Emily Smith studied pre-Incan archeology

By James Tinney | August 11, 2017

Emily Smith spent five weeks this summer studying remains from a centuries-old civilization in southern Peru. Friday, she was back at CSUMB talking about what she had found.

The senior Social and Behavioral Sciences major and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) scholar from Sacramento was helping study an ancient burial urn from the Wari Empire, a pre-Incan culture that existed from around 600 to 1100 AD. The Waris did not have a written language, so their artifacts offer a unique glimpse into their customs and culture.

Smith made a presentation about her research as part of the 4th annual CSUMB Summer Research Symposium at the Tanimura & Antle Family Memorial Library on campus.

Quote: The preservation of the bones was amazing. - Emily Smith

Working at the Ministry of Culture in Arequipa, Peru, Smith and her colleagues were studying the remains found in the small urn, which had been unearthed at a site in the southern coastal range of the Peruvian Andes.

“The preservation of the bones was amazing,” said Smith, so amazing that on the second day of their study, the team determined that the urn contained the remains of two individuals, both with an estimated age of 30 to 36 weeks in utero. It is unclear whether the babies had been born, if they were twins, or their mother had suffered a miscarriage – all possible subjects of future research.

Photo of Emily Smith

Photo by: Joan Iguban Galiguis

Smith was joined by students from Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University. They were led by Dr. Tiffiny Tung of Vanderbilt, author of “Violence, Ritual and the Wari Empire.” Smith said Dr. Ruben Mendoza of CSUMB reached out to his colleague at Vanderbilt to help Smith become part of the effort.

Smith said she has been interested in archeological research since she was a child going to museums. “I went to Stonehenge and age 10 and I was amazed. Of course, there has been a lot of archeology done about Stonehenge, but there is still a lot we don’t know,” she said.

She is focused on bioarcheology, the study of plants, soils and human remains to better understand past human activities, disease and health patterns and other aspects of past societies.

“It (studying human remains) did affect me and I would have people say ‘Don’t let it affect you that much. It is only research.’ But I think it should affect you. You are dealing with human remains and you always remember that.”

She said she plans to continue her studies in graduate school and she hopes, through her work, to build better relations between native peoples and the archeologists seeking to understand past cultures.

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center at California State University, Monterey Bay is a cross-campus center that engages students in undergraduate research.