Personal profile

Academic Background

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

M.Phil., Ph.D. Anthropology; Yale University (2001)

Biography

Dr Lau is a specialist in the arts and archaeology of the Americas, especially of South America and the Central Andes. He received his doctorate from Yale University. He joined the Sainsbury Research Unit and UEA in 2002, after a Fellowship in Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks.

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) indigenous Andean cosmologies, cult objects and ritual practices in the face of colonial repression; 4) research on art, social complexity and 'divine rulership' in early Peru.  He is a founding editor of the journal World Art (Taylor and Francis).

Key Research Interests

  • Andean South America
  • Archaeology and social complexity
  • Exchange and cultural interactions
  • Pre-Columbian art and visual expression
  • World art and archaeology
  • Material culture, technology and value systems of the indigenous Americas

Current and core themes

Divine Lordships in Ancient Peru.  Since 2019, Dr Lau has been leading a multiyear AHRC-funded archaeology project focused on early 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 outreach and temporary exhibits based on the Pashash discoveries 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, stylistic interactions, and their ancient and contemporary meanings. He has also published on Peru's early colonial history, particularly on early Christianisation efforts and their impact on rural cult practices, landscape and lifeways. 

The multidisciplinary, comparative focus features in 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.  He is currently working on two books, a field project report on Pashash and a synthetic monograph on northern Peruvian prehistory.

Research-led Collaborations. Additional collaborations include: educational museum partnerships and school activities in Peru; developing local crafts capacity based on ancient arts; characterisation studies of camelid bone and ceramics; textile techniques; technical studies of pottery; ancient language and DNA work; materialities of stone; Andean figurines; Pre-Columbian collections in Europe.  Many of his publications are accessible here

World Art.  Since 2011, he has been an editor of the journal World Art, overseeing nearly 250 articles and works (in three dozen print issues) by contributors from around the globe. 

 

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