their development over the past six thousand years has encompassed amazingly rapid social, economic, and even biological adjustments. My current fieldwork is focused on the Indian subcontinent, where excavations and survey have revealed the complexities of newly-emergent urban environments.  I describe myself as an ancient economic historian who utilizes archaeological data to analyze the collective effects of routine activities through the study of food, ordinary goods, and architecture.

The story of human “civilization” encompasses the actions of many thousands of ordinary individuals.  In the past as in the present, routine and repeated actions produced both monumental architecture and the signature of daily life recorded in humble objects such as pottery, textiles, and other portable goods.  Archaeologists evaluate material objects to understand social and economic configurations.  Even small fragments can reveal aspects such as manufacturing techniques (could the object have been made by anyone, or was a specialist involved who would have been paid?), usages (was the object very worn before discard, or was it relatively new indicating an expectation that it was easily replaceable?), and value (was the object reverently placed in a ritual context, or was it thrown out with the rest of the household garbage?). 

But archaeology isn’t just about “old” things, and an archaeological perspective can help us understand our own modern configurations of material goods and spatial organization.  We can only hold a couple of objects at a time—so what do we do with the rest of our stuff?  In the choice of objects, it is not only money but, increasingly, time that is scarce such that we require a time budget for dealing with the physical world.  What do we choose to display and what is kept hidden?  What is the replacement rate of objects, and from where do we acquire the things that we use?  How and why do we select the foods that we eat, and how they are eaten? What are the relative meanings of a gift, a found object, an inheritance, or an item that we select ourselves?  

Cities are places where human interactions with objects and spaces become particularly intense.  In cities, people have smaller and smaller private spaces as conditions become more crowded, but they also have access to a greater diversity of goods produced by specialists and available from markets, bazaars, and street vendors.  Factors such as style also accelerate consumption and production processes, such that cycles of discard are speeded up.  Archaeological excavations at ancient cities worldwide illustrate massive amounts of garbage, indicating that the development of a “disposable” culture isn’t simply a modern one but a phenomenon closely linked to the development of urbanism. 


2018 Urbanism and the Middle Class: Co-Emergent Phenomena in the World’s First Cities.  Journal of Anthropological Research74(3):299-326. 

2018 (with Rabindra Kumar Mohanty) Monsoons, Rice Production, and Urban Growth: The Microscale Management of Water AbundanceThe Holocene 28(8):1325-1333. 

2018 The Smallest Scale of Stone: Pebbles, Incremental Monuments, and Ritual Devotion in the Archaeological Record. In Social Organization and Material Culture in Ancient South Asia, edited by Dennys Frenez, Gregg. M. Jamison, Randall W. Law, Massimo Vidale, and Richard H. Meadow, 536-546. Oxford: Archaeopress. 

2017 (with Rabindra Kumar Mohanty) Ancient Composite Materials: An Experimental Approach to “Artificial Laterite” from Early Historic Population Centers in Odisha. In Rethinking the Past: A Tribute to Professor V.N. Misra, edited by S.G. Deo, Andre Baptista and Jayendra Joglekar, pp. 215-222. Pune: Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies. 

2016 (with Thomas W. Gillespie, Scott Barron, Kanika Kalra and Corey Rovzar) Predictive Modeling for Archaeological Sites: Ashokan Edicts from the Indian Subcontinent.  Current Science 110(10):1916-1921. 

2016 Historical and Medieval Period Archaeology. In A Companion to South Asia in the Past, edited by Subhash Walimbe and Gwen Robbins Schug, pp. 332-343.  John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

2016 (with Thomas W. Gillespie, Scott Barron, and Kanika Kalra) Finding History: The Locational Geography of Ashokan Inscriptions in the Indian Subcontinent. Antiquity 90:376-392. 

2016 Urban Infrastructure as Materialized Consensus. World Archaeology 48:164-178. 

2015 (with Jaharul Hoque) Excavations at Bhasu Vihara. In Mahasthangarh: Fouilles du Rempart Est, edited by Jean-François Salles, pp. 427-438.  Brepols, Turnhout, Belgium.

2015 Towns and Cities: A Commentary on ‘Performing Towns.’ Invited commentary, Archaeological Dialogues 22(2):146-149. 

2015 Consumption. In The Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia, edited by Mary C. Beaudry and Karen Metheny, pp. 113-115. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD.

2015 The Concept of Copies: An Archaeological View of the Terracotta Ornaments from Sisupalgarh, India. West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 22(1):23-43. 

2015 The Origins of the Sustainability Concept: Risk Perception and Resource Management in Early Urban Centers. Research in Economic Anthropology 35:215-238. 

2015 Feasts and Their Failures.  Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 22(4):1215-1237. 

2014 Citizen Science in Archaeology. American Antiquity 79(4):749-762. 

2014 The Archaeology of Urban Landscapes. Annual Review of Anthropology 43:307-323. 

2014 (with Rabindra Kumar Mohanty and Timothy Matney) Excavations and Geophysical Survey at the Ancient Early Historic Town of Talapada, Odisha 2013. Man and Environment 39(2):53-63. 

