Spencer, Charles main content.

Charles Spencer


Curator of Mexican & Central American Archaeology, Division of Anthropology
Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School



  • University of Michigan, Ph.D., 1981
  • University of Michigan, M.A., 1976
  • Rice University, B.A., 1972

Research Interests

Dr. Spencer’s ongoing research focuses on the development of pre-Columbian complex societies in Mexico and Venezuela. In Oaxaca, Mexico, he is investigating the time period during which the early Zapotec state, probably the first such political development in Mesoamerica, emerged with its capital at Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca and began to dominate the valley as well as a number of surrounding valleys and canyons. In collaboration with AMNH Research Associate Elsa Redmond, Dr. Spencer has recently excavated the well-preserved remains of an ancient Zapotec palace dating to 300-100 BC, one of the earliest palaces ever found by archaeologists in Mesoamerica. In Barinas, Venezuela, his research has explored the emergence of chiefdom societies that emerged around 600 AD in the western llanos (savanna grasslands) of the Orinoco Basin. Dr. Spencer is also interested in addressing general issues in ecological anthropology and cultural evolution.


Meso-American Archaeological Projects

Division of Anthropology

Richard Gilder Graduate School

Mexico & Central America Virtual Hall

Profile on ResearchGate

Profile on academia.edu


Recent and Major Publications
2017. Redmond, E.M., and C.S. Spencer. El Tzompantlide Loma de La Coyotera, Cañada de Cuicatlán, Oaxaca. Arqueología Mexicana 24 (148): 70–71.

2017. Turchin, P., T.E. Currie, H. Whitehouse, P. Francois, K. Feeney, D. Mullins, D. Hoyer, C. Collins, S. Grohmann, P. Savage, G. Mendel-Gleason, E. Turner, A. Dupeyron, E. Cioni, J. Reddish, J. Levine, G. Jordan, E. Brandl, A. Williams, R. Cesaretti, M. Krueger, A. Cecceralli, J. Figliulo-Rosswurm, P-J. Tuan, P. Peregrine, A. Marciniak, J. Preiser-Kapeller, N. Kradin, A. Korotayev, A Palmisano, D. Baker, J. Bidmead, P. Bol, D. Christian, C. Cook, A. Covey, G. Feinman, A.D. Júlíusson, A. Kristinsson, J. Miksic, R. Mostern, C. Petrie, P. Rudiak-Gould, B. ter Haar, V. Wallace, V. Mair, L. Xie, J. Baines, E. Bridges, J. Manning, B. Lockhart,  A. Bogaard, and C.S. Spencer. Quantitative historical analysis uncovers a single dimension of complexity that structures global variation in human social organization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 115 (2): E144–E151. (plus supporting information: 31 pp.)

2017. Redmond, E.M., and C.S. Spencer. Ancient palace complex (300–100 BC) discovered in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. 114(15): 3805-3814.

2017. Spencer, C.S., and E.M. Redmond. Evolution of Elite Residence at San Martín Tilcajete 500–100 BC. In Abstracts of the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.
[http://www.saa.org/A.Portals/0/SAA/MEETINGS/2017%20Abstracts/Individual%20Level%20Abstra cts_Q-S.pdf]

2016. Millaire, J.-F., G. Prieto, F. Surette, E.M. Redmond, and C.S. Spencer. Statecraft and expansionary dynamics: A Virú outpost at Huaca Prieta, Chicama Valley, Peru. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. 113(41): E6016– E6025. (plus supporting information)

2016. Minc, L.D., R.J. Sherman, C. Elson, M. Winter, E.M. Redmond, and C.S. Spencer. Ceramic provenance and the regional organization of pottery production during the Later Formative Periods in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico: results of trace-element and mineralogical analyses. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 8:28-46.

2010. Spencer, Charles S. Territorial Expansion and Primary State Formation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107:7119-7126.

2010. Gleick, Peter H., Robert M. Adam, Charles S. Spencer, et al. (total of 255 authors, all members of tbe National Academy of Sciences USA). Climate Change and the Integrity of Science. Science 328:689-690.

2010. Sherman, R. Jason, Andrew K. Balkansky, Charles S. Spencer, and Brian Nicholls. Expansionary Dynamics of the Nascent Monte Albán State. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29:278-301.

2009. Spencer, Charles S. Testing the Morphogenesist Model of Primary State Formation: The Zapotec Case. In Macroevolution in Human Prehistory: Evolutionary Theory and Processual Archaeology, ed. by Anna M. Prentiss, Ian Kuijt, and James C. Chatters, pp. 133-155. Springer, New York.

2009. Duncan, William N., Christina Elson, Charles S. Spencer, and Elsa M. Redmond. A Human Maxilla Trophy from Cerro Tilcajete, Oaxaca, Mexico. Mexicon 31:108-113.

Complete List of Charles Spencer's Publications

Teaching Experience

Faculty Appointments

  • Adjunct Senior Research Scientist, Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University, 2001–present
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, 1992–present
  • Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut, 1986–991
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut, 1981–1986
  • Visiting Instructor, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut, 1980–1981 

Courses Taught

  • Archaeology of Pre-State Societies, Columbia University
  • Evolution of Complex Societies, Columbia University Ecological Studies in Anthropology, Columbia University

Graduate Advisees

  • Raphael Gasson, University of Pittsburgh
  • Lilliam Arvelo, University of Pittsburgh

Graduate Committees

  • Luca Casparis, University of Geneva