Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Urban Migration in Long Term Context

Project: Research project

Project Details


Researchers seek to identify patterns of immigration over time and between socioeconomic status groups in ancient, multi-ethnic urban centers to better understand the role migration played in the maintenance of high population numbers and to quantify the proportion of migrants between status groups. In ancient urban studies, researchers often focus on the movement of large aggregate groups of people to a region during the city's initial settlement and the ultimate cause(s) of demographic collapse. While these events are crucial to understanding how ancient urban centers first arose and were eventually abandoned, more attention needs to be paid to how large populations were sustained for long periods of time, some spanning hundreds of years. This research will focus on how immigration in an urban setting contributed to these maintenance efforts. Recent advances in archaeology allow researchers to identify individual and group-level migration across time rather than observing the movement of ancient people as a large, singular event. This doctoral dissertation study will be one of the first to explore the impact of migration over time on population maintenance in a pre-modern city and provide a direct comparison of migrants between multiple tiers of status groups (lower-, middle-, and higher-status producers and consumers). Doctoral student Gina M. Buckley, under the direction of Kenneth G. Hirth, will conduct research at Penn State University. This research will foster international collaboration with Mexico (INAH), Canada (Western University Ontario) and Europe (Max Planck, Jena, Germany) and the development of outreach communication to promote the acceptance of migrant communities. Furthermore, all data obtained through this research will be made available on an open-access platform to support future population studies in pre-modern cities.

This doctoral dissertation research project will explore the migration patterns of socioeconomic status groups from La Ventilla, a central neighborhood of Teotihuacan (located near present-day Mexico City), the first multi-ethnic New World city to reach over 100,000 residents (200-600 AD). While it is well chronicled that immigration from the surrounding region fueled much of the city's initial growth, it remains unclear when multi-ethnicity developed here, particularly in the central sectors. Research will test two hypotheses; (1) migration into the heart of Teotihuacan was a continuous process over the entire occupation of this city sector, rather than occurring primarily during its foundation, and (2) larger proportions of lower-status individuals migrated into the center of the city and have significant differences in 'quality of life' indicators (skeletal markers of health, age-at-death estimations, and diet) than those of higher status groups. Previous studies of the city population have shown that individuals towards the fringes of the city suffered from common pre-modern problems including malnutrition and high infant mortality rates. Using a broad spectrum of isotopic analyses (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, strontium, and lead) combined with absolute chronological control through radiocarbon dating of human skeletal remains, researchers will determine if immigration was critical to population maintenance for over 400 years of occupation.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date7/15/196/30/21


  • National Science Foundation: $22,812.00


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