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Personal profile

Academic Background

B.A., M.A. Archaeological Studies, Yale University (1990)

MPhil, PhD Anthropology; Yale University (2001)


Dr Lau is a specialist in the arts and archaeology of the Americas, especially of South America and the Central Andes. Recent and current projects include: 1) field investigations at the large highland settlements of Pashash (Cabana) and Yayno (Pomabamba), focusing on monumental residences, defenses and ceremonial constructions (AD 200-700); 2) survey documentation and archival work on carved monoliths and stone sculpture; 3) comparative studies of Pre-Columbian art and imagery; 4) research on ancient Andean social complexity and 'divine rulership'.  He is a founding editor of the journal World Art (Taylor and Francis).


Dr Lau received his doctorate from Yale University. He joined the Sainsbury Research Unit in 2002, after a Fellowship in Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks.

Key Research Interests

  • Andean South America
  • Archaeology and social complexity
  • Pre-Columbian art and visual expression
  • World art and archaeology
  • Amerindian material culture, technology and value systems

Current Research Projects

Divine Lordships in Ancient Peru.  In 2018, Dr Lau began a four year AHRC-funded archaeology project focused on ancient polities and systems of authority in the Peruvian Andes. Co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation (USA) and partnering with Prof David Chicoine, of Louisiana State University, the project investigates the rise of native polities, headed by special leaders who derived power from their privileged relations with the numinous and as god-like persons.  The work concentrates on their material record, as seen through settlement patterns, lavish hilltop centres, funerary practices and artworks. Exciting new discoveries are already revealing the profound innovations in leadership organisation and value systems across the two study regions. Most notably, some privileged groups began to accumulate and display unprecedented wealth found in episodic ancestor offerings in palatial buildings (stone sculptures, herd wealth, access to labour, ceramic effigies exalting warriors and herders).  Based in the small town of Cabana, the project has also worked together with its archaeology museum and municipality to develop educational programmes and temporary exhibits based on the Pashash archaeological site and the research collaboration.

Archaeology of Peru’s North Highlands.  The new project directly builds on a long-term commitment to the prehispanic archaeology and contemporary communities of the high Andes.  The work has centred on groups of the Recuay culture (AD 1-700), who flourished just below the glaciated peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain chain in the New World tropics. Before their demise, the people left behind elaborate ceramics, stone sculpture, fine metal adornments and woven cloths, and palatial monuments.  Since 1996, Dr Lau has led field projects and collection studies, in which UEA undergraduate and postgraduate students have participated, to investigate some of the most important Recuay remains, including at the sites of Chinchawas, Yayno and Pashash. The fieldwork enriches knowledge about early highland societies that prospered through agriculture and camelid herding. At Yayno, local lords and their lineages built impressive (and the largest-known Recuay) monumental compounds and amassed luxury pottery and lapidary work on a mountaintop, 4150 metres above sea level.  Study of the numerous ancestor effigy stonecarvings at Chinchawas helped illuminate how Recuay groups lived with and venerated their esteemed deceased, followed by major changes during the period of Wari state and religious influence.

In addition to archaeology, Dr. Lau maintains research interests in the arts of the native Americas, especially visual and representational systems, and their ancient and contemporary meanings. His research also highlights Peru's early colonial history, particularly the dynamism of early Christianisation efforts and its impact on rural religious practices, landscape and lifeways. 

The multidisciplinary, comparative focus features in recent monographs, Andean Expressions: Art and Archaeology of the Recuay Culture (2011), Ancient Alterity in the Andes: A Recognition of Others (2013) and An Archaeology of Ancash: Stones, Ruins and Communities in Andean Peru (2016).  He has also co-edited (with J. Gamboa, 2022) Paisaje, Identidad y Memoria, the first Spanish language volume dedicated to Recuay and post-Chavín groups and developments in the Ancash region.

Since 2011, he has been an editor of the journal World Art.  Additional research collaborations include: characterisation studies of camelid bone and ceramics; textile techniques; technical studies of pottery; ancient DNA work; materialities of stone; Andean figurines; Pre-Columbian collections in Europe; Museum partnerships in Peru.  Many of his research publications are accessible here


Areas of Expertise

Archaeology; Latin America; Pre-Columbian art and prehistory; South America, esp. Central Andes

Teaching Interests

Art and archaeology of the Americas

Archaeological theory

Postgraduate supervision in the arts, archaeology and anthropology of the Americas: Pre-Columbian art, Central Andes, Amerindian themes, materiality and material culture

Taught modules

  • Warfare in the New World
  • Art and Archaeology of Death in the Americas
  • Art and Political Strategy in Ancient America
  • Theory in Archaeology
  • Pre-Columbian Architecture
  • Art and Archaeology of the Ancient Andes
  • Precolumbian Worlds: Arts | Substances | Senses
  • Gods, Kings & Pre-Columbian Art: Divine Rulership in Ancient America