My Research Projects

I have conducted archaeological research in North and South American since 2006. In the United States, I have worked in Colorado and Wyoming. In South America, I work primarily in Peru. My current research projects explore the diet and cuisine choices of marginalized peoples living under Inka and Spanish imperial rule in ancient Peru. Click the links below to learn more.


Trapiche Archaeology Project
Puno, Peru


Zaña Colonial Archaeology Project
Zaña, Peru


Yunkaray and Cheqoq Archaeology Projects
Cusco, Peru

Principal Investigator and Director of Excavations at Trapiche

Trapiche, a 17th and 18th century silver refinery in the rural highlands outside of Puno, Peru. Free and forced laborers worked here. They likely included women and enslaved Africans.

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Project Zooarchaeologist at Carrizales

Carrizales, a 16th century resettled native town (reducción) on the north coast of Peru.  A combination of resettlement indigenous men, women, and families lived here, and were forced to pay taxes and labor tribute to local Spaniards.

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Project Zooarchaeologist at Yunkaray and Cheqoq

Yunkaray, a 11th - 15th century Ayarmaka village. The Ayarmaka were a rival ethnic group to the Inka.
Cheqoq, a 15th-16th century Inka imperial estate housing multi-ethnic retainer laborers (yanakuna).

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Silver Refining and Trapiches in Puno, Peru


I began this research in 2016 as part of my dissertation research for the University of Pittsburgh. Our project continues to explore themes of forced labor, health, and soil pollution in the western Lake Titicaca Basin.

Team archaeologist Javier Chalcha excavating a house floor at the silver refinery of Trapiche. Photograph by Sarah Kennedy. 

Marginalized Labor in the Silver Mining Industry

Reconstructing Power and Identity in Colonial Peru

My dissertation investigates the daily life of indigenous laborers at unregulated silver refineries in the Puno Bay. I directed the Trapiche Archaeology Project to study one of these refineries at the household level. Using both archaeological and historical data, I argue that rural silver refineries functioned as locations of economic opportunity for marginalized populations. Through an analysis of local, unregulated economic activities of the 17th and 18th century, I demonstrate how Puno Bay laborers were able to alter their living conditions and take a more active role in the colonial economy. Importantly, these activities occurred over a century before the development of organized trade and labor unions.

Scholarship on colonial silver mining in the Andes has traditionally focused on mining centers such as Potosí, the location of the largest and richest silver mine in the Americas. Less is known about the colonial mining economy at peripheral mining sites, such as the Puno Bay region of Peru, in the western Lake Titicaca Basin, where my research takes place. While deserved attention has been placed on the silver mines themselves, historical sources indicate that equal numbers of workers labored in silver refineries. Referred to as ingenios or trapiches, they were used to grind and process silver ore. Through a complex process at refineries, workers were able to derive pure silver from ore with mercury amalgamation. An enormous number of laborers was needed for this process, hence the instigation of the infamous mita forced-labor draft in the 1570s. Both skilled and unskilled laborers worked in silver refineries, and their roles as conscripted, paid, and self-employed workers changed throughout the period.

Although refineries were ubiquitous on the colonial landscape, we know little about their internal social and economic dynamics. Because they had to be near a water source, they were often some distance from colonial towns and mining centers. They were also ephemeral and used intermittently throughout boom and bust cycles. Refineries provide a unique snapshot of less studied rural colonial life, allowing for an examination of inequality, economic opportunity, and labor at peripheral locations.

My archival research of 17th to 18th century mining ordinances presents an administrative perspective to silver refining. Mining ordinances, such as the Codigo Carolino, reflected problems the colonial administration had within controlling laborers, as well as their attempts to fix these problems, with regulations on labor, food, housing, and productivity. Many ordinances attempted to control kajcheo, a semi-illegal practice where laborers took advantage of rest days to work in mines as self-employed laborers, taking any ore they could find within a certain period for themselves. They refined this ore at unregulated refineries called trapiches, which were small, rudimentary mills that did not contain large stamp-head mallets found in larger, regulated refineries owned by wealthy Spaniards called ingenios.

The owners of trapiches, in contrast to ingenios, were often indigenous or mestizo, and depended heavily on the practice of kajcheo for their refining needs. In the Codigo Carolino ordinances, trapiche owners were forbidden from building refineries and selling refined silver without expressed permission, and they were often accused of illegal activity, such as encouraging the “theft” of the highest quality ore during the kajcheo. These ordinances indicate how difficult it was for Spanish authorities to control this unregulated process, and how it continued in earnest throughout the 18th century.

My excavations at Trapiche Itapalluni confirmed its use as an unregulated trapiche during the 17th and 18th centuries. My archaeological excavations at this refinery concentrated on domestic contexts from households of the refinery laborers, documenting the size and quality of houses, the type of foods consumed on site, and the use of private and public space. My archaeological results reveal that while the architecture and spatial layout of these refineries was restrictive and controlled, access to economic resources, both local and imported, was both equal and accessible for individuals living at the site. These contradictions reveal the fluidity and nuances of daily life within colonial silver refineries.

Zooarchaeology in Zaña, Peru


I began work on the Zaña Colonial Archaeology Project (PAZC) as a MA student in zooarchaeology at the University of Florida. Project director Dr. Parker VanValkenburgh kindly welcomed me to the project team and I analyzed zooarchaeological material from pre-Columbian and colonial deposits for my MA thesis. To date, our work has analyzed over 38,000 vertebrate remains!


Archaeologist and PAZC team member Sarita Fuentes Villalobos examines a small fish vertebra from the colonial settlement of Carrizales. Photograph by Sarah Kennedy. 

Inka Zooarchaeology in Cusco, Peru



Peruvian archaeologist Karen Durand Cáceres has served as co-direct for this research for many field seasons. Here, she teaches students about archaeology (photo by Rodrigo Durand).

Inka Zooarchaeology

I began working on Inka archaeology with Dr. Kylie Quave in 2010. Over the last decade, we have collaborated on a number of articles studying how indigenous laborers lived under Inka colonial regimes throughout the Inka Empire.