2014 (with B.B. Lal and Rabindra Kumar Mohanty) Sisupalgarh. In History of Ancient India Vol. III: The Texts, Political History and Administration Till c. 200 BC, edited by Dilip K. Chakrabarti and Makkhan Lal, pp. 617-628. Aryan Books International, New Delhi. 

2013 The Substance and Symbolism of Long-Distance Exchange: Textiles as Desired Trade Goods in the Bronze Age Middle Asian Interaction Sphere. In Connections and Complexity, edited by S.A. Abraham, P. Gullapalli, T.P. Raczek, and U.Z. Rizvi, pp. 143-160. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek CA. 

2013 Caste as a Cooperative Economic Entitlement Strategy in Complex Societies of the Indian Subcontinent and Subsaharan Africa. In Cooperation and Collective Action, edited by David M. Carballo, pp. 275-297. University Press of Colorado, Boulder. 

2013 (with T. Thakuria, T. Padhan, and R.K. Mohanty) Google Earth as an Archaeological Tool in the Developing World: An Example from India. SAA Archaeological Record 13(1):20-24. 

2012 Seeking Abundance: Consumption as a Motivating Factor in Cities Past and Present. Research in Economic Anthropology 32:27-51.

2012 What it Takes to Get Complex: Food, Goods, and Work as Shared Cultural Ideals from the Beginning of Sedentism. In “The Comparative Archaeology of Complex Societies,” edited by Michael E. Smith, pp. 44-61. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 

2011 'I discard, therefore I am': Identity and leave-taking of possessions. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Chacmool Archaeology Conference, edited by L. Amundsen-Pickering et al., pp. 132-142, University of Calgary. 

2011 (With James E. Snead and Elizabeth Baker Brite) A life history of Burnt Corn Pueblo. In Conflagration and Conflict: Tano Origins in the Galisteo Basin, A.D. 1250-1325, edited by James E. Snead and Mark W. Allen. Anthropology Papers of the University of Arizona.

2010 A Prehistory of Ordinary People. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

2010 (With R.K. Mohanty) Investigations at the Early Historic City of Sisupalgarh, India 2005-07. Proceedings of the 19th Meeting of the European Association of South Asian Archaeology, Ravenna, edited by Pierfrancesco Callieri and Luca Colliva, pp. 337-344. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.

2009 (with Rabindra Kumar Mohanty) Excavations at Sisupalgarh 2008. Man and Environment 34(1):47-56. 

2008 (with Rabindra Kumar Mohanty) Excavations at Sisupalgarh, Orissa. Indian Archaeological Society, New Delhi.

2008 Urban empty spaces: Contentious places for consensus-building. Archaeological Dialogues 15(2):216-231. 

2008 Food. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 18(1):117-120. 

2007 Inconspicuous consumption: Non-display goods and identity formation. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 14:412-438. 

2007 Territories, corridors and networks: A biological model for the premodern state. Complexity 12(4):28-35. 

2007 (with R.K. Mohanty, T. Matney, A. Donkin and G. Greene) Archaeological research at Sisupalgarh 2007: An Early Historical City in Orissa. Puratattva (Journal of the Indian Archaeological Society) 37:142-154.)

2007 (with R.K. Mohanty and T. Matney) A Preliminary Report of the Archaeological Investigations at Sisupalgarh 2006. Man and Environment 32(1):57-66.

2007 (with R.K. Mohanty) Excavations at Sisupalgarh 2005-06. Bulletin of the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute 66-67:191-198.

2006 The archaeology of South Asian cities. Journal of Archaeological Research 14(2):97-142. 

2006 The archaeology of food preference. American Anthropologist 108(3):480-493. 

2006 How ancient agriculturalists managed yield fluctuations through crop selection and reliance on wild plants: an example from Central India. Economic Botany 60(1):39-48. 

2006 (with R.K. Mohanty) Excavations at Sisupalgarh 2005. Man and Environment 31(1):27-32.

2005 Networks, territories and the cartography of ancient states. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95(4):832-849. 

2005 Archaeological research at Sisupalgarh, an Early Historic city in eastern India. South Asian Archaeology 2003, edited by B. Vogt. European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, KAVA, Bonn, pp 291-300.

2004 (with Jaharul Haque and Nilka Dabare) Excavations at the Buddhist Monastic Site of Bhasu Vihara, Bangladesh. Antiquity 78. 

2003 (editor) The Social Construction of Ancient Cities, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

2002 Systematic survey at the Early Historic urban site of Sisupalgarh, Orissa. In Archaeology of Eastern India: New Perspectives, edited by Gautam Sengupta and Sheena Panja, pp. 109-125. Centre for Archaeological Studies and Training, East India, Kolkata.

2002 The role of local trade networks in the Indian subcontinent during the Early Historic period. Man and Environment 27(1):139-151. 

2002 The Historic Period at Bandelier National Monument. National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

2001 The Archaeology of an Early Historic Town in Central India. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.

2001 The archaeological hinterlands of Mahasthangarh: Observations and potential for future research. In France-Bangladesh Joint Venture Excavations at Mahasthangarh First Interim Report 1993-1999, edited by Md. Shafiqul Alam and Jean-François Salles, pp. 61-73. Department of Archaeology, Bangladesh. 

2001 Integración social, espacial y económica en las antiguas ciudades del subcontinente Indio, translated by M.a Josefa Iglesias Ponce de León and Andrés Ciudad Ruiz. In Reconstruyendo la Ciudad Maya: El Urbanismo en las Sociedades Antiguas, edited by Andrés Ciudad Ruiz, M.a Josefa Iglesias Ponce de León and M.a del Carmen Martínez Martínez, pp. 503-522. Sociedad Española de Estudios Mayas, Madrid.

2001 The archaeology of a "destroyed" site: Surface survey and historical documents at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico. Historical Archaeology 35(2):31-40. 

2001 Excavation of a large building in an area of pottery production on the upper slopes of Dhahret Slama (Site 251). Leptiminus (Lamta) Report No. 2: The East Baths, Cemeteries, Kilns, Venus Mosaic, Site Museum, and other studies, edited by L.M. Stirling, D.J. Mattingly, and N. Ben Lazreg, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series No. 14, pp. 237-249.

2001 A water-collecting area on Dhahret Slama ridge (Site 76). Leptiminus (Lamta) Report No. 2: The East Baths, Cemeteries, Kilns, Venus Mosaic, Site Museum, and other studies, edited by L.M. Stirling, D.J. Mattingly, and N. Ben Lazreg, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series No. 14, pp. 253-258.

2000 Systematic surface survey at the Early Historic site of Kaundinyapura, India. Man and Environment 25(1):75-87. 

2000 Bangladesh: Building national identity through archaeology. Antiquity 74:701-706. 

2000 Economic and social interactions at an Early Historic site: Recent fieldwork at Kaundinyapura, India. In South Asian Archaeology 1997, volume II, edited by Maurizio Taddei and Giuseppe de Marco, pp. 793-810. Istituto per l'Africa e l'Oriente, Rome.

1999 The role of ordinary goods in premodern exchange. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 6(2): 109-135. 

1999 "Indianization" from the Indian point of view: Trade and cultural contacts with Southeast Asia in the early first millennium C.E.Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 42(1):1-26. 

1997 The dynamic realm of the Indian Ocean: A review. Asian Perspectives 36(2):245-259. 


Emerald Literati Award for article published in Research in Economic Anthropology (2013) 

Archaeological Dialogues Essay Award, Theoretical Archaeology Group conference (2008) 

Visiting Research Associate, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe (2007-08) 

Faculty Career Development Award, UCLA (2004) 

UCIS Faculty Fellowship, University of Pittsburgh (2002) 

Regents' Fellowship, University of Michigan (1991-1994) 

Phi Beta Kappa

Graduate Students

Steven Ammerman is a Ph.D. student examining the role of domestic and wild animals in ancient urban societies with a focus on the Early Historic period of the Indian subcontinent. His M.A. paper examined the theory and longitudinal history of human interactions with wild, domesticated, and feral animals.

Eden Franz is an anthropology graduate student investigating the role of foodways in the longitudinal development of social complexity, with a particular focus on Old World fauna.

Baisakhi Sengupta is a archaeology graduate student focused on the medieval period in northern India; her research interests include religion and ritual, gender studies/masculinity, urbanism, and regional surveys of historical sites.

Dr. Stephanie Salwen completed her dissertation in 2017 on the landscape effects and human-environmental dynamics of rivers in North America. 

Dr. Kanika Kalra completed her dissertation in 2016 and is Assistant Professor in the Jyoti Dalal School of Liberal Arts at NMIMS in Mumbai, India.  Her dissertation was on the social and economic organization of water management in the early medieval period in India. Her M.A. paper examined the social and economic configuration of the medieval town of Harnol in northern India. 

Dr. Elizabeth Baker Brite completed her dissertation in 2011 and is Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of Engaged Learning at Purdue University Honors College.  Her dissertation was based on her fieldwork in Uzbekistan at an early fortified settlement, examining the nature of social and economic continuities under conditions of political collapse. Her M.A. examined the political and economic context of wall painting at the site of Kazakhl'i-yatkan in Uzbekistan. 

Dr. Elizabeth Mullane, now with the Offices of Medical Education at the University of North Carolina,  completed her dissertation in 2009 on the application of modeling (specifically, self-organizing systems) to archaeological cultures of variable complexity. Her M.A. evaluated the growth of trade and social interactions from the Iron Age through the Roman period in the Kahramanmarash Valley, Turkey.